The Mexican-American Bandit

Posted by

Good artists imitate; great artists steal. After separating from my ex-wife, I brought home the first male lover I’ve ever introduced to my mother and father. “You live there because of a robbery! In her thick, Guadalajara accent, my grandmother bellowed, “For the dogs.” Her dogs were waiting outside of the buffet, in her truck. “Where are my sunglasses?” he muttered. After finding them, I enjoyed the faint sound they made as I pulled them free. By the time I turned sixteen, my bedroom bookshelf overflowed with spineless books. I reached for my knife. I must have inherited my modus operandi from my mother. The photograph presaged my wedding but not my divorce. “She’s Mexican,” I answered. On our way home, my ex-wife asked, “Have you seen your grandmother steal meat before?”
I looked at her with a deadpan expression meant to approximate the one my grandmother had given her.  
Myriam Gurba is the author of MEAN, a nonfiction novel and memoir. “But it’s okay!”
“It is?”
“Yes!”
“Why?”
“Because I like them!”
I am a thief because I am an American, a Mexican, my mother’s daughter, and my grandmother’s granddaughter. Instead, it made me secretly relish America. While other girls shoplifted at the mall, I strolled into our small town’s public library. But Mexicans invert this trope. My family lived on stolen land and stolen fruit always tastes better. Hiding this book under my bed felt like hiding my future under my mattress. Signs written in Polish. My mother sat this lover at the dining room table, exclaiming, “Wait here!” She got to work playing an old lady game of show-and-tell, parading her favorite possessions in front of him. Once I was alone, I set Henry Miller’s novels on my lap. When she noticed she was being watched, my grandmother locked eyes with my ex-wife. I collected the chunks I’d cut away and shoved them into the small metal coffin bolted to the stall, where they mixed with the bloody menstrual pads. My grandmother’s habit of filling her purse with meat reinforces an American stereotype: that Mexicans are thieves. When I went on my first stealing spree, I became a Mexican bandit, and a practitioner of Manifest Destiny. As my mother explained how she’d acquired these items, she did not shy away from using criminal nomenclature. Figuring that the heaven, or hell, might be too bright, my grandmother must have summoned the last pair of shades she’d encounter before burial. It felt good to read them, because they were stolen, but I was also disappointed. A steak knife rode in my coat pocket. In fact, I thought I was doing everyone a favor by adopting the books and taking them into a home where they would finally get the love that their strangeness deserved. We had watched my uncle bend over his mother’s coffin to kiss her goodbye. She lives in California and loves cash, succulents, and the elderly. My favorite photograph in the book was of a lesbian wedding ceremony. It was a collection of photographs, artworks, and interviews with lesbians. Afterward, my ex-wife, my schizophrenic uncle, and I drove to an Italian restaurant where we intended to eat spaghetti and reminisce. One stolen trophy was so special that I kept it under my bed. The United States stole that land! I can only recall its images. The glasses remain with her, the undertaker confirmed that he’d noticed them. Despite this book’s importance, I cannot recall its title. My lover interrupted her, saying, “Wait. In my bedroom, I read the Miller books. A candle snuffer from Lisbon. You stole these things?”
“Yes,” my mother answered in her heavy Guadalajara accent. I’d been expecting porn, something worthy of Penthouse or Playboy, not poetry. I didn’t think anyone in my town was as capable of appreciating the books I stole as I was. I headed to the restroom and waited on a toilet seat defaced by graffiti. My grandmother remained incorrigible until we put her underground. Towels from Cairo. In our new series, Stolen, writers share stories of theft. Americans are thieves.”
My grandfather’s indictment was supposed to make me, a gringa, ashamed. Still from the animated short “Zimbo” by Guadalajaran directors Rita Basulto and Juan José Medina
My ex-wife stared as she watched my maternal grandmother slide a chicken into her purse. I hunted among the stacks for Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. I pretended to be gutting rainbow trout. My uncle patted his shirt pocket. I wanted to touch these women but I also wanted to be them, to be as bold as they were. And Speedy Gonzalez, the cheese snatcher. I wondered if the books had feelings and if so, did they feel violated by my actions? “You live in California,” my paternal grandfather would remind me when we’d visit Mexico at Christmas. They dropped into my backpack. It was Mother’s Day and they were her most beloved. I glanced at my ex-wife. Consider the now-retired chip mascot Frito Bandito. At her wake, everyone approached her casket to say goodbye. I hope the darkness they provide feels extra sweet forever. I slid it out and dragged the blade along each book’s spine, freeing the anti-theft devices embedded inside. I was arrogant about my crimes. I shrugged off the thought and slid the knife back into my coat. She glanced at me. We were both thinking the same thing. Its ill-gotten nature emboldens its umami, glazes it with immoral MSG. I had never seen a lesbian in my hometown, the closest things we had were nuns, and the lesbians featured in this book sported crew cuts and leather harnesses through which their big, gay breasts spilled.