By Alberto Ríos
On the first day of Lent, the Catholic town of Imuris caught fire with the holy business of giving things up. Had people planned ahead, the way old
Padre Nacho had been suggesting, as he always did when
his flock became impassioned, they might have been more
reflective. But year after year, his calls for temperance at
heightened moments fell on deaf ears, maybe because
Padre Nacho himself would get worked up about
Everyone, like it or not, fanned these flames in this part
of the state of Sonora, in northwestern Mexico — who,
after all, had ever heard of not giving something up for
Lent? It was like a school project, and they all were young
again, wanting to please the teacher, but a school project
that was also a race.
So the competition to give things up began, and to give
up something better than someone else.
“Gum,” said little Ernesto, a sincere second grader, be-
fore school, feeling good that he thought of something first.
“Candy,” declared Lichita, a fourth grader who
couldn’t let a second grader top her.
Soon all the elementary schoolchildren sacrificed their
favorite food — upping the ante to cookies, cake, ice
cream, or gorditas, or chicken and rice, and even beans,
and so on, with no end in sight.
Until they went, “Oooh,” on the playground when
Ulises, in sixth grade, said he was giving up eating entirely.
But he was the school clown and chubby, so opinion was
divided if he won or not.
Adults were no less resolute.
“It’s desserts for me,” said Ulises’ father, Sr. Torres, the
garbage man, to anyone who would listen during his early
morning route. The dirt from his job blended with the residue of Ash Wednesday so convincingly on his forehead
that some households speculated maybe he had returned
to Padre Nacho for seconds.
“Yes,” those awake answered him. “Desserts. That’s
good. It’s meat for me.” Or beer. Something, it could be
argued, a little more than Sr. Torres.
As lunchtime got closer, food and drink all started to
take shape as something beyond generics. Meat became
hamburger. Soda evolved into Coca-Cola. Dessert — well,
there were so many, raising questions.
“What do I do here?” asked Guillermina Belmares,
who managed the mercado. Were fried plantains sprinkled
with sugar desserts, or fruits helped along?
And candy took on names of a very large family, each
with its own, unforgettable face — cajeta, fudge, paletas.
“Candy” as a concept was easier to give up than “
Hershey’s bars.” Something specific raised the stakes. Hearing