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Revenge of the Tarahumara

Jeff Biggers recently traveled to the remote stretches of the Sierra Madre mountains in northern Mexico. After visiting and staying in a Tarahumara Indian village during one of the worst droughts in the history of Mexico, he sent us this postcard.

The Revenge of the Tarahumara: Movie Night in the Sierra Madre
by Jeff Biggers

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Dear Rudy,

When I saw the truck jostle into the village on a dirt road, it looked like an old furniture moving van. "Attention!" screamed the loudspeaker. "The revenge of the Tarahumara!"

I was standing by two men, who were building a chicken coop. One man, Pedro, took off his sombrero, wiped the sweat from his face, and then grinned.

"It's movie night."

"Machine guns, violence, la India Maria!", the loudspeaker continued to blast.

According to Pedro, the cinema-on-wheels had been coming to the village every summer. The loud speaker continued to spew out movie previews like threats, until the speaker coughed and opted for the recorded um-pah-pah of norteno music.

"The revenge of the Tarahumara," the other man laughed. "That's a good one."

The cinema was assembled on the side of an old mission wall. A carnival tent rose, with a screen propped up at one end. Rickety chairs were scattered in rows on the ground.

I was curious to see the turnout. So few people lived within listening distance of the loudspeakers. Then again, this kerosene-lit village hadn't seen any illuminated nightlife since a bonfire for a fiesta.

"Only two hours to go! The revenge of the Tarahumara!"

The tent was already packed when I arrived. Over 50 people sat in the seats, most wearing sombreros, caps or scarves. Kids had escaped from the boarding school and straddled the towering mission walls for a peek. They couldn't afford, like many people, the charge of 10 pesos, which is roughly $1. The average daily salary in the sawmill was 45 pesos.

A reel-to-reel projector snapped the images onto the screen from the side of the truck. The volume made up for any blurriness on the screen. "The Revenge of the Tarahumara" was actually about a Yaqui in Sonora, played by an Italian looking actor, who rescues his son from an evil Mexican grandfather. His Yaqui sister was played by an actress who resembled Jane Russell in deer hides. In the end, the father takes a few bullets but survives and everyone, including the blond son, is happy.

The crowd cheered at the bloody end. The next movies revolved around the narcotraficantes. There was one basic plot: one cartel fought another for control of the drug market, with enough machine guns, hard drinking and polyester suits to shame Scar-Face into retirement.

At the end of the night, worn down by the neck-craning battles, the villagers vanished into the darkness, following the trails up the bluffs and through the forests. They made their way back to the distant cabins.

I asked Pedro the next day what he thought of the movies.

"They were so-so," he said. "But La India Maria, which is tonight, is a lot better."

"You mean you've seen it before?"

He nodded. "About ten times. I've seen The Revenge of the Tarahumara many times, too."

"But the movies are so expensive," I said.

"Oh, I didn't pay," he said, grinning. "We sneak in through the back." He paused for a moment. "The revenge of the Tarahumara."

That postcard was sent to us by Jeff Biggers, a writer based in Ohio and Italy.


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