I am so proud to announce the release of COUNT ON ME: Tales of Sisterhoods and Fierce Friendships, by the amazing Latina networking organization Las Comadres. Editor Adriana Lopez gathered some top-notch Latina writers–including Esmeralda Santiago, Lorraine Lopez, Sofia Quintero, Reyna Grande, Michelle Herrera Mulligan, and our beloved compadre Luis Alberto Urrea–and asked them to write a tribute to their closest friend (or comadre). The result is a deeply moving anthology of a dozen essays that officially goes on sale September 4!
Here is a taste of my own contribution to the anthology, “Road Sisters.”
We were hungry, we were tired, and we were lost. Daphne was in the driver’s seat; I was navigating (and failing). We had been driving for three hours by that point, searching for Chilchinbito – a village so tiny, it didn’t appear on our Arizona atlas. We had been told that the Cowboy family might host us for the night, but they had no phone to confirm this. And so, we were relying on faith, blind faith. Faith that the Cowboys would be home; faith they would share their homes with strangers. Otherwise, we would be sleeping on the back roads of Navajo Nation that night.
I had met Daphne a week ago, but didn’t know what to make of her. Born in Brazil, raised in Venezuela and England, educated in the States, and trained in international aide relief in Africa, she was possibly the worldliest person I’d ever encountered, yet she approached each new destination on our road trip with the ecstatic enthusiasm of a novice. Her tongue was pierced and she bore a tattoo, implying a certain rebelliousness, yet she dutifully documented our mileage, filed our receipts, and cleaned out our 1981 Honda Hatchback each day. She was spontaneous but methodical, free-spirited but meticulous, gregarious but intimate, equally prone to laughter and tears. Who was this Brazilian badass, and why was she so fascinated by my life back in Corpus Christi, Texas?
“You were a Tigerette in high school? Like with pom-poms?” she asked for the twentieth time, a smile on her lips.
Was she – to use the British phrase she’d taught me – taking the piss out of me? Or was she genuinely interested? I wasn’t accustomed to someone so sophisticated being so curious.
“Yes, pom-poms. Sequined cowboy hats, too. But like I said, we weren’t cheerleaders. We were dancers.”
She pounded the steering wheel, shrieking in laughter.
“So,” I said, trying to keep worry from seeping out my throat, “what if we don’t find the Cowboys?”
“Shit, dude, we’ll figure something out.”
The sky was bleeding gold across the horizon. Any minute now, the sun was going to slip behind that faraway butte, and then we’d be driving in darkness. What if we missed the turn? Earlier that day, we had passed truckloads of Navajos who had stopped and poked their heads out their windows to check on us. (Bertha – our Honda – was visibly struggling along the dirt roads.) They confirmed we were headed in the right direction. Chilchinbito: straight ahead. Yet we hadn’t passed more than the occasional goat in miles. And the temperature was dropping at an alarming rate. This desert valley would soon be blue cold.
But if Daphne was concerned, she didn’t show it. “Let’s put on some tunes. David Gray?”
I shuffled through her CD collection, neatly alphabetized between transparent sheets.
“Aha!” she said. “I see a hogan.”
Off in the distance, I could make out a yurt-shaped construction of logs and clay. As we drew closer, half a dozen mobile homes appeared as well, assembled around a basketball hoop missing both backboard and net. As Daphne pulled into the settlement, Bertha sputtered to a halt and started smoking. Chilchinbito or not, we were staying here for the night.
A Navajo woman stepped out of a doorway, curious about the commotion. Plump with middle age, she wore a t-shirt of a howling coyote over baggy jeans. No time to strategize: we hustled over to greet her. When her gaze caught mine, my mouth parched – but not Daphne’s. Beaming broadly, she launched into our story. How we were from The Odyssey, a team of eight correspondents driving four cars thousands of miles across the nation to document the history so often omitted from classroom textbooks: slave rebellions, migrant workers, Japanese internment camps, the American Indian Movement. How we uploaded these stories onto a non-profit website monitored by hundreds of thousands of K-12 students around the world. How we did all of this on a $15 daily budget, which is why we needed to find the Cowboys of Chilchinbito, so we’d have a place to stay the night.
“The Cowboys?” the woman asked. “They’re our cousins.”
“Danny told us we’d find you!” Daphne flung open her arms, as if to say ¡Familia!
Not exactly. Over lunch at the Grand Canyon earlier that day, it had occurred to us that we had no place to stay that night. Pulling out our atlas, Daphne noticed we would be driving through the Navajo reservation, and asked our waiter if any Navajo were on staff. When he pointed out a busboy, she bum rushed him. Five minutes later, she had all the passwords we needed: Chilchinbito, Cowboy, and Danny.
“So you need a place to stay?” the woman asked, eyebrows crinkling.
“Yes,” we said in unison.
“Then stay here,” she murmured, opening her door.
Daphne turned to me with a wink and a smile. When our boss broke the news of our $15 daily stipend at orientation last week, every single one of my teammates thought it impossible – except Daphne. She thought it a challenge. And she liked challenges. Just the night before, in Vegas, she had talked the manager of a youth hostel into letting us sleep in the supply closet for half the regular rate. Girlfriend was on a roll.
We followed the woman inside her mobile home, where an ancient woman sat in a corner behind a giant loom, wearing a necklace of turquoise stones larger than my fist. Pausing in her project – a saddlebag patterned in black and white diamonds – she squinted at us with oystery eyes. From a back room appeared a man holding a wooden flute. His mouth opened in surprise at the sight of us. We all blinked at one another for an extended awkward moment. Then Daphne spun her magic.
“Oh my god! This bag is beau-tiful! And that flute! Did you make it? Can we hear it?”
Suddenly we were sitting together in a circle, upon their linoleum floor. They treated us to a woodwind concert and a hoop dance; Daphne showed them how to samba. They shared legends that predated that entire desert valley; we regaled them with last night’s adventures in Vegas. They gave us dream catchers; we outfitted them in Odyssey T-shirts. Daphne and I didn’t roll out our sleeping bags until midnight. When the family turned out the lights, she reached out to stroke my arm. “I am so glad we are traveling together. You are such a cool friend,” she whispered.
After a few seconds passed with no response, she hissed, “You beat me to sleep! All right, g’night.”
But I wasn’t sleeping. I had tucked my head inside my bag so she couldn’t hear me weeping….
(Me and my comadre at a recent reunion in Oneonta, New York!)