James LePore: Oaxacan Child

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Oaxacan Child

Oaxacan Child, © James LePore 1998

airfoil:  a structure with curved surfaces designed to give the most favorable ratio of lift to drag in flight, used as the basic form of the wings, fins, and horizontal stabilizer of most aircraft.

lift: force created by an airfoil moving through atmosphere, perpendicular to the direction of motion.

I bought some trinkets just so I could hang around and take some pictures of the family. They saw me of course. I’m a tall gringo and my camera in those days was a boxy thing that basically changed people the moment they saw it. I persisted though. That’s one of the secrets of taking pictures. You only have to have one negative that’s good out of a thousand. People start to ignore the camera after a while.

What struck me about this child was how absolutely stoic she was. Her life was her life. The very sad wisdom of a six-year-old. When I was leaving I asked her mother for her name and address, telling her I wanted to send her a picture. I thought she would be pleased, or surprised, or affronted, but she just wrote out the information on a piece of wrapping paper and handed it to me. She told me her daughter’s name was Estrella de los Angeles. Star of the Angels.

When I made this print of Estrella, I noticed the earring for the first time, and I thought maybe she wasn’t so stoic after all. As I stared at the earring, I remembered one of the trinkets I bought from Estrella’s mom, a wooden angel, painted black. There had been something about it that made me buy it, but I couldn’t remember what exactly. I put the print in the print washer—I knew it was a keeper—and went looking in my spare room for the  box marked Mexico,1998. The black angel was a crude thing, but its wings were not crude. Finely carved, with tiny pointed tips, they looked like they might actually work. I turned the angel over in my hand, and saw, for the first time, the name Estrella carved on the back.

You are twenty-two now, Estrella de los Angeles. You must have known about airfoil and lift when you carved that angel.

I hope you have taken flight.

James LePore is the author of several novels, including the national bestseller Blood of My Brother. You can stay up-to-date on James’ blog posts and photographs at his website.


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On February 20, 2015
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