Working Together IS Better – Feature Article

Originally written some time in 2011.

Feature article:

It’s a common known cliché that couples who work together don’t last a long time with each other because of the total time spent together.

“How can you stand working with him then seeing him at home right after too?” a friend of Diana Cavazos, 30, asked her one day.

“I like being around my husband. I know many couples say they wouldn’t be able to stand working with their spouses then seeing each other at home right after,” responded Cavazos, “But I enjoy being around him all the time—it makes everything seem more equal between us.”

Cavazos works as the property manager for two apartment complex buildings: University Manor and University West, both located on streets near the University of Texas-Pan American—her husband, Julio Barreiro, 32, works as the head of maintenance.

As property manager, Cavazos sits in the main office Monday thru Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. talking to walk-ins who wish to rent a new apartment, tenants who go to pay the rent or complain about maintenance or simply doing paper work.

“My wife [Cavazos] calls me every time a tenant goes with a new complaint about maintenance to the office.” said Barreiro, “The complaints vary from clogged septic tanks to broken air conditioners or broken appliances—I hate the calls for septic tanks fixing.”

As head of maintenance, Barreiro doesn’t only take care of tenant complaints; he also has to get apartments ready, when tenants leave, for any new tenants that might come in. He paints them, fixes any broken appliances such as electronics, bath tub, sinks, windows, doors, floor, etc. and leaves the apartments looking just like new—or a lot better than they were before.

“Ever since my sister moved in here, the drain has been clogged—she goes to the office to tell the manager [Cavazos], but until now they haven’t fixed it.” said Iris Cipriano, 26, University Manor tenant, “I guess it depends on the apartment though, because I live with my mom, next to my sister’s apartment and our drainage is fine.”

Cavazos and Barreiro have been married for 13 years and have been working together for five and a half. They don’t get any benefits from their job, except a free apartment in University Manor where they live with their 12-year-old girl and 9 and 4-year-old boys.

“The free apartment has been very helpful for us. We get to live near the main office, so no spending gas and it saves us stress because it’s one bill less to pay.” said Barreiro.

The only person Cavazos has to notify for anything that goes on in the apartment complex buildings is the owner John Lackey. Cavazos and Lackey rarely see each other—they communicate via emails and Cavazos pays him the rent of the tenants through bank deposits.

Cavazos said that Lackey tries visiting the apartment complex buildings at least twice a month just to make sure everything is running smoothly, but other than that he doesn’t get involved in the business much; her and her husband are the ones pretty much running it.

“The only times I ever have to call the owner,” said Cavazos, “Is when we have to make big purchases such as a big amount of tile to fix the flooring of an apartment or buy new appliances such as a new refrigerator or stove.”

The owner tried putting a supervisor to be checking up on them every once in a while for a short amount of time, but figured it was just a waste of money because both Cavazos and Barreiro work perfectly fine together without him, so the supervisor was dismissed and they were left running the business on their own since then.

Out of the five years that Cavazos has been working in the apartment management business she has had to kick out five tenants for not paying the rent. The only times that she is allowed to make an exception is if the owner is notified first and he agrees to give them an extension for them to pay their rent.

“I’ve noticed that she [Cavazos] only insists on the rent when the owner tells her to email him all the names of the tenants that haven’t paid the rent yet.” said Rachel Herrera, 24, tenant of University Manor, “So I’d say she’s pretty lenient with it.”

Normally, the tenants are given 30 days to either pay the rent or move out, after the three day notice of over-due rent has been given to them and the tenants are usually understanding about that.

The tenants are also usually understanding with after-hours phone calls or “emergency calls.” Cavazos said that she rarely gets them, but when she does they’re usually for lock-outs.

“One time my family and I were at the zoo and some lady kept calling and calling and calling our cellphone, until we finally answered—she said she needed us there right away because she had been locked out,” Cavazos explained, “I told her she had to wait until we got back because we were all the way in Brownsville and couldn’t just leave to open her door.”

Cavazos assures that both apartment complex buildings are safe and have never had any big disturbances where the cops had to get involved in.

“The mood is usually pretty serene around here; I’ve never had to call the cops myself because of disturbances, the tenants respect us around here.” said Cavazos. “If anything, the problems are small enough that the tenants can solve it between themselves.”

Aside from all the work they have to take care of for the apartment complex buildings and the three kids they have to take care of at home they both claim to enjoy all the time they spent together, whether it’s alone or not.

“I think all you need is good communication with your partner in order to be able to withstand being with them 24/7.” said Cavazos. “We can’t both want to do the same thing, we need to decide who takes on what role—and communication does the trick.”

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Love is Love No Matter What Sexual Orientation – Feature Article

PicsArt_06-05-11.12.45Originally written some time in 2011.

Feature article:

Homosexual relationships have been around for centuries but until now the act has not been accepted as something worthy by most people. My gay friends complain too much about being cheated on and not having a steady relationship but are nonetheless still looking for one; on the other hand, my lesbian friends are getting engaged, are already married or are simply in a long term relationship with their partners. But both are always looked down upon and it’s time for a change; I have realized that homosexual relationships are not much different than heterosexual relationships: they both just want to be loved and be happy with whoever they’re with even if it is with someone that has their same sex.

Judith Gonzalez, 19, has been in a lesbian relationship for four years and like every other person coming out of the closet she suffered prejudice by some people including her loved ones for a while.

“Coming out was something totally new, at first it was like a walk through the park; then as the years went by I started to feel it, not just in my family but in school. Some of my relatives stopped talking to me or just treated me different; I could feel it and see it. In school I would get weird looks and some people wouldn’t even get near me,” said Gonzalez.

She said she officially came out of the closet at the age of 15, during her sophomore year at Juarez-Lincoln High School. The first person she told was actually me when we were best friends at the time and I kept her secret just as she kept mine about being bisexual; we stopped talking for maybe three years due to a big mistake that we did two years into our best-friend relationship. She was already going out with the girl she’s with right now and I had a girlfriend at the time also; neither of us respected the relationship and we ended up pulling a “Jennifer’s Body” scene. Jennifer’s body is about a best-friend relationship between two girls, one is really pretty and stuck up (me), the other is shy and different (Judith). One time during a sleepover the pretty one kissed the shy one, but the shy one stopped and said “Oh my God, what are we doing?” Only we went all the way. Her girlfriend obviously forgave her since she’s still with her right now, but had her stop speaking to me or at least that’s the reason I thought that had broken our friendship apart, although she kept denying that that was it.

The second person she told was a family member, who betrayed her and told her mom behind her back. Gonzalez’s mom didn’t really believe her cousin when she was told that her daughter was a lesbian, but she was kept with a doubt about it. Gonzalez said that the way her mom ended up finding out was by hiding in her closet one day, around a year later after she had been told by the cousin, to eavesdrop on her while she was on the phone with her best friend. She said she heard it all, her step-father whom she calls dad found out also and she was forced to tell them who she really was.

“They took it bad, there were even tears and stuff; then they told me that it was just a phase I was going through and they did the impossible to get my head in place. Nothing worked of course but things are different now, they got used to it,” said Gonzalez.

After four years of being in a stable relationship with her girlfriend Ariana Picasso, 22, they decided to get engaged. Now that Gonzalez’s parents have gotten used to the fact that she is in a lesbian relationship they treat her partner like their own daughter and are okay with the engagement; Gonzalez said that they are so close now that one time her mom called to invite both of them to Six Flags, but she couldn’t go because she was going to be busy. They said Picasso could go with them if she wanted without Gonzalez and she did. She said her mother invites them both for either lunch or dinner about three or four times a week since they started getting along.

For their engagement Picasso proposed to Gonzalez by leaving a letter for her in the limo that was picking her up after graduation; she moved in with her after that, they are currently living together in Picasso’s parents’ house. They also tattooed a diamond ring with their anniversary date inside it instead of buying each other rings, as they’re both women and they couldn’t decide who would play the man and who would play the woman. Gonzalez tattooed her diamond ring on her hip and Picasso tattooed it on her arm.

Gonzalez said that her relationship with Picasso is very healthy; they rarely have problems and if they do they fix them right away. She said she gets hit on by guys and sometimes they even give her their phone numbers; Picasso tries to act cool and lets her get the phone number in front of the guy but once alone she tells Gonzalez she better throw away the number and not have one single thought about calling the man. Gonzalez said she never thinks about calling them and that she never even wants to get the numbers in the first place but it’s just to be courteous.

Gonzalez is bisexual, but practices being lesbian at the time with her partner Picasso; the way she dresses doesn’t shout out that she’s a lesbian, unless she’s holding her girl’s hand she said. The type of dressing style she uses the most is the punk rock/Goth, it mostly depends on her mood she said but no matter how mellow she may feel she will not wear pink or high heels, unless it’s completely called for, like for a wedding or quinceñera. Her hair is very short, spiked up in the back and bangs in the front; she said most women look at their hair as a jewel, the longer the better but she is not most women.

While some parents try to look for things to make their kids reveal the truth, like Gonzalez’s mom did by eavesdropping and putting her on the spot for truth telling, others wait for their kids to tell them anything they have to say to them when they’re ready.

“At the age of 18 I told my mother and she didn’t turn her back on me. In fact, she said she was glad I had told her the truth and that the only thing she wanted was for me to be happy. At the age of 20 I told my dad and he reacted differently; I had waited so long to get the courage to stand up to him and tell him what really made me happy, but he did not even want to see me,” said Minerva Marin, 20, another individual in a lesbian relationship.

She also said he told her many things that made her feel like she was alone and no one was ever going to accept her. He took everything back later and she forgave him because she still loves him she said, but it still hurt her very bad.

Angela Ramirez, 20, has not told her parents because she doesn’t think they’re going to support her due to their high religiousness. She said she knows they’ll still love her because she’s their daughter, but she’s afraid they’re going to start acting differently with her and doesn’t want to ruin the relationship she has with her parents.

According to one of the counselors in UTPA, Mirta Rodriguez, parents act the way they were raised, they go by religiousness and culture, the values that they were raised with and society. Anything contradicting the so called normal is foreign to them and they don’t see it as something you were born with they see it as a choice. So, they try making their kids change the “choice” of their sexual preferences and don’t realize that they are hurting their kid in the process.

Gonzalez said that she never tried being straight she thought she was straight. She said she dated a couple of guys that she only messed around with but never had any sex with. She actually lost her virginity to a woman, the one she is with at the time.

“I realized I liked women when I saw the movie ‘But I’m a Cheerleader,’ that movie opened my mind in ways that scared me, but I liked it. I think some guys are okay, but they’re not really my thing. Women, now that’s something I could totally work with,” said Gonzalez.

While Gonzalez thought she was straight until she started liking women too, other women in lesbian relationships always had a much bigger feeling for women from the beginning. They tried being straight by dating men for a while but they realized they liked women more.

“I did try at one point to be straight by having a boyfriend and being sexually active with him, but my heart just wasn’t in it. I am now in a loving, committed relationship with a woman and I am very happy with her,” said Re-Shawndra Jackson, 21, who also got engaged not too long ago to her girlfriend whom she’s been with for seven months now.

The other individual in a lesbian relationship who tried to be straight before she came out officially is Marin. She said she dated a guy for five years without loving him and she felt disgusted every time he would kiss her. “It was a complete nightmare with him,” she finished.

This may not be the cause of Gonzalez’s gayness, but it might be what triggered it; when she was younger she got sexually molested. It happened thrice: the first time was by one of her male cousins from her mom’s side; she was about 7 years old. She said he tried putting it in her in the back but didn’t and went down on her instead; this went on for about a year, she told no one but her best friend at the time and her girlfriend whom later convinced her to talk. She decided to tell her mother, but she didn’t believe her and is forced to act like nothing happened and greet her cousin and uncle like nothing happened. The second and third times happened by her uncle from her dad’s side, who also happens to be her godfather, she was 15 years old the first time he did it, she said he was drunk and had no memory of doing it the next day or so he acted like it; the second time it happened she had stayed over at her cousins’ house and he went inside her room drunk again. She pretended she was asleep because she was too scared to do anything, plus she said she felt paralyzed with fear so she couldn’t move anyway.

Both Gonzalez and Rodriguez don’t think this is the reason that triggered it, but it was a big influence for it. Rodriguez said that a lot of people believe that homosexuals are like that because of sexual molestation but there is no research showing that. It’s not because of abuse because there are a lot of people who have been molested and are not homosexuals; I believe it is something you are born with, it is not a choice.

Her biological dad hasn’t been around since her parents’ separation when she was younger. She said she didn’t see him again until her senior year and that was because her fiancée and she looked for him. She said his first words when he saw her after so many years were, “Which one are you?” pointing to both her and Picasso. She said she didn’t feel affectionate toward him; on the other hand she wanted to scream to his face everything she felt for all the things he had done to her over the years by not caring about her. She said she felt like doing it, but couldn’t really bring herself to actually doing it. She feels like she does want to see him; she said she wants to go to his funeral when he dies.

She mentioned that her dad had several other kids with other women, but she wants to meet one in particular that she said looks like her.  She said she found him on MySpace and he looks exactly like her, only in a boy version; there was a lot she found in common with him, but he had no interest in meeting her since he deleted her once he realized who she was.

She said she feels way better with her fiancée’s family; she likes them more because they’re a lot nicer to her. And because of what some of her family members did to her.

A dysfunctional family has been said to be one of the reasons to provoke something different for someone such as homosexuality, but for some the attraction towards the same sex comes before even puberty has, before any problems have started to trigger.

“My father always had an idea about my sexual orientation since I was in the seventh grade, but my mother never believed him until I came out on my own last year,” said Jackson.

She said her mother was actually the one that was okay with it when she officially came out and her father disowned her for a while, he didn’t talk to her for almost a year but then he started to come around later.

Another individual in a lesbian relationship also said she knew she liked girls before puberty hit.

“I always knew I liked girls from the very beginning, but just the fact that my dad was so against it scared me a lot,” said Marin.

Friends can be a little more lenient with things like this. Gonzalez told me, her best friend at the time and I understood; Marin told her closest friends and they understood too; Jackson told her best friend Tasha Balls and she understood also; Ramirez was scared at first to tell even her friends but when she did she said they completely understood also, they told her they were going to love her no matter what. So according to most of these women in lesbian relationships, parents prejudice their own kids, but friends completely understand and say they’ll love them no matter what.

According to Rodriguez the majority of humans believe in some sort of higher power such as “God” and the bible. There are several verses in the bible that say that homosexuality is wrong but there are also several verses that say that God accepts everyone the same way no matter what. Unfortunately, people focus too much on the negative side rather than the positive and parents are just in fear that their kid will go to “hell” and not be saved.

Parents take religion way too out of control, they think that just because the bible says no to homosexuality their kids have to be changed immediately to heterosexual so they “can be saved from hell.” If parents want to go the religious way toward their kids that’s fine but personally I don’t believe in any “sort of higher power such as ‘God’.” Parents should learn how to take things a little more positively like Rodriguez said and pay more attention to the part about God accepting everyone the same way no matter what; that way they’d have a better chance in getting along with their kids and having an easier time accepting them however they are.

Parents accepting their kids as homosexuals would just be the beginning. The government does not allow same sex relationships or adoptions for same sex relationships. The government is supposed to pass bills to help the country and homosexuality provides no harm to anyone; they are of course taking the religious excuse, I didn’t know politicians were so religious. Once a homosexual relationship is stable and has been together for many years the thought of having a family naturally comes to mind. It would be easier for a lesbian couple to take the artificial insemination choice by just visiting a sperm bank to get pregnant. Say that they are both infertile or it is a gay couple instead, they would have to go through adoption but with it not being legal it would be quite impossible.

Rodriguez said that it all goes back to beliefs and the right thing should be to raise a child with a man and a woman, but a family is a unit and it shouldn’t matter if it’s two men or two women. A family is a union of people who love each other; the definition of a family does not specify that it should be with a male and a female.

I have witnessed a family consisting of two females being the parents with a little boy as their son. They are from Mexico, they adopted him there and everything in their family looks normal to what a definition of a family is. The boy is respectful toward their mothers and is respectful to everyone else including people who are different such as homosexuals.

As I mentioned before, homosexual couples are no different than heterosexual couples, they both want the same thing: to be happy and to have a family one day.

“We’re both going to get pregnant by artificial insemination, Ari first because she’s older than me a couple of years later. We’re just waiting for the right time to have a baby at the moment; Ari is the one that works and I am just a housewife for the time being,” said Gonzalez.

For gay relationships or just gay men aspiring to have a baby it can be a little harder because their only method to have a baby is adoption and that’s not legal either in most states.

“When I get in a stable relationship, I want to build a family and adopt a little black boy and a little Chinese girl, but I don’t even know if it’s going to be possible with all the prejudice going on against us homos,” said Jose Fernandez, 20, a gay man currently looking for a stable relationship to settle down in.

Prejudice against anything is bad, but it happens a lot against homosexuals. They get treated like they’re different because of their sexual orientation when in fact they’re just human like anybody else. Just like the ones doing the prejudice wouldn’t like it being done to them, homosexuals don’t want it being done to them either because it’s wrong and hurtful.

“People who are gay are the same as straight people except we like people of the same gender. We are all human no matter what race, gender, or sexual orientation; we have feelings and care about other people too. I’m just like any other girl; I go to school and work every day, I like watching movies and bumming around whenever I have the chance,” Ramirez said, “Just like any other girl,” she repeated.

Parents, family, friends, strangers, people in general will never get that the only thing that is important is for one to be happy and it shouldn’t matter who it’s with.

Antidote to an Open Marriage – Feature Article

PicsArt_06-05-08.48.41

Originally written some time in 2011.

Feature article:

People worry too much about other people’s lives and they forget about their own. I like living my life to the fullest. I don’t worry about who’s doing what or what people are saying about me, I only care about being happy and living my life.

It all started when I stayed with my cousin during Christmas vacation. It was my first vacation without my parents, I didn’t want to stay at their place so I asked my cousin to let me stay over at his apartment for a month and he agreed. Across from his apartment lived a married couple with kids. One time when I went out to throw the trash, they were out there making a BBQ and drinking with some friends. They asked me if I wanted a beer, I said sure, we all started talking to get to know each other and after that, they kept calling me over to their place to play poker with them and some friends. I went several times. One time they called me very late at night though, around two or three in the morning. They had gone out to a strip club and came back drunk; I did go, because I was awake and two or three wasn’t really that late for me anyway. I had my first threesome with them: a married couple. They seemed to be handling the whole thing well, because they mentioned having done it a lot of times before with strippers and they were still together after many years of marriage, so the idea of me doing the same thing came to me. I wanted to marry a man, because I want to have kids one day but I also like being with women sexually.

I am a liberal. I like practicing an open marriage with my husband. An open marriage is when either or of the spouses or both have sex with people outside the matrimony. In our case, I am bisexual and like having sex with girls. My husband gave me the liberty of having sex with women and I gave him the liberty of joining us every time. Some people may think this isn’t monogamy that’s why they wouldn’t like the sound of “open marriage.” This is monogamy, we practice our regular marriage, too, but whenever we have a chance to get a pretty girl, we take it.

I came out of the closet when I was 15 years old, around the same time a male cousin of mine did too. We both claimed to be bisexual for a while until he said he didn’t enjoy being with women that much, so his new sexual orientation was now gay. I liked being with both, I couldn’t decide. Some people were saying there is no such thing as bisexuality; you have to go either way. I contradict that very much. I am bisexual; therefore, there is such a thing.

I was getting hurt too much by guys, so the other alternative was to bat for the other team. Plus, women’s figures had always attracted me. It’s incredible how we can grow breasts and men can’t, unless they have a lot of blubber underneath to go with them. My preference has always been petite girls, maybe because of how big and masculine I look; it’s the broad shoulders. I dress feminine, but I act sort of mannish most of the time. Of course, I was always the man in the relationships with girls, because of my mannish character. I was a sweetheart to them; I was being the way I’d hoped guys would be with me.

I liked those relationships, there was a lot of respect and communication; but I started thinking, I want to have a family, I want to get married, do I really want to stay with a girl? I soon realized that my relationships with women were just flings: I was being a sweetheart to them, I would buy them what they wanted, and I was usually the one receiving head. I was just having fun with them; I needed time away from men for a while, so I took refuge in girls who had experienced the same anguish as me. I’m sure they didn’t complain.

When I told my husband that I was bisexual his reaction was, “Oh, I’ve had a girlfriend who was bisexual before.” He obviously didn’t seem to mind. Surprisingly, some men do. Later on in the relationship, I suggested a threesome and of course he was all for it. We had been invited to a friend’s birthday party around the same time and that’s when we had our first “messing around” with a girl together. It didn’t continue to sex unfortunately, she said something about betraying her boyfriend; who knew she was taken? She didn’t seem to mind accompanying us to our car.

Our first real threesome was when we were legally married, a friend of ours, actually. It happened twice. She had a girlfriend of her own so the fling didn’t go on forever. We tried finding other girls who were into threesomes with married couples, but there doesn’t seem to be many. We even tried making a MySpace account especially for that, getting girls and we did get a few of them who would trade pictures, but never anything more. Some gave us their email account, others their cell phone numbers. We tried seducing the girls in a comfortable manner to make them accept the invitation of coming over, but they all always had excuses. So we’ve only gotten lucky a few times, but we’re hoping they’ll still be more.

We don’t have any kids right now, so we’re enjoying every bit of our marriage while it’s still just us. We might have enough fun during all this time with our open marriage, but if the kids do come along and we still have chances to get pretty, petite girls, we’re taking them. The kids don’t have to find out, we’ll be decent enough to rent a motel room and it’ll be like it never happened for them. In the case of the married couple I was involved with before I was married, their kids were sleeping at 2 a.m. so it was okay for them to bring a girl in. The kids didn’t wake up, so they didn’t find out.

I’m sure there are many of you who may think that an open marriage is a poisoned marriage, so here is the antidote to an open matrimony: trust. The one true remedy for this ordeal. We never talk to anyone else in any kind of flirty or sexual way. We are faithful to each other and only have sex with girls together. It’s not cheating if we both agree to do it. In all of the encounters we’ve had so far, we were intoxicated with something; we just do it for fun and for pleasure. This is spicing up our marriage to us; we know we’re never going to see those girls again, even the “friend” we had. She wasn’t really a friend, just someone we’d hang out with sometimes. We never really saw her again after her girlfriend came back from her trip, unless you count the distance “seeing” since we live in the same apartment complex.

Our marriage is still as alive as it was the first two weeks of our relationship. We rarely argue and if we, do we reconcile five minutes later. True story. We can’t be away from each other for more than five minutes, the time that he’s at work and I’m at school we live in agony, I know I do. I like the relationship we have, we actually have a lot of respect toward each other and we communicate very well, too. I may be mannish, but he’s got a little feminism in him, that’s where the respect and communication comes from. We fit very well for each other, I’m a mannish woman and he’s a feministic man. We have a superb connection; no matter how many girls we may have sex with together, they’re just flings and the only people we want to spend the rest of our lives with is each other.

*Note: This article won a 3rd place TIPA (Texas Intercollegiate Press Association) award for best column in 2011.

Los Chicos de Barrio – Feature Article

PicsArt_06-05-06.28.16Originally written some time in 2011.

Feature article:

In life, there are many different “classes” one can place our self into: upper class, upper-middle class, middle class, lower-middle class, lower class and of course the ghetto. The ghetto is the lowest one can get in the ranking of “classes.” It mainly involves drugs, violence and poor education. With poor education, not many doors are open for that individual, which leads them to other resorts to get money, because everybody needs to eat to survive.

In order to survive, one must befriend people who will be loyal and watch each other’s backs; that way one can stay alive longer in case a fight were to break out. There are gangs of adolescents everywhere in the ghetto, fighting to be the best among the other gangs, because that’s what they think they have to do to get out of the poverty they’re in. Gangs lead to mischievousness, violence and drugs—or just never something good in general.

“Living in the ghetto is hard—always having to watch your back and always trying to find new ways to make money,” said Ricky Villalobos, 44, ex-drug dealer. “Sometimes poverty gets too bad that we don’t even care what we have to do to get the money we need.”

Villalobos grew up in a small barrio “ghetto neighborhood” in Reynosa, Mexico with a gang of five friends, including his brother. The gang would get money by jumping men on the street.

“We’d always be hanging out together on the weekends mostly to cause mischief—we were young guys,” said John Garcia, 38, a member of Ricky’s barrio gang. “We’d always keep each other’s backs no matter what, even if the problem was that one of us didn’t have money or something, we’d jump a guy and take his money when we had none for lunch just because we had none ourselves.”

They were troublemakers as a gang, when they’d meet up on the weekends. During the week they each had their job and weren’t mischievous—or at least they weren’t as much as they were on the weekends.

Villalobos was working for the Corona beer company when he started dealing marijuana in small amounts around the age of 19. He started doing it just to get a bit of extra money, he wasn’t really thinking of becoming a drug dealer for good since he had an hourly paying job at the time and thought it was pointless to risk it. As a young adult, Villalobos didn’t have many responsibilities, he just thought for himself even when he started living together with his first common-law wife. His wife at the time, Cecilia states that Villalobos never helped take care of her or her daughter when she was born; she had to demean herself to stripping for money, because Villalobos wouldn’t give her any for any type of necessities when she asked, either when he worked at the Corona beer company or when he started dealing drugs.

A friend of his from la judicial “the police” asked if he wanted to buy evidence marijuana from him to sell for profit. All he had to do was give him a small cut of it. Villalobos took the marijuana from the corrupt cop and started selling it in quantities of five to 10 grams.

Soon, Villalobos lost his job at the Corona Company and the only thing he could think of doing to continue getting money without an hourly paying job was to continue selling the drugs for profit.

Villalobos went back to his corrupt-cop friend and asked him for more marijuana to sell, but after explaining his situation, the cop thought he’d take advantage of it and asked him to sell cocaine instead—a more dangerous drug to handle. Jobless, young and with thoughts of making fast money, Villalobos took the cocaine and started selling it in small amounts like he had with the marijuana—five to 10 grams at a time.

The cop kept giving Villalobos bigger and bigger quantities to sell as time kept passing by and slowly Villalobos was becoming a drug dealer without really intending to. But according to his ex-wife, Cecilia, the money started getting to his head and he started becoming more and more greedy, buying himself new cowboy boots and sombreros while ignoring his wife and daughter and their necessities. After eight years of this behavior from Villalobos toward Cecilia and their daughter, Cecilia decided to leave him and he did nothing to stop her. He was too busy accumulating more and more money for him, to care that his family was breaking apart.

“Over time, five grams turned to 60 kilos of cocaine. All of my merchandise to sell coming from el judicial that was selling me the marijuana at first,” said Villalobos. “Having the cops on my side in Mexico made my dealing really easy so that made me get carried away with it; I’d make anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 on regular weeks—I did make $60,000 in a week once though—those were good times.”

Villalobos and his brother Gerry, 42, were both raised in the ghetto in Mexico, but Gerry had been born in the United States and as soon as he turned 18 he left his home en el barrio to move to his native country.

After having seen his brother dealing drugs, Gerry thought it’d be no big deal if he started dealing them, too after he got offered a job like that one time, when he had gone up north to pick up some cars to bring down here to sell for profit.

He started selling in small amounts just like his brother, only he started with cocaine right away, because that’s what the friend who had offered him the job had. As time passed, the quantities the clients asked for kept increasing just like his brother’s clients had demanded, too.

Gerry wasn’t as lucky as his brother was in dealing drugs, maybe because Villalobos was dealing on his own in Mexico with the help of corrupt cops while Gerry started dealing in the U.S for someone else.

After 10 years of dealing cocaine, Villalobos got out of the business tactless, with no hint of trace that he ever dealt with drugs, by getting a passport and a new family, then moving to the United States, too, while his younger brother, Gerry got caught with a van filled with 600 pounds of cocaine, as he waited for the buyer to come one night. A van parked outside a public place in the middle of the night must have looked very suspicious to a cop, because after a while of waiting for the buyer to go pick up their stash a police officer decided to approach the van to ask if there was anything that he needed help with. Gerry, with 600 pounds of cocaine in his trunk and a cop right on his face seemed to show that he was nervous by sweating and playing with his hands a lot that the cop finally asked him to open the trunk for him and found what Gerry was being nervous about. The cop immediately handcuffed him and called for back-up.

Gerry’s sentence was for two years in state jail, but he only served 11 months—the rest he got with parole—for that van that didn’t even belong to him. After 10 years, Gerry was still dealing with the same friend who had gotten him into it from the beginning. Loyalty and the need of money kept him working for the same friend who had gotten him into the business. But after getting caught, he told his friend he had paid his dues by not turning him in and doing the time himself, so he got out of the business of drugs—with a record.

“Of course I wasn’t going to give away my friend, even though the cocaine wasn’t mine—it’s called loyalty,” said Gerry. “Besides, when one gives away another drug dealer to switch places in jail, the outcome isn’t very pretty when they get out—I choose making the time myself than getting killed by one of his guys for writing him out.”

Neither Villalobos, nor Gerry ever dealt with the Mexican cartels. According to both of them, the cartels didn’t even exist back in the 90s. Most of the drugs dealt in Mexico were evidence drugs that judiciales would sell to people they knew like Villalobos to make money on the side that way.

“The cartels didn’t start until PRI [one of the Mexican political parties] lost for the first time after so many years to PAN [another Mexican political party]. Yes, there were gangs with leaders that dealt with drugs—I was the leader of my five-people gang—but it was never something huge like the cartels.

The cartels actually consist of different gangs from different states in Mexico that united into one after the PRI lost to PAN; they’re like a rebellious group that doesn’t want a different president messing with their business—I knew when to stop, I was just in it to make some bucks, not to carry around a gun shooting anyone that gets in my way,” said Villalobos.

Villalobos said that he did carry a gun in his pants for protection when he was dealing coke in Mexico. He said he never had to use it though, because there was always a lot of loyalty in his friends and customers.

After coming to the U.S., escaping from what drug dealing had become in Mexico, Villalobos started buying cars to re-sale them for profit like his brother had done when he had first moved to the U.S. He also buys large quantities of “brand-named clothes” from up north along with his new wife, Sandy and brings them down to the Rio Grande Valley to sell for more. They both sell the clothes, Sandy sells to her girlfriends, while Villalobos sells to his guy friends. Just like he had connections for drugs, Villalobos has connections for “brand named clothes.” The clothes he gets are imitations, but he tells his clients that they are new brand names clothes to get a much bigger profit than what he paid for. Both illegal, but unlike drug dealing, this crime requires less time in jail if caught.

After getting caught with 600 pounds of cocaine, Gerry stopped dealing drugs, even when his friend offered him to continue selling for him. He is now working in a temporary service agency and decided it was too risky to ever get back into dealing drugs again.

Garcia followed his leader Villalobos to the U.S. after the cartels broke out chaos in Mexico and started his own sea food restaurant in McAllen, Texas, while the other two gang members stayed in Mexico dealing with Mexico’s new way of dealing drugs.

“Some of us became good and changed, while others became bad and decided not to, but we still keep in touch and when we see each other we always see each other with joy, because of everything we went through together,” said Garcia. “We never forget how we started and with who. Even now, after so many years of having left the ghetto—we still watch each other’s backs.”

*Names have been changed to protect the individuals’ identities.

Brujeria with la Santisima Muerte – Feature Article

Brujeria with la Santisima Muerte

Originally written some time in 2011.

Feature article:

All one needs to do is believe. Believe and have a few lines of rituals or prayers, along with candles and salt, to do brujeria—witchcraft that is. Make a star with the salt and put a candle in every corner. Chant the rituals or prayers and believe in whatever’s wanted to happen. Tarot cards are used to read someone’s future. But not just anybody can pick them up and start reading them, one must have the gift—and two little girls did have it.

One day, Yajaira Meza, 27, and a friend of hers got together and started fooling around with tarot cards and candles for the first time when they were only 11 years old. The spooky thing was: everything they said came true within days of their sorcerous experimentations.

But no matter what type of ritual a witchcraft practitioner may do, if they are Mexican and with superstitions, they are bound to use the image of La Santisima Muerte—an image of Death that is—for their brujeria as their guide and idol to ask favors from.

There are many different colors for the Santisima Muerte such as: black, which calls the spirit—it is also one of the most commonly used along with the white, which can do many things such as cleansing a spirit. There is a green one for money, a yellow one for faith, a red one for love and a purple one for evil or to pretty much do anything bad to someone else. Different colors for different effects. The person prays or chants a ritual to the Santisima Muerte that pertains to whatever it is they want to do.

If somebody were to be given a Santisima Muerte it shouldn’t be thrown away or destroyed or anything like that, said Meza. If one doesn’t have a use for it, it should be given away to someone who needs it and more than likely knows what to do with it, if not, the chain of passing it on will probably keep going.

“I have a 4 foot tall Santisima Muerte the color of bone—it’s actually the one that I would use mostly,” said Meza. “I also have a medium sized black one and a medium sized red one that I’d use a lot, too.”

Meza said the word spread around fast after she did her first tarot card reading in the small town she lived in called La Cañada in Mexico, during her childhood years. She said that when she was 15 years old a woman went knocking at her house asking for “the woman who can read the tarot cards and do witchcraft,” she answered the door and responded “well, it’s not a woman that does it, it’s me.” The woman at the door got a little taken aback, but requested her services nonetheless. When she read the tarot cards to her, she discovered that the man she was dating was married and the real reason the woman had gone was to get Meza to help her get rid of the wife.

“I couldn’t break up a family; the woman had said that the guy had already told her he wasn’t going to leave his wife and kids but she went to me either way to break it up for her.” said Meza. “I instead told her how to do it, because I didn’t want to do it myself.”

The ritual that Meza gave to the woman worked—the guy left his family for her—ten years later Meza bumped into the woman who told her that she was still with the man.

Before she’d begin reading the cards, she said she’d always do the same thing to start off: shuffle the deck of cards three times then make the person whose being read the cards shuffle them seven times. She’d make them split the deck in three and afterward she’d align them in rows of sevens; although she said that the number of cards per row varied depending on how she felt about it, she’d sometimes set the rows with cards of eights or tens.

As soon as she’d start setting the cards down she’d start muttering what was going on and as soon as she’d see the character representing one come out in one of the cards she’d let the person that’s being read the cards know whom they are in the cards. She’d also point to the cards surrounding the character and explain what everything meant. When the character that is representing one is surrounded by gold coins, it means money, when it’s surrounded by swords it means pain, when there’s another character close to one’s, it means there’s a connection of some sort between one and them, etc. (there are more symbols).

Meza said that reading the tarot cards for someone was like reading their luck, since we’re the ones who shuffle the cards in the first place it’s like we’re placing the cards in that order for ourselves; she just knows what the cards mean in every combination.

Another witchcraft practitioner claimed to have had a Santisima Muerte of every color at one point and used all of them at least once.

“I have a small ceramic Santisima that I used to cure, along with herbs and a black medium sized one—the one I used mostly and I call Ines, along with one of each color more,” said Ninfa Cano, 40, a witchcraft practitioner.

Both witchcraft practitioners, Meza and Cano claimed to have felt or seen the Santisima Muerte more than once. Meza said that she always wore a necklace of the Santisima but one time when she was 16 years old she had bought a “‘pimpin’ cross necklace that made her look badass” and took off the necklace of the Santisima so the cross necklace would look better on her. She said she lay down and had some sort of vision of the Santisima lying next to her crying very loud. She said she was very upset that she had taken off her necklace to put on another one; she had to give away her new cross necklace and put the necklace of the Santisima back on.

Meza said that another time, close to when she started practicing witchcraft rituals and prayers, the Santisima had shown herself as a beautiful blonde woman with a long white dress in her back yard at the house she lived in in Mexico. She said the woman didn’t talk to her, it was just an apparition; she told another “witch” about the apparition and that’s who told her it had been the Santisima. After that she started giving things in return to her “Flaquita” for the favors she asked for.

Cano also claims giving things in return for her favors to her “Inesita” such as cigars or hard liquor, sometimes fruit such as strawberries or kiwi. Meza said her “Flaquita” would sometimes even ask for joints of marijuana. They both said it’s just a feeling that they’d have to know what their Santisima wanted in return for the favor they wanted; like a connection between minds, because they claim to have heard her at times. Whatever they’d put down for their Santisimas would disappear in about two days after setting it down for her. Cano said that her “Inesita” was always there with her when she was reading the tarot cards to people; she knew what to say because she had her guide right next to her. When she wouldn’t ask for favors in a while, Cano says that her “Inesita” would get upset and start moving things around to catch her attention.

Cano didn’t practice brujeria for too long, she said. One time in Matamoros, Mexico an old woman saw her and had a feeling about her—a kind of vibe, she had told her. Cano said the woman went up to her and told her that she must teach her how to do brujeria, because she knew she had the gift. She said she taught her how to do good things, such as prayers for money, health, love and things like that; also, how to read the tarot cards and once she started practicing all this, everything would come out accurately, like she did have the gift—just like the old woman had told her.

She said she got too into all that witchcraft stuff by asking too many favors to “Inesita” that one time she decided to do something bad to somebody who wouldn’t stop bothering her, but she went a little too far, because the woman she did the bad witchcraft to had an accident a couple of days later that caused paralysis to her legs. That had been the first time she had practiced doing something bad and it obviously didn’t go too well.

Meza commented that when praying for something bad to happen, one must say exactly what’s wanted or else anything can happen. She learned from a bad experience, too; she said her husband would go out a lot with a certain male friend and she hated him for taking her husband away so much. She decided to do hardcore bad witchcraft one day by using 12 black candles without glass, she made a six-point star with all of them and added salt from a bar and home along with other powdered ingredients, such as saw dust. She sneaked into his car one day when he was visiting her husband and took out a sweaty, old, dirty shirt that was lying around in his back seat and dipped it in cooking oil. She wrapped the shirt around a doll and put it in the middle of the star, then prayed until the candles burned out; it took around 30 minutes, she said. Three days later there was a really big storm that caused the guys’ roof with his wife and newborn son in there, to blow off. Fortunately, nothing happened to anyone but it did cause them to move, which benefited Meza in grand.

“The prayer that I’d use the most was the one to bring a partner back; in my case: my husband. He’d always be leaving at night to bars and stuff and I would always be doing prayers to make sure he didn’t leave for good,” said Meza. “Most of the time when he came back, he’d mention that he had felt someone pulling him back toward home.”

She also said that when she’d do her prayers crying and desperate they wouldn’t work, but when she’d do them mad he’d call within two minutes saying he was on his way already.

Cano also practiced that prayer a lot, too, but for other women who wanted their men back. The prayer that Cano would use most on herself was the one for money. She said she was always doing badly economically, so she’d pray to her “Inesita” to always have money in hand. She would also have to buy the candle for money; the candle for money consists of seven colors (the colors of the rainbow). After that she’d have to put the Santisima’s incense around the whole house; she said that if the incense was not her own, the Santisima wouldn’t grant the favor.

Both Meza and Cano have recently decided to quit practicing their prayers and rituals to their Santisimas and surprisingly they both had the same reason for it. “I want to be closer to God now; I’m trying to decide who to give my ‘Flaquita’ to,” said Meza. And Cano said, “I want to attend church more now and forget about brujeria, since my pastor has found out about my witchcraft practices.”

At the end of the interview Meza confessed how she felt about all those years practicing brujeria with La Santisima Muerte.

“I had my fun,” said Meza. “I did many good things for me and for other people as I did bad things for my benefit, but I think it’s time to dedicate myself to God now instead.”

A Diamond Among Coal – Feature Article

20170412_175335Originally written some time in 2011.

Feature article:

Looking for love is anybody’s greatest adventure, but what about finding love when it’s not even being sought? The last place anybody would think about looking or finding love is at a party, but this is a different story.

When it was time to go outside to get ready for the party, I saw some guys waiting there already. I immediately asked my friend, Jen, about them.

“Oh, they’re going with us to the party, too. The white-skinned one’s from Edinburg, his name’s Ricco and the brown one is from Corpus, his name’s Steven. Stay away from the white one, I want him for me.”

Steven was waving “Hello” and Ricco was shaking hands with everyone. As he was getting near me, he skipped me and shook hands with the person next to me. I thought to myself, “What an ass.”

“I didn’t even want him anyway, you can have him. Did you see that? He didn’t even shake my hand,” I told her. She just smirked.

When we finally got all settled and drove to the party, we had to sign in at the front gate. Obviously we had to wait in line for a while, since we weren’t the only ones trying to get in. As I stood in line with my friends, I couldn’t help but feel eyes staring at me, so I turned around to have a peek and to my surprise I saw Ricco. He looked away as soon as he saw I noticed.

Finally, the time for us to go in had come. Inside the party he kept looking and even tried dancing with me by getting behind me. I hate it when guys do that, so I would just walk away. Since that didn’t work, he tried starting a conversation with me by asking me what drink I had. He repeated these two things like three times each. By the third time he tried dancing with me, he cornered me so I wouldn’t get away.

“Why have you been trying to get away from me all night? I’ve been trying to talk to you or dance with you,” he said to me.

“Well, first of all, I don’t know you; and second of all, you didn’t even shake my hand outside,” I said.

“Oh that? Sorry, sweetie, I couldn’t help being nervous and I didn’t know how to approach you. I finally built up the courage to talk to a beautiful girl like you right now,” he said, trying to sweet talk me. He approached me closely, trying to kiss me, when Jen appeared and pulled me away.

“We’re all leaving already, give him your number and let’s go.”

“How about you give me your number?” I asked Ricco instead. He did and we talked the next day, soberly… and the next day, until now that he became my husband. Who would have thought my true love would find me at a frat party?