My mother is Venezuelan. I spent a fair amount of time in Caracas as a kid, and then other parts of Latin America at various points of my life. When you put a fair amount of distance between yourself and your home, you learn that there are courageous and discarded lives anywhere you go, across diverse economic and political strata.
One thing I’ve come to admire in Latin American people is their unwavering capacity to hope. In even the most challenging grinding circumstances, I’ve seen Latin Americans demonstrate hope in the face of the blackest darkness, in a way that seems particular to the culture. I once asked a friend in Mexico about this and he said this arises from the semantics of Spanish, where to be “hopeless is to be dead.” There’s little language in Latin culture for the gray area in between hopelessness and not-living. “No one here,” he told me, “has a lifeless smile.” That is to say despair is big south of our border, but not hopelessness. We could learn a lot from that.
I penned “Postcard Sorceress,” the only Spanish song I’ve written and recorded, seven years ago today in 2009. My 2010 record Hola Sayulita contained both the English and the Spanish versions. What would happen, I asked myself, if hopelessness gripped someone in a place where there’s no language for hopelessness?
In the track, the protagonist Nina is a poor jewelry maker for tourists in the surfing town of Punta Mita, on the Pacific coast of Mexico. A few years prior, she was violated by a gang called The Scorpions, bore a daughter as result and took a train as far west as she could go to find a better life. While working out of the Cafe Revolution, she sees every day a jungle Bruja’s weathered advertisement on a wall behind a postcard rack. Eventually, in a bleak moment of desperation, she leaves her daughter with a neighbor, packs some money, cigarettes and her grandmother’s knife, and wanders off into the rain forest hills in search of the Bruja to alleviate her pain. After finding the Bruja, Nina decides to spare her daughter a life of witnessing a mother’s suffering and allows the jungle sorceress to use the knife to mix an elixir that drugs Nina into an eternal dreamless sleep.
Sleep well, Nina. The world is not better off without you, no matter what your Bruja told you.