Jose L. Flores


Jose L. Flores has a Master’s Degree in Public Administration and Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from the University of New Mexico (UNM.)  While in graduate school, he wrote an opinion column for the Daily Lobo, which is UNM’s Newspaper.  He has written several political articles, mainly on Latin America, for Additionally, he was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This is a great pride as his family history dates back to the original Spanish settlers of the Rio Grande Valley, mainly Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Currently, he lives in Fairfax, VA, which is a suburb of Washington, D.C. and a staunch contrast from his beloved New Mexico. Furthermore, he has always been encouraged to write by his parents and grandparents.  In fact it was his grandfather Rosendo Z. Cruz who told him that he has the heart of a writer and that's what he would be one day. He’s not sure if he knew how to write when he was told that.  

El Árbol

A young boy and his mother were strolling along the banks of the Rio Grande in southern Albuquerque, New Mexico.  The sun was dominating the terrain below with exception to the river valley, which was robed with shade from the cottonwood forest.  The air was abounding with cotton fibers and the brimming river provided vitality to ducks, minnows and wild shrubs.  The colors of water and life painted the bosque with a beautiful multifaceted complexion, a handsome contrast from the brown mesa above to the west. 

The boy and his mother would hike the same trail every Saturday deriving from a small casita in the South Valley.  Their destination was always an ancient and intimate cottonwood tree, which stood at a distance from all other trees in the area.  Overtime the mother and son referred to the tree simply as El Árbol.  The trunk grew out of the ground sideways, off to the right, from the location from which they approached.  All of El Árbol’s branches were long, crooked and pugnacious growing in every direction as if the tree was exerting its freedom.  Some of the roots arched above the ground resembling a rope anchoring a ship.    On the tree trunk the boy carved, with a pocket knife, Juan followed by Mamá.  Juan was too young to know his mother’s name was actually Yvonne.

Upon arrival to El Árbol Juan would routinely ask his mother tell him a story.  On this day Yvonne did not wait for the question, “Listen up Juanito today I am going to tell you El Árbol’s life story.” Juan sat with his back against the tree trunk hugging his knees in anticipation.  Yvonne cleared her throat and sat in front of Juan with her legs crossed like a pretzel and began her fable in a gust:

“Long ago El Árbol was discovered by a young Tiwa boy named Wildcat from Shiewhibak.  At that time a great disease was devastating the cottonwood bosque. In order to save the very young tree from the petulance Wildcat dug out the meager sapling and relocated it up the river to a safer place.  Over time the boy kept a watchful eye over the tree.  Wildcat would bless the cottonwood with water and clear shrubs around the trunk.  Wildcat named the tree Foremother and over the years watched the sapling grow becoming tall and strong.

As Wildcat became a young adult the people and land were changing around Shiewhibak.  Many men and women migrated from the south and settled near the Tiwa people.  These individuals looked very distinctive with lighter skin, a strange language and they often carried crosses and swords.  They brought animals never seen before along with exotic fruits and foods.  Some of the men had shaved bald heads, however a crowns of hair surrounding the baldness was precisely trimmed.  The bald men called themselves Frailes.  The newcomers worshiped their own god, often depicted on a cross suffering in agony.  The Frailes often named various sites around Shiewhibak after this suffering god. 

One day as Wildcat was tending to Foremother two of the Frailes approached in curiosity. They asked the lad, “What is the importance of this tree?”  The boy explained to the men that Foremother had overcome an extensive disease which was poisoning the forest.  Wildcat also explained how Foremother was occupied by a great spirit, which spoke telling him that the land on which they lived was sacred and ancient.  Wildcat shared one of Foremother’s cuentos detailing how the land was alive, a living breathing organism, having the power to heal those who embraced it and curse those that caused it harm.  The Frailes became disquiet at the manner in which Wildcat spoke.  They informed the boy that there is only one true holy spirit and begun to sprinkle water all around tree, thereby blessing it in a way which was foreign to the Wildcat.  The men named the tree Santo Servo and placed an image of their suffering god on the trunk.  Wildcat was mortified he felt like the new comers were changing the tree, “It is not the responsibility of the Frailes to bless Foremother, this is not what she was meant to be,” Wildcat thought. 


Later that night the boy snuck-off to the bosque and spoke with the Foremother about his frustration with the Frailes.  Foremother explained to Wildcat not to worry because the men were well intentioned and as long as they were custodians of the land of enchantment their lives would be blessed.  The boy felt a bit of relief and continued to nurture the tree in the way he saw fit.  As the young boy became and old man, he found that the new comers were in fact decent stewards of the enchanted land. They farmed, made irrigations, built homes and married into Tiwa families.  Soon the distinctions of the new migrants and the old tribe were undistinguishable, they merged into one people.


Numerous years passed and Wildcat’s life came to an end.  By that time a young girl named Maria was exploring the bosque, when she stumbled upon the majestic cottonwood.  Its majesty overwhelmed her with reverence, thereby sparking a curiosity to explore the cottonwood further.  While basking in its majesty Maria noticed a huge owl on the tree and named the tree Tecolote because even though the owl’s eyes were huge and gawking the branches of the cottonwood were more brazen and observed more scrupulously.


Maria decided to climb the tree.   As she begun to scale up Tecolote’s trunk the tree spoke to her.  Tecolote whispered to Maria “La terra de encanta is your country Maria you must embrace all men and women who pass through it as they are all our brothers and sisters.”  Maria propelled herself from the tree in fear striking the ground with a considerable impact.  Maria was so startled she ran home franticly ignoring her injuries. 


This bizarre event became engraved in Maria’s mind as she could not stop thinking about Tecolote’s proverb.  Overtime her fear became an infatuation and soon she was feeling that she must go back to the bosque and speak with Tecolote.  Early the next morning Maria decided to rendezvous once more with the tree. Upon arrival a warm a mystical radiance came over her as the light breeze pushing through the valley messaged her back.  The sun brought a warm comfort to her olive smiling face.  In this moment Maria felt at one with the bosque and was no longer afraid.  Maria decided to build a treehouse on Tecolote’s branches attempting to be as close as possible with the mystical tree.  She gathered wood, linins, rope and paint building a lovely little treehouse on the crooked branches.  Maria sang songs of love dedicating the melodies to Tecolote.


In Maria’s day the land of Shiewhibak was renamed to Atrisco and like in the day of Wildcat new-comers were making the country seemingly unrecognizable.  Many men from the east moved to Atrisco.  These men often wore blue uniforms, which included bronze belt buckles bearing the letters “U.S.” They called themselves Yankees.  Many newcomers had yellow hair and spoke an adamantly stern language.  As the Yankees moved into Atrisco people from all corners of the globe followed and resettled the land of enchantment.


One Evening as the sun was setting, making for an orange desert sky; Maria was sitting in her treehouse singing to Tecolote.  The beautiful song caught the attention of two Yankee soldiers.  They began to approach the treehouse, when one of them shouted, “What are you singing little girl?”  Maria became extremely irritated with the interruption.  She replied to them without looking down, “De Colores!”  The two men below looked at each other with a sarcastic squint letting out a slight chuckle.  “What does that mean?”  Maria now looked down lividly, “The Colors!”  The men once again looked at each other and laughed. “Listen little girl we are going to cut down many trees in this area and we need you to stay away tomorrow morning.  Our company needs materials and supplies.”  Initially, Maria said nothing to the statement.  The men waited for a few seconds before turning their backs in order to walk away.  Suddenly a little handmade doll was hurled perfectly through the air smacking one of the men square on the back of his head.  “You are not to cut this tree! Do you hear me Yankee?!”  The man’s eyes became red with agitation from the assault. “Oh yeah little girl?!” He held the doll in his hand looking back and forth at the doll and at Maria.  “This is my home!” Maria shouted in another fury.  The man stayed sanding for several second without responding.  “Have it your way little girl but I’m keeping this doll as payment.  If you ever assault an officer again I will cut down this tree and use it in my fireplace! Understood?!”  Maria crossed her arms and turned her back on the two men.  The Yankees walked away and said nothing else.


Once the men were at a considerable distance the girl whispered to Tecpolote, “We cannot trust these Yankee men.”  Tecolote’s aura begun to glow and the tree spoke, “Not to worry Maria these men will uphold their word, contracts and business is their culture.  Eventually this mentality will be their downfall.”  Maria took confront in Tecolote’s words.  Maria then leaned the side of her head on one of the branches and continued singing her beautiful song.”


At this point Yvonne stopped her story.  Her throat was becoming dry and the sun was coming down. “Okay Juanito it is time to leave.”  Juan suddenly had a look of disappointment on his face.  “What happened next Mamá?”  His round glossy eyes made Yvonne vulnerable with sympathy but as a mother she remained strict.  “Time to go home and go to bed Juan we have church in the morning.” The two began to walk back to their warm casita, while holding hands.  “’I’ll will finish the story next week Juanito I promise.”  Juan smiled as their elegant day came to an end.


The following week a cloudy sky made for a cool Saturday evening.  Yvonne and Juan began their ritual excursion to El Árbol pushing through the mud and brush of the bosque.  Yvonne and Juan were several yards away from El Árbol when they noticed the area was quarantined with yellow police-like tape.  It appeared as though a crime occurred.  Yvonne and Juan looked at each other with concern and curiosity.  The two of them ignored the tape by ducking and walking under the plastic.  The sound of machinery became louder as they drew nearer and exhaust could be seen above the forest’s tree tops.  Witnessing this commotion struck a panic in Juan causing his heart to race, immediately he began to run towards El Árbol.  Yvonne attempted to keep up but she could not, “JUAN!”  She shouted quickly trailing behind.  Yvonne began to panic as she lost sight of Juan.  After catching up Yvonne looked down and witnessed Juan on his knees and tears were pouring from his eyes. Yvonne then looked up and saw bulldozers and El Árbol was gone.  The bosque was completely flattened for what seemed like miles.  Yvonne stood with her mouth wide open; she threw herself to the ground and wrapped her arms around Juan.  A man with a yellow hard hat approached, “It’s not safe for you two to be here.  I’m going to have to ask you to leave ma’ me!”   Yvonne cradled Juan in her arms and began to walk home.  The two said nothing all the way back to their casita.


Months went by and a new Mega-Mart was built over El Árbol and the surrounding bosque.  Everyday thousands flocked to buy needless goods from the heartless company.  Yvonne and Juan refused to shop at the mart referring to it as “mercado del mal.”  Even though groceries and accessories were considerably less expensive in the monstrosity, Yvonne happily paid more at the local tiendas and carnecerias.  Oddly Yvonne and Juan spent very little time talking about El Árbol and sadly their walks in the bosque came to an end.  Yvonne once proposed an expedition to the other side of the Rio Bravo but Juan refused.  His little body was getting a sever dose of depression.


On one eerie evening, while Yvonne was preparing Juan for bed, the floorboards of their casita began to shake caused from the earth below.  Pictures flew off the walls and dishes soared from the cabinets shattering on the kitchen floor.  Yvonne quickly lifted Juan and the two took shelter in a closet holding each other closely.  All of the lights went out in the house and screams could be heard from outside.   The temblor became more and more intense over what seemed like an hour and suddenly the madness stopped.  Yvonne and Juan eventually retreated from the closet as the earth calmed down.  Yvonne walked outside to converse with neighbors and see to their wellbeing.  To her amazement several houses in the valley were destroyed as the earth opened up and devoured several portions of Atrisco.


The following morning Yvonne turned on the television, searching for news, while Juan was eating cereal.  Franticly a newscaster reported, “Mega- Mart has been destroyed by the .5 earthquake; there is nothing left but rubble.  Clean-up crews are working endlessly to sanitize the river and clear the entire area.”  Yvonne and Juan were amazed at the tragic news.  Juan dropped the spoon he was using to scoop cold cereal into his mouth. 


After Juan finished his cereal he asked his mother for permission to play outside.  Yvonne agreed considering that he remained inside the garden.  While playing in the garden Juan was peeking in the window periodically.  Finally, he noticed his mother got on the phone and knowing that she would take hours, paying little attention to anything other than her conversation, Juan quickly snuck off and ran towards the bosque.


Juan made his way into the cottonwood forest and once there hoisted himself on top of rubble that was once a mart.  There were work crews diligently clearing the area of rubble and debris.  Juan’s objective was to remain unseen from the working men.  The wind was blowing the smells of rotten food, there were commodities and toys stained with black sot scattered in every direction.  Juan would sneak form one place to another placing in his pockets little trinkets of intrigue.  Eventually, Juan found a small toy beach bucket and a plastic shovel to match.  Juan placed the shovel into the bucket and continued canvassing the devastated site.  The shouting of working men and the beeping of trucks backing-up was a good distraction in order to remain undetected.  Finally, Juan made his way to the area where the El Árbol once stood.  It was now just a field of cracked assault and concrete.  While scaling the area Juan noticed a tiny sampling poking out from hole where a huge panel of concrete was wedged over another.  Juan knelled down and fit his little hand into to the opened space.   Not wanting to damage the very young tree Juan took his tiny toy shovel clearing dirt, mud and debris.  After tolling for some time Juan was finally able to uproot the tree and placed it inside the beach bucket.  After accomplishing the surgical uprooting Juan quickly jumped to his feet and ran towards the river.  In an open space, slightly away from the other trees, Juan dug a hole and replanted the young tree.  Juan then filled his bucket with river water and drenched the little cottonwood with nourishment.  “I will name you Patria!” Juan announced with pride.


Months passed and Juan would return every day to feed the tree with Rio Grande water.  Juan never told his mother about Patria or his ventures alone into the bosque.  Initially the secrecy was out of fear of getting in trouble for disobeying orders.  Over time Juan’s secrecy became a habit and unexplainable.


Many decades passed, as did Juan’s mother.  The young vitality of Juan was no longer as he was now the occupant of an old body.  Over the years Juan paid tender care and attention to Patria and decided one evening to visit the cottonwood one last time.  As he made his way through the bosque, cane in hand, Juan became very pleased with the expansion of Patria.  Juan placed his cane on the ground and his hand on the trunk when suddenly Patria spoke, “Juanito this bosque and this land is a living breathing organism, which has the power to heal those who embraced it and curse those that harmed it. This land is your country and even though you are in possession of it you must embrace all of the men and women who pass through the land of enchantment.”  Juan’s eyes grew as he was startled that the tree actually spoke. He said nothing for a few seconds before responding, “Not everyone who passes through this land embraces its majesty and many have ill intentions.”  The tree begun to glow with an aura much to Juan’s surprise.  “The vitality of this bosque and of the land of enchantment only survives and persist by its people, therefore be a steward of this land and embrace everyone even those who have ill intentions. This is our way of life and is the foundation on which the land of enchantment was founded and is the only way it will persist.”  A tear came from Juan’s eye and he smiled with relief.  Juan picked up his cane and stood for a moment embracing his hopes for the future.   With an uncontrollable smile Juan asked, “Who will be next Patria?” Juan turned his back and begun to walk away corazon contento.