BY LUCINA STONE
Brujeria and hechizos are culturally ingrained in my Mexican upbringing as much as tacos and queso fresco. Hechizos are defined as magic spells or they can be charms for brujeria, which is defined as witchcraft. As in the American culture, there is black and white magic.
The most useful white magic I saw in my home was my Mother’s bowl of red apples carefully placed on a small altar at the entrance of our home. My Mother spent so much time at the grocery store carefully picking out the Red Delicious apples with their waxy skins and bright red color. She inspected each one to make sure they were not bruised or damaged in any way. These beauties were strictly off limits to my brother and me. They taunted us daily when we came home seeing them perfectly placed in their bowl. I felt like Eve wanting to just bite the silly apples my Mother put so much faith in. My brother, unlike Adam, was too fearful of my mother’s wrath to ever try them. The apples were there to collect the negative energy or bad intentions of people who came to our home. Anyone who visited was unknowingly tested right from the start. Guest greeted at the door where my Mother lingered with pleasantries until she felt sure the apples had done their job. It was then she would bring them further into our home. Once they left, she carefully checked each of her apples. Any that were rotten or bruised was enough evidence for her to make her decision on if that guest would be allowed back.
"It doesn’t make any sense," I would argue. "The apples are going to rot, they are fruit. All fruit goes bad in a few days. It has nothing to do with your Mexican magic."
"Oh si! Veremos," was all my Mother would say. "These customs have been around for hundreds of years and some teenager is going to tell me it’s not true."
My eye rolls ignored, and simple logic quickly cast aside. My experiments to show my Mom how fruit rots were laughed at.
"These apples are prepared," she would say. And every time she switched them out, I would watch. Her routine was always the same. The new fruit carefully placed on the small altar under the framed picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The bowl of apples, fresh flowers, and a votive placed on a white lacy fabric. Usually the candle had a picture of Jesus or another saint depending on Mom’s mood. She would lovingly decorate her table and spend a few minutes each day praying. Asking the Virgin to protect us, and our home. Maybe if Mom had done some elaborate gesture, voodoo dance, or animal sacrifice it might have helped my skeptical mind to consider believing. Nothing my sixteen-year-old brain could conjure to invoke the kind of power it would take to make the apples work ever happened.
"Whatever, this is America, New Jersey for God’s sake. Not some remote Mexican village where people believe in the chupacabra." I continually argued with my Mom and she continued to pray and carry on with her tradition. When the apples would rot due to "explainable science" in my opinion, my Mom would place them in a plastic bag and throw them far away from the house. A useless drive by my estimation, it usually took place on a Sunday when I wanted to hang out with my friends. I would protest and demand that she do what people in every other house do, "just put them in the trash and let the garbage men take them away." But no! It was always a fight. I’d scrunch my face and get in the front seat wishing my Mom could be American. Wishing I didn’t always smell like rice, fried tortillas, or refried beans. Wishing that when my friends came over they could just come inside without the extra interrogation at the front door.
On one typical Saturday my Mom drove us all the way out to Union City to grocery shop and buy her silly apples at The Bravo, a Latino supermarket we always went to hoping to save a bit of money. We rushed home, a 45-minute drive with a car full of groceries. My Mother told us she was expecting company and asked me to help her. She put away the meat and dairy products and handed me the plastic bag full of bright red apples.
"Set them out for the Virgin for me." This was the first time my Mom entrusted me with the task. Anxiety crept through me. I had seen her do it a million times, knew her routine but felt embarrassed to pray. She looked into my eyes and gently pressed the bag into my hands. I was thankful my brother had locked himself away in his room. I didn’t want to get made fun of or deal with his taunts. I opened the bag and began to place four apples side by side in the bowl. They were perfect. I placed three more on top and then a final one forming a small tower in the bowl. I peered up at the Virgin and said to her in my mind, "You know what’s up. You know what Mom wants." I felt silly, those damn apples.
My Mother looked pleased, she smiled at me when I came back to help her put away the rest of the groceries. She started dinner and I went to my room to listen to music. My brother and I went back down to greet our visitors when they arrived. It was family who came to visit, family we had not seen in a long time. They stayed for a while, talking to my mom. They needed some help and my mom was unsure if she could assist them financially. I lingered by my Mom’s side, listening in and being a busy body as most brooding teenagers can be. They didn’t stay too long. We said our goodbyes with my Mom promising to get back to them. She locked the front door and I snuck back to pick at the left over food.
"Hija," Mom called from the altar. "Hija!"
I ran over and tried to read the expression on my Mom’s face. It was concern. She merely pointed to the apples. I immediately thought I had done something wrong. Did I not place them in the bowl properly? My dyslexia got me into all kinds of trouble back then. Putting things on the wrong side, miscounting, silly mistakes I would berate myself for. I glanced over at the bowl. Fruit flies and the apples waxy skin looked withered. My Mom came over and gently turned one, the bottom was black.
"You see. Even family can have bad intentions. The apples absorbed all the negative energy they brought with them."
Flabbergasted, I stared at the apples unbelieving at first but the evidence was clear. It would not be the last time I experienced something supernatural or otherworldly. My mind exploded with facts, figures, explanations, trying to explain the unexplainable. The moment I touched the apple and turned it myself was the first time I could feel my small world expand. The closer I examined the black and brown bruise a deeper acknowledgment between myself and the Virgin or God developed.
All of them, the small pyramid of apples rotted. My Mom made a sign of the cross over herself and then me. She placed the fruit into a bag and thanked the Virgin for protecting us. I didn’t complain driving to throw the fruit away. I sat in stunned silence thinking about everything else I had dismissed in my life, seeing with clarity the possibility that exists in the world.
Lucina Stone, a Latina young adult book author from Morris County, New Jersey was the 2016 winner of two awards of the prestigious International Latino Book Awards for Best Sci/Fi novel and Best New Author. Santa Muerte- The Daniela Story (Story Merchant Books Press, 2016 release) tackles diversity in science fiction and fantasy by using folklore and culture. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor and works in Morris County.