Robin Redbreast

Robin Redbreast
Birds can represent the fluttering, darting thoughts of intuition. This is why little birds helped Cinderella help herself.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Cinderella #109 La Reina de Frijoles/ The Bean Queen (2011)

Dried beans, corn, and seeds.
Once upon a time, in the Huasteca Region of Mexico, there lived a man with three daughters.  They lived on the same piece of land that the man's father had lived on, and his father before him, and so on.  This line of ancestors reached far back in time.  The thread that connected the generations of this family was green. It grew quickly in the soil on their land, and became covered with thick pods.  These were rebosero beans, whose rich, meaty flavor filled the bellies of this man, and his daughters, every day.  The beans, grown in the deep, red soil of Hidalgo, drew their color and strength from the careful tending of the bean farmer.  When he was a young man, he had not been the only bean farmer in his village.  Back then, the market place was crowded with families crouched on grass mats, clay ollas of speckled purple, green, black, white, and red frijoles, dried and ready for sale. But nowadays so few families grew the beans. Many young people preferred to go north seeking jobs that paid cash. There was no future in the dusty bean fields, they said. Anyway, it seemed so much easier to buy a big plastic sack of them at the store.   But the bean man continued sowing his frijoles.  He and his family ate many of them, and the rest he sold.  His wife worked with him in the fields.  The bean crop expanded, and so did his family.  Soon there were three little girls working along with the bean man in the fields.  The crop increased, and now the bean man hired help for the fields, so that his wife and daughters did not have to work so hard.  Two of his daughters were grateful for this: they hated working in the hot field, among the thick vines.  And after picking them all day, the last thing they wanted to do was cook them and eat them, they said!  But the youngest daughter loved the bean fields as much as her father did. All day she worked with him, listening while he sang to the beans and talked to them. Encouraging them to spread their roots deep and wide and their leaves broad and strong, the bean man and his daughter tended the vines like so many children.  All three of the daughters went to school during the day, but only the younger one came out to the fields in the cool of the evening.  As the years passed, the older girls refused to go into the fields, claiming that their hands became rough and their faces darkened from the work.  Soon these two spent less and less time with the bean man on the farm, and more time in town.  As soon as they were old enough, they married, heading for the big city.  They left the green of the countryside to seek a different kind of green, that printed on paper.  But the bean man's youngest daughter continued to work the fields.  She finished school and taught her father how to maximize profits.  They hired more field help, and the crop increased. At the markets on the weekends, the bean man and his daughter were often the only two sitting on grass mats.  Their had many beans to sell, and the price they asked seemed a fair one for the work of tending the vines and plucking the pods.  But more and more often, they returned home from market with ollas of beans still full, and pockets still empty. Their neighbors laughed at them and told them they were wasting their time.  Nobody eats those funny old beans any more they said, waggling their plastic bags filled with beans that looked like they were made out of the same thing.  The years passed, and the bean man's wife died.  He and his daughter continued to sell the beans, but his energy was fading and he knew that his vitality was nearing its end.  One night, as he and his daughter ate bowls of rich bean stew, he said to her, " Hija, you have helped me in the fields, raising the beans.  Your sisters kept their hands soft and their faces out of the sun.  Such was their choice.  Their fair faces won them husbands and their lives will take the path now laid out for them. But you, daughter, have worked beside me in the fields.  Your hands are rough and your face is dark.  You are my Ugly One, my Little Bean Queen, and you have always been at my side.  To you, and you alone, I leave the farm and the fields.  Soon I will be gone, but I will watch you from heaven, and watch over our beans." Before the year was out, the bean man had died.  His daughter married the farm manager, and together, they worked in the fields. They did not increase the crop because they knew that they could not increase their sales. But the beans fed them and their families, and the families of all of their field helpers.  On Saturdays, the Ugly One and her husband went to the markets, sitting on their grass mat and selling ollas of frijoles. The years passed, and soon they had six children working in the fields beside them.  And soon, those children were grown and gone. How does time pass so quickly? It seemed impossible that it was twenty five years since her father had left her the bean farm, but so it was.  The Ugly One  and her husband continued to raise beans, eating them and selling them, and the years passed.  Five of their sons had gone north in search of jobs that paid cash.  Only one remained, working the bean fields with his parents.  He took a wife, and soon had four sons of his own.  One by one, these sons went north, looking for jobs that paid cash.  One day, the Ugly One's youngest grandson spoke to her as they worked the fields.  "Abuelita, " he said, "there is no future in these dusty bean fields. I love these vines, but how can I become rich by sitting on a grass matt selling a few ollas of frijoles? I also love Xochitl, the most beautiful girl in the world.  For her, I want to become a rich man so that we can travel the world. I wish that there were a way I could stay here, but I do not see one. Next month, I am going to head north, to look for work that pays cash." And the Ugly One was very sad, because she knew that what her grandson had told her was true.  That night she was restless and could not sleep.  Quietly, she slipped out of bed and went out to the bean fields.  As she walked up and down the rows, singing to the vines, and encouraging them to spread their roots and leaves. she remembered her father, and the many times he had sung these songs.  His voice filled her ears and to her surprise, she felt tears flowing down her cheeks.  Such a rain of them fell from her eyes that her toes were splashed with their salt water and the beans were sprinkled with their drops.  In the morning, she packed up her ollas and went to market.  There she saw a crowd gathered around the grass mat where her husband was selling their beans.  Her husband gestured to her frantically, and she rushed over.  An American man with peeling pink skin and a chubby belly was crouched in front of their ollas, fingering their beans. "This fat, crazy white man wants to buy all of our beans!" her husband whispered to her. "Great, that's great!" said the Ugly One. "No, I mean all of them, the ones in the field, the whole crop, as many beans as we can give him he will buy! He says that he will pay us in advance for the crop, my dear, a sum that I dare not speak aloud. Call our grandson. He speaks English and will help us figure out how to get rid of this crazy guy." So the woman called her grandson, and he came quickly, and spoke English with the fat pink man.  When he had done, he told his grandmother to give the man all of her beans, and the ollas and the grass mat as well.  He showed her a thick roll of cash, and the Ugly One nearly fainted at the sight of the money.  When he had driven his grandparents home, he told them that he would find out whether the man was crazy or not, and whether it was safe to sell him any more beans. That night, the Ugly One dreamed of her father.  He was waling among the bean vines, singing, and encouraging them to spread their leaves and roots.  Then he turned to her and spoke.  "M'hija,' he said,"my daughter, my little Ugly One, my Bean Queen! Hold out your hands." And when the Ugly One stretched out her hands, her father filled them with beans of solid gold, so heavy that she woke up with the weight still in her hands.  The morning sun was streaming through the window, and her grandson stood on the front porch.  His face was as joyful as a child's.  The American was not crazy and he himself would not go north to look for work. He pulled out a business contract and explained to his grandmother that the man owned a company in California called Fatty Farm.  The company worked to import heirloom beans from Mexico and would pay her well for her crop.  All she had to agree to was to continue singing the same songs, and working her vines in the way that her father had taught her.  The Ugly One and her husband smiled like children eating birthday cake.  They signed the contract, and today the Bean Queen is a wealthy woman.  She and her husband hired more workers to help in the field, and increased their crop. In 2010, they sold two thousand pounds of reboso beans to the fat, crazy white man, and the Bean Queen, and her husband, and their grandson, and his beloved Xochitl, lived happily ever after. 
Notes: This story is true! It is based on Finz, S., (2011, April 16).Napa Heirloom Bean Venture Changes Lives in Mexico. The San Francisco Chronicle, pp.D-1,4. View at
Montessori Connection: Our Neighbor, Mexico/Author: Gary Soto
1. Read this story, and know that it is true!
2. Learn more about growing beans:From Seed to PlantSprout Garden 3 Tray Family Sprouting Kit - Includes: Sprouter, Drainboard, Covers, 3 Sprouting Trays, 2 Oz of Certified Organic Alfalfa Seed, Instructions. Grow Healthy Fresh Sprouts in Your Own Kitchen!
3. Learn more about the way that people from Mexico come to the United States looking for jobs that pay cash: The Other Side: How Kids Live in a California Latino Neighborhood (World of My Own) or California Kids: An Indian Girl, a Mexican Boy, and a Yankee Girl Born in California Before 1850
4. Think about how the Bean Queen felt when her grandson said he thought that he would leave home to look for work. Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar ChavezEsperanza Rising
5. Think about whether beans could really be gold, like in the Ugly One's dream about her father. 
6. Consider that if the Bean Queen can sell her beans for lots of money, they are LIKE gold. 
7. Consider that her grandson is more valuable to her than gold, and that because he does not have to leave Mexico to earn money, his family is richer for his presence. 
8. Read books by Gary Soto and learn what life in Fresno, CA is like for many Latino kids: