The strange and sad story of our gardener Lupe

A week ago last Sunday, on the feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, or Lupita as she is affectionally called by some Mexicans who venerate her more fervently that even Jesus himself, Stew, a friend and I went to Querétaro to see Steven Spielberg’s remake of “West Side Story.” We all loved it, although I caviled about the too-graphic depiction of gang violence. In the 1961 version, dazzling music and production numbers seemed to airbrush some of the blood, guts, knifings and personal tragedies inherent in the story.  

During dinner after the movie I got a call from our 24-year-old gardener Lupe, himself named after Mexico’s patron saint. He was frantic, borderline incoherent. I could make out only half of what he said: Something about him and his brother being in trouble because some people had been knifed in a fight—en una riña—the night before. I sent him a WhatsApp text, asking for details but his altered state of mind and nearly illiterate Spanish didn’t help.  

Whether life imitates art or the other way around, the coincidence between the violence in the movie and in our “hood”—the string of dirt-poor villages surrounding our ranch—struck an eerie note. Since we moved to the ranch some 12 years ago, there must have been more than 20 or 25 actual or attempted killings around us, all seemingly linked to guns, knives, pent-up testosterone and alcohol. Lots of alcohol. 

From what I’ve heard, the brawl involving our former gardener, and his younger brother Narciso, was triggered by a small gang of thugs who came in from a nearby village and into Lupe’s town of Sosnavar, and past his family’s house, behind the local elementary school. Lupe, allegedly quite drunk, took it as a taunt and responded by shooting a pistol into the evening air.  

The invading gang, the story continues, responded in kind by assaulting Lupe and his brother. A rumble was on. Narciso pulled out a knife and slit the throat of one of the other guysand plunged the knife into his gut a couple of times for good measure. The victim, who was in a coma for several days, miraculously survived. Did Lupita intercede to save the life of this well well known delinquent? 

Another one of the thugs also was knifed, but not as seriously. 

Dear Lupita: If it pleases you, save your disciples from one another. 

In another voice message on WhatsApp on Monday, Lupe stuttered that he hadn’t stabbed anyone, that he was scared of being sent to prison along with his brother, and asked me to keep his job open so he could come back when the matter was cleared up. 

Another one of Lupe’s brothers is already serving time for the gang rape of a minor, and two other brothers have been working in the U.S., without papers, for more than two years, Lupe once told me. He worked in the States for a year too, but came back claiming he was “bored.”

Any estimate of the extent of the violence around our ranch is bound to be vague, because police don’t have much of a yen to investigate violence involving drunken John Does in the campo, much less compile statistics. A lawyer friend also explained that once a crime is under “investigation,” the matter is considered sealed. Neither does the local media show much interest in covering routine killings, except as fodder for graphic reports. 

So if you want to make any sense of the mayhem around here, you’re left with word-of-mouth as the prime source of information, and from there, draw your own conclusions. 

Lupe’s presence and deportment during the three months he worked for us after Félix’ departure, make this latest crime story all the more incongruous. He’s about five-foot-two or -three, must weigh no more than 90 pounds and has the physique of a 14-year-old, not of a married 24-year-old with a two-year-old baby girl. Instead of the regulation baseball cap most Mexicans his age wear, he wore an Indiana Jones hat, perhaps to make him look taller. When we spoke his delivery was so diffident often I’d have to ask him to speak up and look at me so I could understand him. 

His job performance was impeccable almost obsessive, invariably showing up on time, and doing more work than he was asked. When he cleaned and weeded a flower bed it looked as if it had been vacuumed. During our recent two-week stay in San Antonio, Lupe repainted all the windows and doors in the house, in and out, without leaving a speck of stray paint behind. Stew and I were astonished. 

He did his job fervently as if in constant fear of losing it. Please don’t fire me, I desperately need this job. In retrospect, I suspect he may have had problems with previous employers and his gig with us was an attempt at a fresh start. 

So how did this small, meek guy change into a gun-wielding street fighter? People who know him told me his entire family are notorious drinkers and that Lupe himself was drinking on the job while we were away in San Antonio.

Last I heard, Lupe and Narciso are both in hiding, afraid not of the police but of retribution by the families of the two guys who got knifed.  Lupe’s supposedly trying to raise money to pay a coyote to take him back to the States, to join his two brothers there working construction around Dallas. Or he could flee to another part of Mexico. 

Either way, his prospects for a peaceful life for himself and his family seem dim indeed, all at the young age of 24. 


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