|Photo of Roberto Lujan by Nicol Ragland|
As a young boy of around nine years of age I lived across the tracks, in the southeastern part of Alpine’s neighborhood known to us as “Pueblo Nuevo”. This neighborhood was comprised of mainly of families that had migrated from villages with names as Boquillas, San Carlos, Santa Elena, Castolon, Chisos, Terlingua in what is today the Big Bend region. I would be part of of a group of boys that would play whichever sporting game was in season. Our street games would begin in the early afternoon during the fall season and right after lunch on summer days. These games would be interrupted by the occasional passing vehicle. The longest pause of the afternoon was around five o’clock when most of our parents would come come from their jobs. However there was one pause that especially stood out to me and the other children. It was when one of the local men, who worked as a vaquero in the area’s surrounding ranches, would walk by and at the top of his lungs exclaim a phrase that demanded a choral response. “Que Viva La Sierra!” would exuberantly reverberate throughout the neighborhood and we would all respond with “Que Viva La Sierra!” I was always mesmerized by his apparent gusto and love for his place of employment, none of our parents would come home with such pleasure of their place of employment. I only dreamed of working in the ranches of which one could see off in the distance somewhere nestled in between the mountain ranges that surrounded the town. I thought here was a person who loved his job and was willing to let the world know. The mystical sacredness of seeing the sierra was further stirred at those moments.
The feeling of being hemmed in the segregated town of Alpine was always there physically and spiritually. I would walk to the outskirts of my neighborhood only to be confronted with barb wire fence lines. These fence lines with their blue and white no trespassing Texas Cattlemen’s Association metal signs, only made my desire to see the sierra more tantalizing. It would be more than a decade when I returned to Alpine as a young man honorably discharged from serving our country. I was now old enough to walk into the neighborhood bar, and it was there that I found that old vaquero and that the exclamation “Que Viva La Sierra!” had a more poignant, revealing and sacred protective second part.
There are still places on the state highways and farm market roads that crisscross the Big Bend region that take me back to that moment when I was nine years old. These places along the roadside are fenceless, a person can literally within ten feet walk into the sacred desert chaparral, the foreground of the extending vista that culminates with the sacred mountain ranges in the distance, anything further takes you out beyond to where there is no limit. As we are being scarred by soulless intruders we must resolve not only to be resilient but protective of our sacred natural surroundings. It is this places that one must remember the second phrase to “Viva La Sierra!”
And it was there at the bar that night I learn the vaquero’s exclamatory second phrase. There in the bar was the hero of my childhood, the inhabitant of the sacred and mystical sierra. Before I knew it the vaquero’s shouted his exclamation and without hesitation everyone young and old repeated the phrase, just as we had when we were young boys. To my surprise with an even louder shout followed by a pounding fist on the bar the vaquero shouted the second more protective poignant phrase to “Viva La Sierra!”
“Y Que No Me La Encierren!” And do not fence it up! echoed louder throughout the night flowing out into the desert chaparral, up the canyons to the sierras and ricocheting off the twinkling stars.
Roberto Lujan c/s