Abrán González always knew he was different. Called a coyote because of his fair skin, the kid from Barelas found escape through boxing and became one of the youngest Golden Gloves champs.
But the arrival of a letter from a dying woman turns his entire life into a lie. The revelation that he was adopted makes him feel like an orphan and sends him on a quest to find his birth father.
With the help of his girlfriend, Lucinda, and Joe, a Vietnam veteran, Abrán begins a journey that hurls him from the barrio into a world of greed and political corruption spearheaded by Abrán’s manager, Frank Dominic, a con artist running for mayor with visions of building El Dorado on the Rio Grande.
Rich in spirituality, and taking its title from the original spelling of the city’s name, Alburquerque casts a light on the importance of ancestry while cutting across class and ethnic lines to tell a story of hope and displacement, love and regret, and the power of identity.
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Read an Excerpt
By Rudolfo Anaya
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1992 Rudolfo Anaya
All rights reserved.
Ben Chávez walked into Jack's Cantina and ordered a beer at the bar. April was already warm, and the air conditioning felt good. The image in the mirror smiled back, showing a row of even teeth in a brown face. The dark hair was graying around the temples. Hitting forty isn't bad, he thought, as he took his beer and found an empty booth. He sipped and enjoyed the cool, bitter taste of draft beer.
It was Friday afternoon and the bar was packed with university students, local patrons, and a few professors. Things don't change much, Ben thought as he leaned back into the well-polished vinyl seat of the booth.
He was teaching a writing class at the university just up the street, and today after class some of the students had invited him to an uptown bar. Ben declined. If he was going to have a beer on his way home, he preferred Jack's. The old bar on Central Avenue had been a favorite place for a long time.
Sooner or later everyone passes through the doors of Jack's Cantina, Ben thought, from the winos who hung around the blood donor center to the downtown bigshots. The place had been around a long time and its booths were worn, but it was comfortable. For Ben, it was a friendly wateringhole. He felt the tension generated by student questions drain away as he enjoyed his beer.
He was working on a story, thinking of writing something about the current political situation. The mayor's race was heating up. Frank Dominic, an old high school friend, was running. He wanted to be governor, but he hadn't played hardball in New Mexico politics, so he planned to get experience as mayor. That meant he had to beat the incumbent Marisa Martínez, a thirty-year-old attorney. She had called Ben a few weeks ago to ask for his support, and Ben was sure Dominic would be calling soon.
In the meantime Cynthia lay dying in St. Joseph's Hospital; the cancer was winning the battle. He sighed. There wasn't anything he could do about it. Nada. Death came even in springtime. Maybe that's why he had declined his students' invitation; he wanted to be alone. He felt tired, and he knew it wasn't the job. The thought of Cynthia dying had worn him down. He had been to see her, and the woman lying on the bed was no longer the young woman he once knew. Time had come between them, and now her death was about to seal the separation.
He scribbled a note on the bar napkin in front of him. Maybe he should write her story, not the story of the political struggle that was going to tear the city apart. Cynthia was dying, that's what mattered. It was a story he had never told, and maybe its time had come.
As he wrote, an old nemesis from high school appeared at his booth.
"Ben, cómo 'stás, vato?" the big man said. He slapped Ben on the back. Not a friendly gesture.
Ben looked up. Fat Bernie. Fat Bernie was king of the pool table in the back room. He also ran drugs in the student ghetto that lay along the university's south side. They had gone to high school together, and because they were from different barrios, their gangs had fought, big-time rumbles after football games or dances.
"Okay, Bernie. You?"
"Just earning a living," Bernie replied. "Come on, let's play a little eight ball."
Ben shook his head. He hadn't played pool in a long time, and Bernie played for high stakes. Besides, he didn't like Bernie.
"Come on," Bernie insisted. "You used to play at Okie's. Remember?" Bernie laughed. He was fat and dark as he loomed over the writer, a shadow from the past.
Ben remembered. He had played a lot of pool when he was a student at the university, but that was another time, another world. He had played Bernie and beaten him, and Bernie had never forgotten.
"Come on, one game, five bucks," Bernie kept bugging him, drawing the attention of the other people in the bar. "I'll give you a handicap. I'll tie one hand behind my back!" Bernie roared. His buddy, a simian character in pachuco dress, emerged from the crowd to laugh with him. Chango was Bernie's compa in the drug game they played. Everybody knew.
"Es gallina," Chango sneered. He looked at Ben with evil eyes.
Chicken, Ben thought. I was never chicken. We knocked the hell of out you, Chango. Remember? Nobody called him chicken.
"Okay." Ben slid out of the booth. "Come on, Bernie, let's see how good you really are."
Bernie led the way into the back room, and Chango laughed. They were loaded with dope money and high on a few snorts.
A buzz filled the air, heads turned, and some of the workers drinking at the bar followed the players into the back room. Some of the men knew Ben had played once. They watched as he slapped five twenties on the table and picked out a cue stick.
Bernie cleared his throat. A hundred bucks a game? Most of the guys shot for beer money. Beads of sweat broke out on Bernie's forehead. He felt the wad of money in his pocket then looked at Chango. Chango smiled, "Chingalo."
They rolled up their sleeves and played. Ben's instinct was to go easy at first, let the sucker win a few, then raise the bets. But Bernie and Chango had ticked off something in him, an anger that had lain dormant. Old scores he thought were dead and settled from his youth.
It was like going to a cockfight in Bernalillo or Belen. You go thinking you're not going to get involved, but the flurry of the cocks and blood spilling excite everyone, and soon you're betting, soon you're in the game.
He planned to put Bernie away as fast as possible. He hated bullies, and these two had bullied him all the way through high school. He let Bernie take the first game, upped the bet, then ran the table on the next three.
Afternoon turned to late afternoon. The pool room grew crowded as other players and customers gathered to watch the game. The word filtered out quickly: Ben Chávez was giving Bernie a hard time on the table. Silent Ben Chávez, who just wrote books and was always courteous when he dropped by for a beer, could play pool. And Bernie had the reputation for being one of the best players in the city.
But now Bernie was sweating and puffing. He hadn't expected a tight game, and he sure as hell didn't want to lose to Ben Chávez. He kept digging into his pocket, and in a couple of hours he was over a thousand into the wad of money he owed his boss. The man who supplied him with dope would not wait to be paid. He cursed and looked at Ben. Pure luck, but the sonofabitch was running hot. Too hot. Bernie stomped, changed from beer to shots of tequila, changed his cue stick, and still Ben ran table after table.
An hour later Bernie knew he had taken a beating. Sweat dripped from him as he leaned exhausted against the table. He looked at Chango. His partner had covered bets on the side, but that had only increased their losses. Lady Luck, la Señora dressed in white lace, followed Ben around the table. Today I am with you, she whispered, but playing pool ain't like writing a story. Tomorrow no one may care when you finish the poem.
Ben smiled. Suerte was fickle, he knew, but he had been given a gift early in life. Lady Luck was always by his side.
Do something, Bernie's scowl said, but Chango was sweating, too. In a few hours they had to deliver the Friday night take, and they were going to be short.
Only Ben Chávez remained cool. He hadn't played eight ball in a long time, but the skill was still there. He was enjoying beating Bernie. He felt high, in charge of things. He could still shoot a good game, and that pleased him.
"Last game, Bernie," Ben smiled, "then I'm looking for new competition." He and those around the table laughed. He had two balls to run. He leaned over the table, stroked the cue stick, and as he did he accidentally touched the eight ball with the back end of his cue stick. It was a mistake Bernie and Chango had been waiting for.
"Hey! Hustle!" Chango cried, grabbed Ben and spun him around.
"Accident," Ben tried to explain as he pushed Chango back, but Bernie had already charged. He swung his cue stick and the blow glanced across Ben's forehead.
Stunned, Ben fell back. He cursed himself for the stupid move. Anger overwhelmed him as he struggled to his feet.
"Okay, Bernie, you asked for it!" He swung back. No sonofabitch was going to hit him and get away with it. It was like old times. Somebody pushed and you pushed back—that was the rule of the barrio.
"You hustled!" Chango shouted and pulled a switchblade. The crowd drew back. Chango moved in slowly. "You asked for it, ese."
Ben shook his head to clear the cobwebs. Ah damn, a knife. Same old story. Why couldn't he fight with his fists?
"Put the knife away," he heard himself say.
"Yeah, put the knife away," someone repeated. Chango turned to see a big Indian step forward.
"Stay outta this, Joe!" Bernie shouted.
He knew Joe Calabasa, an ex-Nam vet who drank his afternoon beer at Jack's. Next to him stood Abrán González, a former Golden Gloves boxer.
"Stay out!" Chango yelled at Joe. That was his big mistake. Joe kicked out and Chango's knife went flying. In the same motion he hit Chango with a crushing blow that sent the man sprawling over the pool table, blood gushing from his mouth.
Bernie came in with a cue stick, but Abrán stopped him with a left jab, then a short right that split the fat man's lip. The fight was over. Tony, the bartender, came pushing through the crowd, shouting "Break it up! Break it up!"
"It's okay," Joe said. Nobody was going to jump in for Bernie.
Bernie and Chango knew they were beaten. They backed away. "Sonofabitch started it!" Bernie cursed.
"I don't care who started it," Tony threatened. "No fighting here! Move on out!"
Bernie pulled Chango away, and nursing their wounds they left the bar.
Joe Calabasa turned to Ben. "You okay?"
"Get him a drink," the bartender said, and Angel the waitress hurried to the bar. "Clear the room, folks, just a little argument. It's all over. All over." He looked at Ben. "You okay?"
Ben Chávez nodded. "I'm okay."
The writer looked at Joe Calabasa, then at the young man with him. Abrán González. A handsome kid. His eyes were a light brown, the color of his curly hair.
"Abrán," he said. His hand trembled when he took the handkerchief the kid offered him.
"You know my name?"
Ben pressed the handkerchief to his wound. "Everybody knows you. You were Golden Gloves champ."
Abrán smiled; a couple of men returning to their tables slapped him on the back. Others congratulated Ben on the game as they went back into the bar to drink and talk about the fight. Ben drank the shot of Jack Daniel's that Angel offered him. It eased the pain.
"And thanks, Joe ..." Ben looked at Joe and tried to remember where they had met.
"Calabasa. From Santo Domingo. I took a class with you a few years ago."
"That's it. I can't remember plots, but I never forget a face." Ben smiled. He shook Joe's hand then Abrán's. "You saved my life."
"Nah. But you better see a doctor," Joe said.
"Ah, it's nothing. I'll get home, be okay," Ben answered.
They walked with him out the door into the bright afternoon light. A spring windstorm was sweeping over the city, raising dust. In the neighborhood behind the bar the tall elm trees were already green with seed clusters. Somewhere in the apartments nearby a woman called a child, and a screen door banged. In the parking lot someone had run over a snake that had come out of a garden with the warmth of spring. Two winos had stopped to look at the mess.
"Okay?" Abrán asked.
"Feel like I have rubber knees," Ben said, catching a glimpse of the dead snake. The wind swirled dust in his eyes, and he thought of the snake dance at Zuni. The snake had awakened to spring and come into the light to meet its death; it was not a good omen.
"We can drive you home, Mr. Chávez," Joe volunteered.
"Or the hospital," Abrán added.
"Ben, call me Ben. This? It's nothing. You should have seen some of the high school fights I was in. Blood and broken bones all over the place. And we're still alive. It's not bleeding. I could use a ride home...."
"Can do," Joe said. "Abrán can drive your car, I'll follow."
They helped him into his car and Ben told Abrán to follow Central Avenue across town to the West Mesa.
"I was stupid," he said. His head throbbed. "I haven't been in a fight since I was in high school. What am I going to tell the wife?" They drove in silence. "It was a good one," he said. "You know what they say, Dios cuida a los niños y los borrachos. He also takes care of writers," he added.
They crossed the Río Grande and Ben looked out across the river bosque. The cottonwoods were sprouting buds, a light tinge of green in the otherwise dusty afternoon. The windstorms came with spring, the souls of the dead rode the wind. Most people grew nervous and unsettled with wind; Ben listened to its cry.
"I built my home on the West Mesa so I could watch the sun rise in the morning," Ben said. "From there I watch the city. A man never runs out of stories to tell when he has a city like this."
Abrán listened politely as Ben talked. He had never thought about the life of a writer, although as a first-year student at the university he was enjoying the literature class he was taking. It was his favorite subject, and he never tired of analyzing the novels he read for class. But he had never met a writer. The man took what were the ordinary events in life and created stories. He listened closely as Ben Chávez talked about his past, and he sensed the man was struggling with a problem, something he needed to resolve.
He drove into the driveway, and he and Joe walked Ben to the front door. "I want you to come in," Ben kept insisting. "Meet my wife. She's going to be upset. Come in." He called and his wife, a slim, attractive woman, appeared. "Elena, mi amor, these are my friends, Joe and Abrán."
She greeted the two young men. "What happened?" she asked. Ben was still holding Abrán's handkerchief to his forehead.
"It's nothing, a small cut," he tried to explain as she looked at the wound.
"A bruise, but you should see a doctor."
"For this? It's nothing. A bandage, that's all I need. Look, it stopped bleeding."
"Okay," she said, "but it's going to leave a scar."
"The scars of life," he said and looked at Abrán and Joe. Something about the incident had released more than adrenaline. He felt he was destined to meet the two young men, but he didn't know why.
"All right," she agreed. "Go in the study, I'll bring the bandages."
"Follow me," he said and led Abrán and Joe past the dining area and down a set of stairs. His study contained a desk, a typewriter, a word processor, files, and shelves stacked thick with books. Along the top of a bookshelf sat an array of plaster saints.
"My santos," he explained as he offered them chairs. "They have delivered me home once again. Gracias a Dios y las kachinas."
"Nice place," Joe said as he looked through the bookshelves.
"It is," Ben answered. "I have peace and quiet here. Look around. Can I get you a drink?"
"No, not for me," Abrán said.
He watched Abrán, taking in the boy's face. His fine sculptured nose hadn't been damaged by the years of boxing, and the gaze in his eyes was still innocent.
"I want to thank you," Ben said.
"No problem," Abrán answered. "Bernie had it coming."
Joe had made his way around a bookshelf to look at a large painting on the wall. It was the scene of a matanza, the butchering of hogs for winter meat. It was so vivid in detail and color that the people in it seemed alive. He was about to ask Ben about the painting when Ben's wife reappeared.
"It's a clean cut," she said as she cleaned the wound. "It will be bruised awhile."
Ben handed Abrán the handkerchief he had borrowed.
"I can wash it," Ben's wife said.
"No, no trouble," Abrán said. "We have to go."
"I want to thank you," she said. She shook their hands and wished there was something she could give them.
"Stay and eat with us," she invited.
"Thanks, but my mother is waiting," Abrán explained. "She promised us a big supper."
"If you hadn't been there Chango would have cut me in thirteen pieces and fed me to the ducks at Tingley Beach," Ben thanked them.
"Glad to help," Joe said.
"We better get going," Abrán said. "It was an honor to meet you, Ben. And you," he said to Elena.
Excerpted from Alburquerque by Rudolfo Anaya. Copyright © 1992 Rudolfo Anaya. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This
"A rich and tempestious book....above all, in this novel is a deep caring for the land and culture and for the spiritual well-being of people, environment, landscape....it has the courage to be full of hope."
"A poet of the Llano in the barrio is back and at the top of his form."
"Anaya's fabulous pen takes us hundreds of years into the origins of the Indo-Hispanic literary culture...Mr. Anaya uses Albuquerque as a symbol for the issues that Americans must face in the 21st-century."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A really great book. After reading and enjoying Bless Me, Ultima I decided to read another of Anaya's books, so I chose Alburquerque. The book starts out strong and keeps you wanting to continue reading more. I would gladly recommend.
this was the first book that i was able to read without wanting to put it down, i wanted to keep reading. this book was great because as a Mexican-America, i am able to find lots of similaritites between the things that are happening in the novel and myself..