Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

A Glass of Water

by Jimmy Santiago Baca

“This book is the best antidote around to the sorrowful, dehumanizing discourse on undocumented immigrants going on in Washington.” —Ilan Stavans

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 224
  • Publication Date September 14, 2010
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4510-9
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $14.00

About The Book

An award-winning memoirist, poet, and activist, Jimmy Santiago Baca has established himself as an inspiring and important spokesperson for the Chicano experience, continually giving voice to the voiceless. His first novel, A Glass of Water, is a gripping tale of family, loyalty, ambition, and revenge that offers us a glimpse into the tragedies unfurling at this very moment on our country’s borders.

The promise of a new beginning brings Casimiro and Nopal together when they are young immigrants, each having made the nearly deadly journey across the border from Mexico. They settle into a life of long days in the chili fields and in a few years their happy union yields two sons, Lorenzo and Vito. But when Nopal is brutally murdered, the boys are left to navigate life in this brave but capricious world without her. Lorenzo follows in his father’s footsteps, devoting himself to the land, and falls in love with a beautiful, idealistic student who comes to the migrant camp to study and improve the lives of its workers. Vito, hot-blooded and restless, breaks away and soon finds fame as an itinerant boxer, gaining notoriety in the ring and out. The brothers’ journeys will eventually converge and bring them face to face with a common enemy.

A Glass of Water is a searing, heartfelt tribute to brotherhood and an arresting portrait of the twisted paths people take to claim their piece of the ever-elusive American dream.


“[A] blistering novel . . . The sheer passion that drives Baca’s [work] is undeniable.” —Publishers Weekly

“[With] image-rich writing . . . A Glass of Water adds another strong voice to the growing body of literature on immigrants and migrant farm workers. . . . Baca should be commended for tackling injustice in his fiction.” —Don Waters, High Country News

“This book is the best antidote around to the sorrowful, dehumanizing discourse on undocumented immigrants going on in Washington.” —Ilan Stavans

“Impressive . . . Fierce and uncompromising, but also beautiful and wise, A Glass of Water might be [Baca’s] most accessible work yet.” —Kevin Canfield, Pasatiempo

“[With A Glass of Water] Baca manages to put a face on desperation. He decries the exploitation of migrant farm workers in the United States . . . [and] derogates not only an exploitive American economic system, but also Mexican drug lords driving the poor off their land, who become homeless or victims of violence. . . . [But] a field worker’s life isn’t all toil and gloom as reflected in the lives of the characters. There’s also passion, joy, love of family, adventure, love, longing, and accomplishment. The imagery is striking, the prose lyrical.” —Aurelio Sanchez, The Albuquerque Journal

“Jimmy Santiago Baca’s poems read like novels, and his novels read like poems. . . . [He] fills his prose with evocative, naturalistic details, [and] his poetry’s beating heart . . . weaves stories of Chicano loss and redemption, often through a reconnection to Earth’s natural elements. . . . Baca’s tangible earthiness seeps through [A Glass of Water] . . . but his bucolic prose is anything but lulling; as the story builds to a violent resolution, so do the political undercurrents. But ultimately, it’s transcendent performance—Carmen’s song and Vito’s populist pugilism, not to mention Baca’s own transformation through literature—that offers salvation.” —Wells Dunbar, The Austin Chronicle


Part One

Everyone is gathered in the camp compound around a bonfire to drink and eat and remember my life. I feel their boots above me shifting dirt, the air groan with the aroma of barbecued goat. I hear the field-workers blow their noses, cough, and spit out leaf dust, and as the afternoon wears on a dozen or so get drunk and weep over memories of me on stage and how I expressed their sorrow or joy in my songs. Others start fistfights because their memories of my singing scorches their reason. The quiet, humble ones pass out on the dirt.

In each heart, to every one of them, I remain a green-feathered parrot in a golden cage of memory, but when I was living each day was a smattering of eggshell fragments smeared with predator’s saliva. La Muerte, or Death, prowled the margins of my days, peering out from bounty hunter eyes, INS patrols, vigilante groups, and ICE and border patrol agents.

But I was determined to dance for my oppressed people; my heart urged and so I did.

I was an eagle, hatched to fly where I wanted, a woman on a journey who arrived a thousand times to blunt the blade of cruelty, to scald her eyes with anger’s fire because she could not accept the sorrow of life, was unprepared to hear children’s voices in the soft evening breeze speak of slaughters carried out by soldiers along the New Mexico border.

Now, as I listen to the mourners, lowering their eyes as they mention my name, smelling of beer, cigarette smoke, and sweat, truck keys jangling from rings at their belt loops, I realize they knew me quite well.

I want to tell them something but I have seeped in under alley stones and dirt to blood’s birthplace, and my language is the molten core where fire and matter merge to create the music of minerals that become earth, and if you look at the hills and mountains and fields, you gaze at me, I am near you, next to you, beneath, above, and beside you.

I hear one man saying, “She was a better singer than Chavela, Lola Beltrán, or Amalia Mendoza but things don’t work out sometimes; why a man would cut her throat, silence her—dear, dear God.”


Thirst was on me my first step in the field, it churned in my stomach, cried in every muscle, demanding water. Thirst was master.

I sometimes hallucinated leaf dew was a gourd of water—my fingers, shoulders, and neck lost their aching and time seemed to get lost somewhere, to float around and around over the fields like a bird that had nothing to do as sweat dripped down my back and brow, and everything seemed to loft in the air when the illusions came. You couldn’t hear anything, couldn’t taste anything, couldn’t see anything, and you had no clue where you were; you were put in a place where no one else was, you were all alone and you were happy and pleased and you finally thought you had reached the paradise you had been working for all these days, working all your life for this place and it finally came to you in this muddy field with fleas and flies and wasps and all sorts of flying bugs biting and itching at you. Here it came, landing on your drenched T-shirt and shading your eyes for a moment, an eternal moment, and whisking you off. Every nerve had a calmness you never experienced, you had never even realized such peace existed because no one had ever told you about it, no book or Bible ever preached a place like this that came to you when you were at your lowest ebb and you couldn’t take anymore and you couldn’t believe in anything else.

I knew it wasn’t real but I couldn’t help but look and stare and lick my lips at the mirage fading into shimmering heat waves and I’d keep on bending and picking as thirst nested under my tongue, becoming a deep hungering darkness that ground itself into my bones and brain and gave me no rest or mercy, a thirst that made me believe I was the worst-off human being in the world. That kind of thirst, that kind of despair came over me and never let me go. I became its prisoner and I belonged to it forever. It owned every part of my life, it claimed me completely.

And that was how I lived. I worked my life around it, made my dreams around thirst, decided on plans around thirst, always kept it in front of my eyes and in my mind. I never once got up and didn’t have to think about thirst, never once did I look out over the horizon or at the sky and not think about thirst, and no matter how many glasses of water I gulped down, it seemed to grow and it became larger and wanting more, always wanting more.

But when that man cut my throat I never had a thirst so fierce, a thirst for life as mine was being drained. I would have drunk urine or vomit at that moment, my mouth contorting for one more drop of life, death inching and edging its way on me, shriveling in every pore and sucking my soul out, my raspy throat stinging like bees maddened by a poker, my tongue swelling, my lungs suffocating. And through clenched teeth, as I begged for one more second, I quenched myself on memories of my two boys back in the bar crawling around the floor under tables, me doing my sound check on the stage mic, gasping through my tears and blood, worried my baby boys might be sitting on the floor biting into a pebble as if it was candy or catching hands under dresses, and my beautiful husband waiting on me to return. I tell you, never a thirst so fierce as wanting one more second of life with my family.