May 1979, Coral Gables, Florida
In the tangerine light of 6:19 p.m., the three generations of atheists really did look like a lovely Floridian family. Slightly balding father at the grill, mother with healthy, curly dark hair sprinkling sugar on top of strawberries in the kitchen, daughter sitting by the pool in a big t-shirt, son getting quietly stoned by the mango trees in the backyard after football practice. At a far enough glance, they passed. Then you would look closer. The daughter, María Eugenia—Eugenia or Euge to not be confused with her mother—was reading Eduardo Galeano, which felt a bit heavy and brainy for near summer. The son, Gonzalo Martín (Martín to not be confused with his father Gonzalo), toeing a green, unripe mango that had fallen, was not wearing a Dolphins jersey but a lively blue shirt with Rojitas written on the back in sunflower yellow. The father had flayed an enormous squash on the grill, calling for more aceite para la parrilla, and shook green sauce from a spoon onto the steak—no corn nor burgers in sight.
The grandma, gazing at a mosquito stuck in the screen door, is the main betrayal that they were not from there, which is funny because she is blonde and blue-eyed. She gave them away because she never learned English. Security guards would follow her while she prattled and gesticulated inside a store at the mall. And when Gonzalo Martín was six-years-old, a cop stopped her as she was speeding to the South Florida YMCA for his daycamp. He translated and cried beneath the heavy dark bangs, down his sweet square cheeks, as the man told him his grandma would go to jail if she did not pay her ticket.
Diana Otet Giovanelli lived with her daughter María Eugenia (Maru) and her son-in-law Gonzalo Pereyra rather than down the road or a town over because that was the custom. The mother, Diana’s daughter, was not fussing in the kitchen but humming and brandishing kitchen cloths purposefully. What gave her away as pretentious or foreign was the loud opera on a record player stationed beneath a clay Garden of Eden candelabra in the shape of a dry desert tree bearing orange forbidden fruit, whose branches were ensnared by the winding snake, whose leaves conveniently covered Adam and Eve’s pink genitals. This music was certainly too extravagant, too dramatic for a Sunday afternoon visit, but they were Argentinean and had a guest coming for dinner.
The Giovanelli Pereyra family lived on the street just before the cul-de-sac. Eleven years ago, when they first arrived from Santa Fe, New Mexico (after arriving from Richmond, Virginia after arriving from Buenos Aires, CABA) and drove by their neighbor José Machado for the first time, he advised them, “Tienen que coger a la derecha.” In their vernacular, it would mean, “You need to fuck right,” but he had meant, “You need to turn right.” They thought, “¿Qué decís?”—a decís to his dices—and he probably found these airs, this accent of theirs, equally offensive. Now when Gonzalo Pereyra and José Machado passed by one another, they’d slyly say, “Señor,” and tongue-in-cheek talk about the weather like courteous North American boys, giving the loose handshake with a grunt in a classically manly but friendly register. Maru would receive a besito on the cheek from José as was customary.
When Venezuela played Argentina, Gonzalo would say, “Chavón,” to José with a wink and talk more intently about about the weather alongside the earthy, pastel one-floor homes and fences of their Miami suburb. There wasn’t much of a rivalry between their teams. True, Argentina beat Venezuela 11 – 0 in the 1975 Copa Americano, but their adjacent living in the motherland and in the neighborhood was historically tense. José looked at them from across the street, those Cono Sur folk—casi italianos—as so many of their people were proud to claim. Blanqueados. Gonzalo looked diagonally towards the Machado’s sprawling front yard with the red Ford parked in the paved driveway by the peach house with its pointed white fence, its little bamboo grove—Miami touches—and thought they were too gente fina for him. He wondered how wealthy the bisabuelos were back in Caracas. José and Lucía also lived with two children who were two years apart, an older girl named Silvia and a younger boy named Armando. The children used to trick-or-treat together and, in the words of abuela Diana, “tricky trick,” though they had to walk a bit to reach good old American candy providers. The neighbors and their children drifted with age, with age difference, with difference, with suburban drawl.
“Cuando llegues a la calle Córdoba, tenés que doblar a la derecha,” Maru had advised Facundo, a friend of a friend of the family who was in Miami on family business. Facundo Augusto Vidal Villegas was the brother of Alejandro who had gone to medical school with Maru and Goni. Ale was the only of his six brothers to attend the public university, which Goni liked to joke about with him. So Facundo had made the Giovanelli Pereyra’s acquaintance at engagement parties and baby showers and Communions.
“Facundo llegó,” Maru said as she saw him pull in from a distance. The five Giovanelli Pereyras lined up in a row by the gravel driveway to greet Facundo. He arrived in a rented minivan even though he was traveling alone, stepping out and stretching his crinkled leather coat and kissing the women on the cheek followed by the men. Facundo brought Fernet bitters and Quilmes beer, known to the adults and momentarily familiar to the children at the heavy, loud asados they’d go to when they’d visit Argentina. They drank maté socially when friends would visit, and they drank Malbec always, except Maru senior who blasphemously did not like the taste of alcohol. Diana uncorked the wine for six, and they all clinked their glasses and said, “Salud,” and Facundo took a walk around the property of sorts with Gonzalo.
Facundo was a proper hombre de hombres, a macho, a man’s man with three buttons unbuttoned on his shirt and a thin matte gold chain, a hair away from being tacky. He performed well in yanki bars, executing expert chivalry, when he asked if the woman who interested him had a boyfriend, then huskily mentioned how he was from Argentina. He was the kind of Argentine that people paint up in their heads, the prideful kind other Latinos don’t have much taste for, the kind who makes you think of tango, of gauchos and cowhide. He actually grew up in a rich suburb called San Isidro, with cobblestone streets and gothic churches, but you know how imagined ways of being spread within a country. The Giovanelli Pereyras were different. They had, together and apart, been in most countries they passed through for short amounts of time. They were Spanish peasants, Italian peasants, French peasants, Colombian landowners, Venezuelan butchers, Argentine tailors, Floridian doctors. They left, and they left, and they left. Yet, they weren’t sexy, blood-of-the-people radical in the Argentine way. Gonzalo was a moderate Socialist, his wife a more traditional Socialist, and la suegra a wobbly. They were a more bookish, wan kind of Argentine. There were other Argentines in Miami, but they were too rich, too loud in a different way from their family. “¿De dónde sos?” they’d ask, “¿Chacarita? No lo conozco,” they’d say about her barrio. Those kinds lived in Miami center, so she made do with the confusion being among her not-people, almost-people who had emigrated from Latin America rather than her nation’s people who, in her mind, certainly weren’t her people.
Her teeth lingered on the lls so they came out like a j and s at once, and the Cuban women at the supermarket would giggle when she’d say “frutilla” instead of “fresa.” She blamed her dislike of los cubanos on their right-wing political views and their distracted behavior at the clinic where she worked. Who would smoke in front of the children? Why did they feed them creamed peaches? She was judgmental, but she also envied the community.
“Hay alfajores en el asiento de atrás,” Facundo said, back from his quick walk around their small yard, their small plot of land. “Uy, que rico muchísimas gracias. Ya hice un budín así que tenemos que ahorrarlos porque estamos de dieta, viste,” she smiled like she was kidding, and Euge smiled like it was funny and squirmed her thighs apart. Maru would make a budín when she had enough time, but no matter what she would make strawberries—canned or fresh, but the canned could be saccharine, fleshier as she liked—with sugar on top.
Sugared strawberries were an easily reproducible dessert that made her think of home. She and her little brother, Luis, who lived in Miami proper, ate them with small dessert forks from their mother’s wedding china. They were older now and still ate the funnily familiar frutilla. He would grit the sugar crystals in his teeth, the taste of so much small sweetness, “Sos demasiada nostálgica Maru,” he had told her the last time he came over for dinner. “No entiendo porque quieren volver. Ya saben que esos hijos de putas están imponiendo todas sus reglas y ya no hay espacio para una persona política como vos. Y lo que me asustas es que no sos tan política, pero igual te callaría.” He was more radical than she was. That evening, she told herself to refrain from asking Facundo much about her real home because she knew she would disagree with him.
She brought the guizo de lentejas to the dining room, sat at the head of the table, and smiled at her guest. “¿Qué te parece?” Diana asked about the house.
“Amo las palmeras, ¿las han talado una vez? Hacemos ésto con los árboles en nuestra estancia en las Pampas.”
“Lindo, nunca aprendí. Pienso que la policía no le gustaría si hubiera hecho ésto en la Plaza de Mayo,” Goni chuckled, and the very seventeen-year-old Martín shook his head.
“¿Y tampoco has enseñado el pibe rugby?” Facundo smirked, patting a heavy hand on blinking Martín’s back, making him blink awake a bit. “Pues hay que visitar nuestra casa de campo la próxima vez,” he said. It was easy for Maru to be suspicious of quick generosity.
“Estamos planeando una visita para la Navidad,” Gonzalo said. Gonzalo saw the good in people.
“Buenísimo,” Facundo grinned through his whiskers, the long hairs a midpoint between stubble and beard that endlessly amused Martín for being so damn porteño.
“¿Che, cómo está el Ale?” Maru asked.
“Me parece más o menos bien, todavía bien ocupado con la cirugía,” Facundo sighed. “¿Y la Gabi?” Maru loved Gabi, Ale’s wife, throughout their competitions—the silent competitions between not so subjectively beautiful, smart women.
“Re linda como siempre y re hincha bolas como siempre,” they all chuckled, “Siempre hablando de las putas villas. No entiendo porque pasa tanto tiempo allá. Su marido es un jefe del hospital Alemán.” The Giovanelli Pereyras swallowed and cleared their throats—whether or not they had just taken a sip of their drinks. If Eugenia were younger she would have said, “But my parents worked in the villa as doctors as well,” and pointed above the prelapsarian candelabra to the yellowing photograph of the clinic she knew to be actually pale yellow from stories. Though, she was older and quieter now and had acquired the appropriate grown-up cues. Eugenia junior poured herself Fernet, and the ice cubes melting clinks woke the table up. “Lo siento por putear,” Facundo winked. They moved from the lentil stew with supermarket baguette to churrasco and chimichurri with more supermarket baguette. The quality of the meat, not the bread, was what mattered most. Facundo unsurprisingly had his own leather-cased knife for meat that he shined off casually with a handkerchief.
“¿Y ustedes que hacen acá?”
“Él trabaja en la facultad de medicina aquí y yo manejo una clínica pública como hacía en Buenos Aires.”
“Lindo. ¿Es difícil servir la…” he paused, “¿gente acá?” and drank more.
“¿Cómo?” she looked at him directly.
“Pues con tantas personas diferentes. Nunca he visto tantos negros y—” “Trabajo con muchas negritas, son enfermeras buenas,” Gonzalo said.
Euge shook her head at both of the middle aged off-white men. She was more political like her mother. “Que fascinante,” Facundo said. Martín elbowed his sister’s ribs. Euge giggled, swallowed the nervous laughter as a cough, and shifted the conversation to ask about recent performances at the Teatro Colón—where her father would watch opera in the cheapest standing section facetiously called “El Paraíso” when he was growing up, where the parents dragged their children as a tourist destination countless times.
The Giovanelli Pereyras had a cat named Ricardo, but they simply called him “Michi” like they had called their last three cats. They weren’t great with names. “Michi, michi, michi,” often echoed around the house to call for him. He was a feisty and somber gato who sat alert at the kitchen table all night when Maru had to make calls to the clinic. The clinging love he had for or inherited from the clamorous family manifested in almost self-righteous ways sometimes when he’d scratch furniture or crawl into Gonzalo’s wide leather briefcase when he’d attempt to leave for work. That night, Michi-Ricardo chose to demonstrate his overprotective affection by slinking his way under the table and marking his territory on the stranger, curling up his spine and flexing to emit the stench. Facundo wrinkled his nose at the smell, and Martín, victim of the same treatment in years past, kicked him off of Facundo.
“¿Qué pasó?” Diana said.
“The cat was marking him,” Martín said.
“Uy, pobrecito,” Diana said, thinking of the cat her nieto had kicked, “Basta Michi, basta! Basta!” she added, looking at Facundo with an apologetic small smile. He nodded tersely. “Perdón, voy a ponerme nueva música,” Doña Diana said, as Ricardo-Michi wrapped his tail around her arm as she walked towards the kitchen smelling of well-cooked chicken. She was tired of all the María Callas that made her miss her husband, Ángel, who had died of lung cancer three years earlier, so she went in to have a smoke, placing another disc on the record player. Ángel had loved these musical gadgets along with photography. The photos he took of the Giovanelli Pereyras hung around the house. She liked herself more in them, younger of course, but sepia toned, dark lipstick, hair in loose yet wound curls, when she looked and was more Italian. That sounded so vain, and she was vain, but lovably vain, with energy and care that reached out beyond herself. She headed back in the dining room, winked at Martín who smoked with her sometimes, and sat by Eugenia, who wrinkled her nose at the tobacco smell. She twirled her hand through her nieta’s straight, dully beautiful black hair and laid it behind her young, slender neck. Joven, joven y delgada.
Facundo glanced at them, “Te queda re linda con pelo largo,” eyebrow cocked. Gonzalo flared his nostrils slightly, dug his wide, evenly cut, medicine man thumbnail into his palm. He pinched the wine glass stem and took a long, long sip, remembering that it’s fairly cultural to chantear, to flirt and schmooze.
“Hace demasiado calor durante los veranos entonces voy a cortarlo,” she muttered, pushing the squash away from the red meat on her plate, and her parents smiled at each other.
“¿Quién toca esta canción?” Facundo, biting into the baguette smiling to himself at the quick, soft guitar only to smirk at the point when the lyrics uttered, Duerme, duerme negrito que tu mama está en el campo.
“Ah mira Goni, que él le gustan los negros tanto también.” Martín choked on his third Quilmes. It was a lullaby.
“Es Atahualpa Yupanqui,” Maru said. She breathed.
“¿El indio comunista?” Facundo said, furrowing his brow.
“Era comunista por un rato, pero, igual, ahora está en exilio,” Gonzalo said. “Como todos deben estar. La patria se está limpiando poco a poco.”
“¿Limpiando? La única cosa que he oído es que las cosas son muy raras ahora, y me da miedo que nadie está hablando de las cosas abiertamente,” Maru said.
“No entiendo,” Facundo said. Gonzalo replied, keeping his voice calm.
“Nuestra amiga Paula no ha visto su hermano en un mes. Las mujeres de mi barrio—”
“Las viejas de Congreso están haciendo lío violento para nada. Gritando y vistiéndose como abuelitas gitanas,” Facundo interrupted, slamming his hand a bit.
“Están gritando para sus hijos,” Diana said calmly. “Sus hijos que han desaparecido,” Maru raised her voice louder.
“¿Entonces ustedes son los rojos que creen en esos pelotudeces?” Facundo yelled.
“Tenemos periódicos acá. No somos tontos. Nadie sabe precisamente que está pasando, pero las noticias han sido duras,” Gonzalo said.
“Pero no han desaparecido. ¿Quién sabe lo que pasó? Estos hijos de re mil putas, boludos que van a las cabecitas negras, a la provincia para hacer,” he was spitting a bit from anger, “¿Quién sabe? Es su culpa,” ending with a very porteño thrust of his arm upward to hold his fist with three fingers pinched together. The kids looked at each other, Martín flicking a fly that landed on his steak.
“No. Es la culpa del ejército,” Maru said. “Los desaparecidos estaban ayudando a los que han sido cogidos por los chetos de mierda como vos.” Euge looked at her mother with a wide smile.
“¿Ah, porque ustedes saben tanto de nuestra patria ahora después de huirse?” Facundo said, and Gonzalo angrily hit his hand on the table and remorsefully grabbed a glass that quavered. “¿Te gustan las piletas acá, los colectivos que llegan a tiempo, los—”
“Véte,” Maru said. She didn’t like talking about why they never went home for good—even though they had always hoped to. She wished there were a better reason, but, after a few years time, the political danger had simply become an excuse. They had children in the States, they would have grandchildren in this country, the moving back would be a strain. They missed the churrasco and their families, and the direct, meddlesome, yet kind nosiness of their people. The going home to the very real place resided in the space of dreams and vacation.
“La Pastorcita Perdida” by Atahualpa Yupanqui came on. He huffed, “No estás con tu gente cuando estes con tu gente,” You’re not with your people when you’re with your people. He had a point. But whose people were they? Punay, punay, devuélveme, devuélveme. The older three stayed tense as he stormed out. Gonzalo put his arm around Maru’s waist, an atheist goddess standing tall in front of the Adam and Eve candleholders. She grabbed his wine, swigging deeply and spitting a bit back out like a child because she still hated the taste of wine.
Martín and Euge slipped out to watch television, pick at the frutilla con azúcar and tipsily speculate on what had just occurred to ease their discomfort. Frank Perdue Spanish language chicken advertisements, with the odd close-ups of skin and pink that Frank prodded in his suit, in a proper American home, played Facundo out as he sped off. Gonzalo Martín left the house to find his mother outside. They floated their feet in the pool, their calves grazing tiles of cobalt, Mediterranean decal on its rims.
“Are you okay, mami?” He asked, and she put her head on his shoulder.
The disappearances would end, and maybe they would start again. The Giovanelli Pereyras would visit their friend Vera Dreyfus the next year, 1980. Some things seemed the same: the facturas and medialunas—crunchy, chewy, moist, far too sweetly stuck to the roof of the mouth. Vera had more quietly stayed in her mother’s apartment in Belgrano in one of those chic porteño upper working-class homes with an open stairwell and tchotchkes from international travel and heirlooms from whichever flaunted European refugee ancestry. They went to her house for a dinner party to see friends, and she looked thinner than when they had last seen her five years before. Maru, on a plumper end of her usual fluctuation, would have been envious, but Vera was a pale, mousy kind of slender—the kind you get from stress and cigarettes not diet, genes, and sun. They asked if the stories were true in her kitchen because all the party guests seemed out of sorts, and she slammed the door, explaining how you had to be careful with such questions because you never knew who was listening. Martín and Euge picked at their empanadas on the small balcony where the laundry was hanging outside.
As Maru and Martín sat at the pool, Gonzalo went to sit on his stoop still holding his doctor hands in loose fists. José waved at him as he watered his flowers. Rafael Dudamel, goalie on the Venezuelan national team, would score on Argentina in 1998. Their grandson Alec would fall in the unheated, eighty-degree cold, cold pool at fifteen months old and Euge would jump in after him to rescue him fully clothed. Facundo’s cousin got shot during the Guerra Sucia. The grandson Carlos Gonzalo Waserstein would be born on April 7th like the Yupanqui song. Goni would be old, and when his nieto was twenty, he’d still believe he was in Buenos Aires. Yupanqui was born right outside of Buenos Aires, but he was more properly Latino, properly brown, properly left and Argentine. Where was their Punay? They were the European peasants with anarchisms and socialisms and stiletto Italian names who came and claimed the gaucho. They left and would leave, and their children’s children would leave. Diana’s great-granddaughter Anna heard “La pastorcita perdida” in her head after their generation was dead. Tones for yearning not so far from her life, but from their country, not from her own former country. Wind blew through the house they lived in now, and she didn’t know if she really remembered the song from when they were living and playing music when she was young or if she remembered it from a time she played it to herself to try to remember them.