By Beatriz E. García
The United States of America has closed the border to our cattle due to an outbreak of hoof and mouth disease that has appeared in five states of the Republic.
El Universal, December 28, 1946
Your great-grandfather was Urbano Velez: blonde with blue eyes, red-cheeked, a very handsome man. He was forty-something years old when he received the money for his cows. Ever since then, he spent every cent he had on mariachis for entertainment in his home, and of course, strong drink. I was a little girl when the massacre of the cattle occurred, and I remember nothing. But because the story has been retold so many times, I remember it all so clearly.
My father bought this house that we now live in. In those times this house was considered luxurious; only those of wealth were able to afford adobe, the rest living in shacks constructed of poles and brush. I was not born into poverty, but after the order of then-president Miguel Aleman to kill all the cattle because of the epidemic, we lived from hand to mouth.
Although none of us were really sure that the animals were indeed sick, everyone herded their cows and pigs from Tuxcueca to San Nicolas. The soldiers, under the command of Captain Leal of Tizapan, waited for the animals in a canyon carved by a typhoon that had surged from the lake.
?How many animals do you have?
?Well, this many cows and this many calves…
?Here’s your money.
To insure that the population was not completely devastated economically, the government paid half the going price for each animal killed. My father, who owned many animals, was given five thousand pesos. His brothers received their money as well, but they were wiser than my father and saved their money in order to rebuild their stock. Your great-grandfather wasted every cent he had received. He was reduced from a man who was used to giving orders to one who took orders from others. There was no other way to survive.
For months on end the mariachis serenaded our home day and night. My father was proud and quite happy to see his friends entering and leaving our home, regardless of the hour. The money vanished, the friends distanced themselves, and sadness sealed itself permanently within the walls of this house.
Avoiding a collision with cattle being herded along the highway, a well-dressed man asked:
?Where are you taking the animals?
?To those who slaughter them.
?It’s not true that the animals are sick. Don’t believe the government. Go back home.
Then began the rumors: all was a lie concocted by the government. The cattle, supposedly infected with hoof and mouth disease, showed no signs of affliction. Whether it was out of ignorance, or for some other reason unknown to us at the time, all were obliged to slaughter their livestock.
The animals were put into formation at the foot of the canyon, and the soldiers dutifully fired a bullet into the head of each animal. Later, people from the outlying villages told us that in the dark of the night, trucks would arrive to carry off the carcasses, now without both head and hoofs, to Guadalajara where the meat was delivered to various prisons, and fed to the prisoners. Only God knows if this was true.
What my father did see, however, were sacks falling from airplanes flying above the seasonal watering holes. The ranchers claimed that the sacks contained muriatic acid, for after the cattle entered the water to drink, they left with their lips and hooves falling off in pieces. The ranchers further claimed that the animals were contaminated with muriatic acid, not infected with hoof and mouth disease. Whatever the cause, the only remedy was to bring the animals to slaughter, and collect from the government.
The animals could smell the death: upon arrival at the canyon they simply doubled their front knees and offered themselves in sacrifice. My great-grandfather spoke for many years of that day.
Being unmarried, my father’s sister was asked to herd the calves. But once in the canyon, one calf ran off so quickly that neither my father nor the soldiers could catch her. The poor animal arrived at my aunt’s corral. When my aunt opened the gate to allow the calf to enter, she saw the fear in the calf’s eyes. The animal remained mute for life, never to moo again. Later, beginning with this same animal, Rosa once again began to raise cattle.
Now without money, without cows, without oxen for the yoke, and with five children, my father…
My darling, I haven’t finished telling you of your great-grandfather, and here you are asleep without even taking your milk. But sleep peacefully in my arms, my little angel, while we wait for your mother to return.
For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com
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