I wanted to go. I wanted to see the town they had reminisced about for long hours. I wanted to do the things they had talked about doing. And I wanted to expel my turista conceptions of Mexico, which tended toward postcard scenes of seaside resorts and border towns. San Diego, Jalisco, would be just one small village in the interior. But there I already had friends. “Yo voy,” I said, and smiles filled the room.
I waited two days in Tijuana for stand-by space on a flight to Guadalajara. We landed in the capital in the early evening; a two-hour bus trip would take me to the end of the transit line — Jiquilpan — but I remembered the warnings about nighttime travel. I’d never get a taxi from Jiquilpan for San Diego after dark; and bandidos are a danger to strangers in Jiquilpan. Moreover, they told me, no “white guys” had ever even been to San Diego, and I might be suspected of coming to town to kill someone. Heeding such caution, I spent the night on a couch in the Guadalajara airport and caught a morning bus headed for Jiquilpan in the eastern hills. Three hours later, we reached the end of the line. I found a taxi driver, and although he wasn’t quite sure where San Diego was, he was certain we’d find it. We headed off deeper into the mountains, up some 20 miles of dirt roads, asking at each settlement for directions. And suddenly we were there.
San Diego, Jalisco, and its environs has a population of some 3000 people. The roads are unpaved, and the fronts of the houses extend to the very edge of the streets. The houses themselves are uninviting, with few windows through which to glimpse the world either within or beyond the walls. The town’s main industry is housed in one milk-processing plant. The sole landmark in San Diego is a long wall, 20 feet high, stretching some 100 yards across a wide field. The wall had once been that of a hacienda (villagers say it is 150 years old) used as a fortress during the Mexican War for Independence. Now it hides the town dump — piles of trash, animal carcasses, human excrement. San Diego was quiet; the only sign of El Fusion was in the blue-and-white streamers that draped from roof to roof over the street.
The first person I saw looked like Alfonso and, in fact, was a cousin of his by the name of Fidel. Fidel owned a cheese business, and when I met him, he was unloading cheese rounds from the back of a truck onto a curbside scale. A second man approached me, and when I told them who I was, Fidel sent a young boy off with the news and the other man hastened to fetch a chair for me. Not long after, two of Alfonso’s brothers came down the street in a four-wheel-drive. They were, they said, to take me out to La Máquina, the small rancho where Alfonso and some 12 to 15 other families lived. But we had only gone as far as the center of town when Alfonso himself came barreling along in his pickup. We got out of our vehicles and embraced.
Back in Valley Center Alfonso dressed for watering the groves: rubber boots, work pants, T-shirt, and a hard hat. Today, he wore pressed gray cords, a gray western shirt with gold horseshoes emblazoned on the pockets, a maroon ski jacket, and a gray cowboy hat. As he raised his arms to hug me, the jacket lifted, revealing the butt of a pistol tucked into his belt. Explaining that the festival had just ended, he demanded to know why I was late. I recounted the travel delays. “It’s no problem,” he told me in Spanish. “Tonight there will be a party in Guadalupe. Now we’ll go have a beer.” With that casual rescheduling of plans, we headed for our drink. San Diego has no bars; people meet in the shops for beer. Alfonso led me to one nearby; he wrapped his jacket around the pistol and handed the bundle to the proprietor, who set down two Superiors, a sliced lime, and a wedge of cheese, while one of Alfonso’s brothers came in with chicharrónes, fried chunks of pork. In no time a small crowd had gathered and a party was underway that was to last nine days.
Romero, a friend of Alfonso’s, insisted that we lunch with him. Although the cheese and the pork were enough for me, we left and hiked the short distance to Romero’s, where his wife set out a meal of rice, pork, and tortillas. I had almost finished when I began to wonder about all the pork I’d been eating so casually. My American friends had warned me to watch out for the food, but once here, I had resolved not to be unduly paranoid. That is, until Romero’s sister walked into the yard with a full pail of fresh milk. I stood up and shook her hand, and I extended the customary pleasantries. But she only stared at me, and in that face, framed in a black shawl, I read all her distrust of norteamericanos. Without expression, she asked me if I wanted some milk. I fumbled with the excuse that I’d already had the equivalent of two meals, and when I turned to Alfonso for help, I saw the odd twist of the lips and the glint in his eye, as though he and Doña Amalia were in some conspiracy to undermine my Yankee prejudices. I gave up. I asked for a glass of her milk, and only then did she smile.
After the meal, Alfonso and I drove out to La Máquina, a small settlement on the outskirts. As we drove, I asked him about the pistol he kept. He dismissed the question with a shrug: there had been a problem with a woman; a man who was now staying in town had tried to kill him once. Alfonso gave a thin smile. Maybe the man, whom they called “Lagunillo,” had come back to try again. Alfonso just smiled broadly.