Michael Mejia’s “Coyote Takes Us Home” is a contemporary fairy tale about a group of children traveling to the U.S.-Mexico border who are stowed away in the headlights, radio, and side panels of a Coyote’s Chevy Nova during the drive across northern Mexico. The children meet a bevy of auspicious characters along the way, including a woman buried up to her neck in sand, a moon fixing tortillas and pozole, and a fast-talking dandy named Conejo (“Rabbit”). Many of these characters owe their inspiration to Tales from Jalisco, Mexico, a book published in 1943 by the American Folklore Society.
In his appendage to the story, Mejia quotes Octavio Paz, who wrote: “The history of Mexico is the history of a man seeking his parentage, his origins.” Mejia adds: “That search gets a bit more complicated once you move next door.” Mejia is curious about the dreams and motivations of children making the treacherous trip North, many of them to reunite with their parents. He’s also interested in his own family history: Mejia’s grandmother was from Jalisco, and he weaves her sense of humor into the tale. “For me, [the story] is also a sort of ticket home.”
In Sleep Dealer, a futuristic sci-fi film directed by Alex Rivera, the border between the United States and Mexico has been permanently fortified, thereby rendering the act of crossing it an impossibility. After a drone attack kills his father, Memo Cruz travels from his Oaxacan hometown to Tijuana where he locates a coyotek who implants nodes into his muscles. This “node job” allows him to find employment as a cybracero (colloquially, a “sleep dealer”).
Sleep dealers work in virtual factories where they control the robots that perform unskilled labor north of the border. It’s a low-wage, physically demanding job that drives employees to exhaustion and collapse. “We give the United States what they always want,” Memo’s boss tells him. “All the work, without the workers.” A 2008 Sundance entry that won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award and the Alfred P. Sloan Prize, Rivera’s opus later received the H.R. Giger Award at The Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival.
Queer Chicana writer Gloria Anzaldúa (1942-2004) grew up in southernmost Texas. As a child she heard the legend of La Llorona, a weeping, white-clad ghost that haunts the Rio Grande searching for her lost children. When she comes upon flesh and blood children, La Llorona is said to drag them into the river where they drown.
Anzaldúa’s work addresses borders physical and emotional, notably the clash between her home community’s traditional values and her queer identity. In the poem “The Postmodern Llorona,” she recasts the sorrowful ghost as a lesbian feminist; this Llorona wears high-top sneakers and attends Take Back the Night rallies.
“Her high pitched yell is curdling the blood of her parents,
raising the hair on the back of their necks,”
“. . . The dismembered missing children are not
the issue of her womb– she has no children.
She seeks the parts of herself
she’s lost along the way.”
This Fairy-Tale File brought to you by Tiny Donkey editor Wren Awry and poetry editor Jon Riccio.