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Excerpt: 'Antonio's Gun and Delfino's Dream'

Cover of 'Antonio's Gun and Delfino's Dream'

Mexican immigrant Delfino Juarez's success working in the United States begins to have repercussions on his family back home in the village of Xocotla: brother Florentino, mother Adelina and especially his father, Lázaro.

By early 2004, Delfino was armed with the immigrant's tools of survival: phony papers, a car, a shared house, a job, some English.

It was then that his attention turned to other things. Back in Mexico, his family's eight-by-twelve-foot shack had been the most visible sign of its defenselessness and low social standing. The shack had dirt floors, leaked rain, and left them unprotected from the cold. A girl's family once refused Florentino's marriage proposal because that shack was all he could offer her.

Delfino began sending extra money home every month. His family bought him concrete blocks and stacked them in a corner of its small property. Then, in the middle of 2004, the family moved its shack to one side — it took only a few men to lift it. On the site where the shack once stood, Delfino built the first house in his village ever paid for with dollars.

It had one story, but from the roof rose rebar strong enough to support two more. It had an indoor toilet, a kitchen, and concrete floors. The house was fronted by two smoked-glass windows so wide and tall that it looked as if the house wore sunglasses.

"I wanted it to look good when you pass," Delfino said, "and to have a nice view."

In Xocotla, nothing like it had ever been built so quickly by a youth so poor.

A few months later, Florentino was working in Oxnard, a suburb of Los Angeles, when he spied a house with brick archways, large windows, and a planter in front. He called home and described it to his father and some construction workers. Soon, he was paying men in Xocotla to build him a replica of that house in Oxnard. It stands at the entrance to the village and has a tiled bathroom, a shower, and a hot-water heater.

All this helped change their father. He had stopped drinking and discovered Alcoholics Anonymous. He was now in his forties and tired of waking up in the pig muck. He also now had sons in the United States who were doing well. As they worked up north, he attended AA conventions in the port of Veracruz — the farthest he'd been from the village, other than Mexico City.

His sons could now send him money for construction materials and know he wouldn't spend it on booze. So within a year of Delfino's arrival in the United States, Lázaro was not only sober but supervising construction of first Delfino's house, and then Florentino's, in Xocotla.

Lázaro was proud that his children could trust him. He told anyone who would listen how happy he was that his sons had made something of themselves and changed the story of the Juárez family.

But the village was used to much slower change. The rise of the Juárez boys upset the way things had been up to then, and some folks took it badly.

One night while Delfino's house was being built, a young man named Carlos, a school friend of Delfino's, came to the house enraged and waving a machete. He threatened Delfino's mother, Adelina, saying that the Juárez family was now arrogant and pretending to have lots of money, while he had nothing. He vowed to tear down the house they were building.

Lázaro deflected the envy of townsfolk who watched the Juárez family rise from poverty along with those houses. The changes in him and his family especially upset his drinking buddies, to whom he suddenly seemed too high and mighty, what with his sons doing well in the states and Lázaro no longer drinking.

"People got mad," he said.

Lázaro had never been the object of anyone's envy. He found that he liked it. He kept building those houses, telling everyone that he'd build until his sons in America told him to stop.

For a time, the Juárez brothers were the village's largest employers — spending close to forty thousand dollars on labor and supplies. As Florentino's house went up, the family of the girl who'd refused his marriage proposal let it be known that they regretted their decision. When Delfino returned to Xocotla for a few months in late 2004, older men, who'd once laughed at his mohawked hair, came to him to borrow money.

"Now everyone says hello," said Delfino.

In the end, it was seeing the poorest kid in town put up a concrete house with plumbing and smoked-glass front windows that changed Xocotla.

Excerpted from Antonio's Gun and Delfino's Dream: True Tales of Mexican Migration by Sam Quinones. Reprinted with permission of the University of New Mexico Press.

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Sam Quinones