“Hey, compadrito—bring the mail along with you when you come inside!” Héctor Villa shouted through the open window to Jesús Juárez, his friend, who was just letting himself into the yard by the front gate where the mailbox, painted red-white-and-blue, stood on a barbershop post.

Héctor “Pancho” Villa was having a pleasant Saturday morning in June, sitting late at the kitchen table over his morning coffee while his wife, AveMaria, weeded the garden patch behind the house and their daughter, Contracepción, minded Dubya, the baby, named for Héctor’s greatest hero after the late Francisco Villa, Centaur of the North.  (As Héctor and AveMaria had agreed that the little boy would be their last child, Héctor thought it particularly important that he should bear the name of a great man and a patriot.)  Master of all he surveyed (if he didn’t lift his chin too high toward the Manzano Mountains east of Belen, or glance too far to the rather prim and, to his mind, sterile houses left or right), he felt satisfied and assured, altogether pleased with himself as his sight caressed the artistic assemblage of art objects arranged before him on the front lawn: the miniature drill rig painted orange, yellow, and purple; the windmill nearly as tall as the house itself that drew water upward from a tank buried in the ground beneath it; the wooden birds—bright-painted, eagle-sized, and mounted on poles—endlessly flailing backward on wings rotated by the unceasing high-desert wind; the tall clay ovens shaped like broad-bottomed giraffes without heads, tastefully placed by AveMaria in surprising places where nobody would normally expect to find an oven and that you could actually fry tortillas and roast corn in; the four-, six-, and even eight-foot-tall Trees of Life—ceramic confections, hauled up from Ciudad Chihuahua, in which the serpent, Adam, and Eve were grouped with various saints and animals among spreading arboreal foliage; the Army Jeep that had had its motor pulled and its engine compartment filled with dirt and planted with sunflowers.  From inside the house, Hector could not contemplate directly the huge, two-dimensional, rainbow-colored silhouettes of birds, butterflies, and flowers tacked all round the exterior walls, the side facing the street especially; he could, however, imagine them.  Past all this splendor, just beyond the turquoise-blue picket fence and the patriotic mailbox, the new-model GMC van, also painted red-white-and-blue and emblazoned with the words PANCHO’S COMPUTER SERVICE, stood parked half on and half off the strip of narrow sidewalk.  If only (Héctor mused, leaning on his thick forearms above the coffee cup as he watched Jesús approach the house with a bundle of mail under his arm, dodging statuary as he came) the padre back in Namiquipa years ago, who’d warned him as a boy that he was Hell-bound, could behold him now: fat, dumb, and happy (as they said in America), at his ease in the Promised Land!  (He had stopped thinking of the USA as “El Norte” years ago.)

“Hey,” Jesús (who was also called “Eddie”) greeted him, as he dropped the mail heavily on the table, nearly upsetting Héctor’s cup, “so what do you know to-day, man?” 

Jesús “Eddie” was no Mexican but a Rio Abajo New Mexican, which gave him a rather odd manner of speaking.  Also, it made him, in Héctor’s eyes, slightly un-American.  Rio Abajo folks—like the Rio Arriba ones up north, come to think of it—disliked Americans (whom they called “Anglos”) and Mexicans almost equally.  Unlike the northern inhabitants of New Mexico, however, who considered themselves superior on account of their supposed direct descent from the Spanish conquistadores, the Rio Abajo people south of Albuquerque thought of themselves as Nuevo Méxicanos—and more superior still.  Though he sometimes resented his air of condescension toward immigrant Mexicans, Héctor was fond of Jesús and enjoyed having him around—so long as he kept his eyes off Contracepción, who had recently turned thirteen and was fast becoming a woman in all the recognizable places.  So far as a husband for their daughter went, nothing would do, Héctor and AveMaria were determined, but a patriotic Anglo boy her own age who would agree to being married in one of the evangelical churches.  (The Villas themselves happened to belong to the First Assembly of God, which they’d joined after the local Catholic priest had refused to baptize Contracepción under her given name.)

“Not a whole lot, amigo.  Help yourself to a cup of coffee and a chair.”  While Jesús “Eddie” drew coffee from the automatic brewer on the countertop, Héctor glanced quickly through his mail, which included a couple of letters from relatives back home in Namiquipa, an official-looking notice of some sort from the City of Belen, a mailing from Hijos de Pancho Villa (an organization of Villas’ descendants and others who wished they were) in Parral, and the July Mastercard bill.  The relatives would be requesting remittances, and Héctor was sure he could not face the credit-card bill over coffee.  He was about to push the pile away from himself when he noticed that the city-hall letter had DATED MATERIAL: OPEN IMMEDIATELY stamped in red on it.  Héctor slit it open with his penknife but left the contents inside the envelope for the time being.  He’d paid the water and trash bill only the week before, so he wasn’t overly concerned to know why the alcalde and his friends should be in such a hurry to get his attention now.

“And you,” he asked Jesús “Eddie” as his friend seated himself across the table; “how goes your day so far, hermano?”

Jesús “Eddie” rolled his eyes toward Heaven.  Then he passed his brown hand from his forehead down over his chin.  When he had done this, his face wore an entirely different expression.

“It is bad what goes on up in Santa Fe these days,” he said, darkly.  “The goddamn Anglos—they want to outlaw cockfighting in Soccorro!  All the f–king movie stars, the environmentalists, f–king PETA—it’s cultural genocide, man!”

Héctor nodded, trying to look sympathetic.  He’d never been much of an enthusiast for the sport himself, even when he lived in Namiquipa.  “I know, I know . . . Well, listen, compadrito: We need to educate the gringos, you understand what I’m saying?—get them to accept our culture.  They’re halfway there already—Jennifer López, salsa, Taco Bell, everyone wanting to speak Spanish to you at the bank, George Dubya’s amnesty plan!  Pretty soon they won’t have any culture, except for ours!  You just have to be patient, amigo.”

Jesús “Eddie” shook his head in frustration and struck the table with his fist.  “You don’t understand!  We were in New Mexico hundreds of years before they were, man!  Why should we have to make them understand anything?”

Héctor pushed back his chair, went over to the cupboard, and returned with a bottle of tequila.

“It’s Saturday, compadrito.  Put some of that in your coffee and see if you don’t feel better, right away.”

Jesús “Eddie” poured a finger of tequila into his cup and stirred the mixture gloomily with the end of the ballpoint pen he carried in his shirt pocket.

“You got a letter there from city hall,” he observed.  “The Anglos have taken over the town council.  What do you suppose they’re bugging you about, man?  Probably to tell you you can’t keep fighting cocks in your backyard, either.”

“No idea.  I don’t owe them nothing.”  Héctor took up the envelope, slid the letter from it carelessly, and unfolded it.  The thing had an official look, apparently a summons of some sort.  In sudden alarm, he held it out at arm’s length and squinted at it.  “Let’s see, let’s see.”

“What do the bastards want now?” Jesús “Eddie” demanded suspiciously.

Héctor’s roars brought the family running from the yard into the kitchen, where the head of the household stood behind the table with his hands on his hips and glaring ahead of himself like Pancho Villa preparing to order the attack on Agua Prieta in October 1915.

“What has happened, Panchito?” AveMaria cried.

While her husband groped for words and attempted to bring his voice under control, Jesús “Eddie” was covertly admiring Contracepción, who stood just behind her mother holding Dubya in her arms.  The girl was definitely good-looking, he thought, though far from being as intelligent as his own niece of about the same age.  He’d always suspected her name reflected her parents’ lack of trust in her to protect herself without some sort of subtle reminder.

“¿Panchito?” AveMaria repeated.

Héctor turned to face her, his moist brown eyes soft and tragic.  “The zoning board—my house—an eyesore!  A public nuisance!”

AveMaria took a single lurching step backward, put her hands to her face, and took them away again.  She threw back her head suddenly and began to wail.

“¡Ai, mi Madre!  They will come for us and take our house, first.  Then, they will deport us—all the way back to Nami-quipa again!”

It was no more than a technicality and easily overlooked in the event, Héctor and AveMaria having been strongly discouraged both by the menacing Arab immigrants and the coyote who guided them all from presenting their papers at the border, in the uninhabited desert east of Douglas, Arizona.  In fifteen years, no one had thought to trouble them about this detail, while the hospitals and schools they had had to do with had been most understanding—in particular, the state university branch where Héctor had received his degree in computer science.

“They can’t deport us, stupid,” Héctor told his wife dully.  “Contracep and Dubya are citizens of the United States—just as much as the President of the United States, George Dubya Bush, himself!”

“They could change the law,” she persisted.  “What if that hacendado Buchanan was to run again for president, next time?”

But Héctor was no longer listening to her.  “Ten days to ‘comply with standards,’” he muttered.  “The best decorated yard in town and one of the three or four most beautiful homes” (he’d considered having it added to the Parade of Homes tour at Christmastime last year), “and they tell me to comply with ‘standards’!”  He was angry; more than that, however, he felt deeply wounded in his heart.  Nothing he had ever experienced in El Norte had made him feel so unwelcome, so misunderstood, as this, including the time an admiring leftist student at school had mistaken him for a Sandinista.

“What have I been saying to you all morning?” Jesús “Eddie” demanded.  “The Anglos have stolen New Mexico from us.  You should ask yourself, What would Pancho Villa have done in this situation?  I’ll tell you what he would have done, hermano: He’d have rounded up a couple hundred of his villistas and attacked Los Lunas—just like he did Columbus.  ¡Viva Villa!” Jesús “Eddie” shouted, thrusting his fist in the air.

“¡Viva Villa!” Héctor echoed him in a dull voice.  He’d never known Jesus “Eddie” to express enthusiasm for the Centaur before.

Now Contracepción was looking at Jesús “Eddie.”  He looked very handsome, she thought, striking a revolutionary position; even the gray at his temples appealed to her as sexy.  Still, he was probably too old for her, and Papá would be certain to have a fit.

“What are you going to do, Héctor?” AveMaria asked, speaking in her normal voice this time.

Héctor had no idea what he was going to do.  Therefore, he was silent.

“Why don’t you just pay the alcalde money?” Contracepción asked.  From visiting relatives in Namiquipa for several weeks every summer, she understood a thing or two about how the world works.

“Be silent, Contracepción,” her father told her.  “It isn’t the same up here as there.  You think George Dubya gets paid to do, or not do, what he should do in the White House?”

“I will organize a demonstration, hombre,” Jesús “Eddie” promised him.  “Everyone from the local MALDEF and LULAC chapters in Albuquerque, and others, will show up, for sure.”

Later that morning, when AveMaria had taken her Prozac and Contracepción was away shopping at the mall in Los Lunas with her girlfriend Luz, who had a driver’s license, Héctor took a walk round his yard.  The shock he’d received that morning had worn off, leaving a deep depression in its place.  This thing that had happened to him was incomprehensible, he felt.  As his eyes wandered from one object to another in the vast display of carefully selected and painstakingly arranged lawn ornaments, not one appealed to him in any way as an eyesore but rather as an element of the good taste and cultural enrichment the Villa home represented.  Though Héctor had allowed Jesús “Eddie” to depart full of plans for a large demonstration outside the municipal center, the last thing he really wanted was a bunch of noisy demonstrators making a public nuisance of themselves on his behalf, thus calling attention to his shame and public humiliation.  As a further consideration, a demonstration might not work: The city fathers might fail to be impressed.  How often had he noticed this strange truth about democracy in America: While you might occasionally get the result you wanted at the national level—the reelection of President Bush, for instance—you hardly ever got it at the local one, where everything seemed sewn up tight.  The answer to the present crisis, Héctor understood instinctively, did not exist in the political world; he needed to look instead to an alternative arena of hallowed American activity for a solution.

It came to him suddenly, like a fireball in the desert sky overhead, as he stood staring at the old Army Jeep, a relic of World War II, now sprouting sunflowers where the hood used to be.  In the toolshed behind the Jeep were his buckets of leftover paint and several squares of fresh plywood.  Héctor dragged everything outside and set to work at once with his paintbrushes in the hot sun.  Now, perhaps, he could pay off the entire credit-card bill on time and avoid paying interest at eighteen percent.

He worked fast, so that Contracepcíon, returning with Luz from the mall, was greeted by three separate signs, facing in different directions up and down the street and decorated brilliantly in all the brightest colors of Mexico.  The Villas of Belen, as the entire city was about to learn, were holding a YARD SALE!!!