10,000 people are buried at San Francisco's Mission Dolores. Among the dead are the early missionaries, colonial families, argonauts and 5,000 Indians.
10,000 people now reside in the area around Mission Dolores. Among the living are Roxy, Leah, Reina and Dulce.
"The reason we're so dangerous is because we're totally harmless."
MR. ZAMORA IS DEAD
San Francisco, 1980
Roxy and Leah were at school when their father’s fatal freak accident occurred. He was electrocuted in the kitchen of their family restaurant while attempting to unplug a faulty electric bean masher. It was actually an industrial electric potato masher, only they used it for beans. To this day, no one can explain why he was mashing the beans in the first place. That was Pedro’s job.
After Mr. Zamora's tragic death most of the regular customers stopped patronizing Sesos. It wasn’t that the people in the Mission District didn’t feel bad for the Zamora women, now without a husband or a father. It was just that everyone knew that his widow was running the restaurant. And no one wanted to spend good money on a bad meal.
On the Monday after the funeral, Mrs. Zamora buttoned the top button of the lightweight black suéter she wore over her simple black polyester blend dress. She paused to stare at herself in the full-length mirror. Her lifelong fear of living without the security of a man, first her father, and now her husband, had come true. Why braless women without the decency to shave their underarms demanded more liberation than they needed was beyond her. Sighing, she picked up her husband’s hefty ring of keys and descended the backstairs for her first shift as the sole owner of Sesos.
Chucha, the cook, conveyed his deepest sympathies as Mrs. Zamora entered the kitchen. She nodded solemnly as she selected baked goods from the pink box he had brought. She served herself a niño envuelto with tongs. After a brief moment of contemplating a concha de chocolate she served herself a second strawberry roll. On her ceramic plate the pastries looked like Princess Leias’ hair buns.
Mrs. Zamora lingered in the kitchen until she received condolences and hugs from her arriving staff. No matter where the waitresses looked their eyes were pulled back to the burnt tiles where their real boss had met God. Pedro arrived fourteen minutes late. In between bites Mrs. Zamora berated the busboy, who worked three jobs, on punctuality. She handed Pedro the tongs and her empty plate before dismissing him.
If you can’t earn their respect, take it, Mrs. Zamora thought as she headed to her husband's closet-sized office. She stopped cold. A mound of packages and paperwork were covering the surface of his desk. She picked up an invoice, then watched as dozens of envelopes cascaded onto the floor. As Mrs. Zamora stepped back a wall calendar filled with her husband's cramped cursive writing caught her attention. Two of the dates were lassoed in red ink. “Payroll” was written in both. The second “Payroll” date was in four days.
The loud crash of the front door caused Roxy and Leah to jump. They watched their mother trudge into the living room crying hoarse, wracking sobs. As she momentarily blocked the Price is Right on TV the sisters exchanged nervous glances.
The next morning the girls decided to return to school. Mrs. Zamora warded off thoughts of working on payroll by escaping into television and food. She spent her days in bed, only getting up to go to the bathroom or to switch channels back and forth between the novelas on UHF and the ones on ABC.
The employees were sympathetic. They brought her meals up on trays and took the dirty dishes away. If she did not feel like ‘real food’ they ordered whatever she wanted. Usually sweet and sour pork served with pork fried rice, an egg-roll and extra fortune cookies.
On the dreaded payday, Mrs. Zamora retreated to her bathroom to hide. As the minutes counted down she wiped her sweaty face with the lacey hand towel reserved for guests. In the restaurant’s kitchen Chucha and Pedro performed last rites while splashing tap water on each other.
The riot began at 10:06 a.m. Dressed in their puffy off the shoulder uniforms inspired by the Mexican revolution, the normally benign group of waitresses clamored for la jefa. When she failed to show her ‘ugly face' they raided the walk-in refrigerator and freezer. They took their due earnings with meat and seafood wrapped in butcher’s paper, huge blocks of cheese and butter.
Las Adelitas stormed the storeroom where they claimed unpaid sick days and vacation time owed to them with cases of beer, liquor and wine. Bottles of DeKuyper Schnapps were left in their wake. As they departed the restaurant the new mothers snatched up the baby booster seats near the kitchen door.
The girls arrived home from school to find their mother filling three suitcases without folding the clothes first. Sensing movement Mrs. Zamora’s head snapped up. Relieved to see it was just her daughters, she said, “Don’t just stand there, Roxana! Help me!”
Leah watched from the doorway as Roxy attempted to close an overstuffed suitcase by sitting on it. Her face pinched as questions tumbled out. “Where are you going? How long will you be gone? What about the restaurant?”
“The restaurant is closed. Nobody wants to work here...work for me.” Mrs. Zamora burst into tears. Roxy knew this was true and was not about to go there. She hopped on a suitcase until the latches clicked shut.
Mrs. Zamora caught the next bus to Watsonville in the Salinas Valley where she would care for an elderly aunt who did not send for her. After putting their mother in a cab to the downtown bus depot the bewildered daughters turned back around and faced their sinking ship. Someone named Güey had recently graffitied over the graffiti on the door.
Roxy felt like she was falling down a manhole and was about to hit the ground. As the pedestrian traffic moved swiftly around them Leah experienced the sensation of being carried away by a strong current. She parted her lips to breathe in the water.
ROXY’S ACTUAL FIRST DAY AS THE BOSS
The service at any family-owned restaurant varies throughout the day, but late-afternoon is the absolute worst time to expect to be served. Customers are ignored by the lunch staff seated at a table in the back, smoking cigarettes while engrossed in their daily ritual of counting tips. At the adjacent table, the dinner staff complained and gossiped as they rolled flatware into paper napkins.
On the barstool in the cocktail lounge twelve-year-old Roxy was enjoying the afterschool snack Chucha had prepared for her. Halfway through the Doritos topped with melted cheese and slathered in packets of taco sauce—Roxy’s creation—she watched another potential customer give up and leave. When she complained about the loss of business to her father, the bartender, he gave her a ‘What are you gonna do about it?’ shrug. He refilled her glass of Pepsi, which was actually a generic cola and only cost pennies per pint.
Well, Roxy was gonna do something about it, alrighty. She started doing her homework on the corner barstool so she could keep an eye on the entrance. Customers were greeted by a smiling chubby girl dressed in a parochial school uniform, whose long ponytail was more frizz than curl. Most thought she was cute in the way that all children are cute. Even the ugly ones.
Roxy seated four National Dollar store employees at the best table by the window. She turned and glared at the wait staff. A quick game of piedra, papel, tijeras ensued to see who would wait on them.
As Roxy headed back to the bar she glanced at the overhead TV showing local news though the sound was off. Video footage of Patricia Hearst wearing a beret and weilding an M1 carbine was on the screen. Since the bank robbery had taken place a few miles from where they were sitting, the customers felt a certain ownership of the story. The reactions around the bar were mixed.
When the debate, mostly in Spanish, was dying down they began to make things up. An older customer staring at the raw egg floating in his beer said, “I heard the Siamese Liberation Army is still here and they’re planning on kidnapping a politician next. I think they said Mayor Alioto.”
“Why?” Mr. Zamora said, mesmerized by the fruit flies hovering over the liquor bottles in the well.
“Because they want to destroy the state capitals.”
Roxy thought, capitalist state, but said nothing. Correcting adults was just showing off. She knew ‘Siamese’ wasn’t right either, but she couldn't come up with the actual name.
“What if they go to Mayor Alioto's house to kidnap him and Governor Brown’s visiting? A customer said. “Wouldn’t they take Jerry instead? I mean, the mayor is like a full house, which is pretty good, but the governor is a better hand.”
“What hand is Nixon?” Someone asked.
The man slurped the egg, before saying, “A toilet flush.”
They all laughed uproariously. Some wheezed while slapping the bar. Roxy tuned them out. She flipped to the back of her school notebook and started a tally of the customers she seated.
ROXY AND SCARLETT
With some reluctance, Roxy, age seventeen and Leah, sixteen stepped back inside the restaurant. After Roxy’s eyes adjusted she stared at her surroundings candidly. The chunky dark furniture and the red carpets were straight out of medieval times. A blackish stain on the rug in front of the hostess stand could pass for dry blood spilled by a serf bearing bad news.
Roxy was scanning the dusty statues of conquistadors when her eyes landed on Leah. Roxy realized that she had stopped seeing her sister right after she was born. Leah looked so much like their father. Two thin brown greyhounds caught out in the cold rain. Only their father kept his dark curly hair cut short and caked with Brylcreem. Leah’s black spirals coiled down her back bringing virgins and volcanoes to mind. Roxy sighed. It had been a fifty-fifty chance, but Roxy had drawn her mother’s Olmec genes.
She tuned Leah back in. “Why are you shaking like that? It’s over 70 degrees in here.” Her concern came out more like a rebuke.
Leah’s eyes were burning. To keep from crying she had been biting hard on her bottom lip. The front tips of Leah’s teeth, slightly flecked with blood, wrenched Roxy out of her grief cocoon. Oh my God! What am I doing? We’re about to lose everything for good! Our business, this building, our home! Dad’s never coming back! Mom will only make it worse, because she’s mom! Roxy wondered where all of the other overbearing adults were when they were finally needed.
Roxy had seen “Gone with the Wind'' a bunch of times and thought back to the scene where Scarlett takes charge of Tara—also by default. Roxy held up an imaginary fist to the orange glow of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer sky. She thought, with God as my witness I will not be licked and I will save Sesos! To Leah she said, “Come on.”
At the corner hardware store Roxy bought a thick steel chain and the biggest padlock they carried. Back at the restaurant Roxy threaded the chain through the two front door handles. Leah shifted the lock from hand to hand taking pleasure in the cool feel of the weighted steel on her warm palms. She realized Roxy was staring at her. “You done?” Roxy said, snapping her fingers.
Leah's cheeks tinged purple as she handed her sister the padlock. Roxy fastened the hinged shackle through the chain and clamped it shut. She tugged on the lock twice, and then tried the key to make sure it worked. “Now this will get everyone’s attention,” she said with a certainty that confused Leah, yet somehow made her less afraid.
Roxy Zamora, senior at Saint Joan of Arc High School, also known as St. Juanita’s, although most people called it St. Juan's, was in charge of a restaurant with no food, no wait staff, no customers and no idea what to do next.
On autopilot, Roxy pulled the ‘Help Wanted’ signs and the folder of applications from the office filing cabinet. As she grabbed the promotional coffee mug filled with pens, it occurred to her that her grandfather had also died in the restaurant. A ruptured bladder had been the cause of Papa Pío’s death. He was hit by a baseball bat when he stepped too close to a piñata at a birthday party. He returned to close the restaurant and sort of keeled over while counting chits.
Like Roxy, her father had taken over the running of the restaurant without any warning, only he was in his twenties at the time and had already transitioned into the position. Roxy had pretty much been running the floor for the last couple of years and Chucha the kitchen, but the accounting side of the business had been all his.
She hung the Help Wanted sign on the front window and stared out at the busy street. Word that Sesos was hiring would spread through the Mission like a cold through a preschool. She glanced at her watch. The phone should start ringing and applicants arriving after lunch.
No one applied. Not even the illegals.
When no one showed up on the following day Roxy began to panic. She looked around the empty room for Chucha to explain what was going on, then remembered he was visiting relatives in Baja. Roxy shrugged on her jacket. She made sure the keys were in the pocket as she left through the kitchen door.
Her heart was pounding in her ears as she jog-weaved through the foot traffic to the Mission District’s epicenter. Rollo’s News and Cigarettes Stand had been in the same spot since the neighborhood was mostly Polish and Irish American. So had Rollo.
In the 1940s, many of the Mexicans displaced by the building of the Bay Bridge moved to the Mission District. Noting the new arrivals, Rollo added Spanish publications to his newsstand. Eventually, he started carrying the candies he had seen Mexican children eating. His biggest seller was the Astro Pop. A pointy lollipop children licked to a needle-fine point. Part of him wanted to see a kid trip while sucking on one, just to see what would happen.
Without a greeting, Roxy said, “Have you heard anything about Sesos?”
“It’s closed,” Rollo said without looking up from his crossword.
“I know that,” Roxy said, perturbed.
Rollo tilted his head toward the daily newspapers. “The Chronicle or the Examiner?” His tone made it clear that the information would cost a quarter.
Roxy dug into her pocket. “Chronicle.” She slapped change and a bit of lint on the counter.
“Because,” Rollo said as his ink-stained fingers slid thirty cents toward him, “you never paid your workers.”
Roxy’s mouth gaped. “They robbed me blind! Us blind!”
Rollo shook his head. “That was the lunch staff. What about the dinner staff?”
Roxy was of two minds as she thought that through. Rollo smiled and leaned in. “A bad reputation is like cooking salmon in a cast iron skillet. The skin sticks and the smell never goes away.”
This is the story of Mexican food. Around the savory dishes revolve four women who solve mysteries, help hide China (the person, not the country), write cookbooks, and, finally, accept posthumous donations of tattoos. Set in San Francisco’s Mission District during the 1980’s, 10,000 Souls follows these remarkable characters through a labyrinth of family friendship and food. It's fresh, imaginative and authentic fiction.
Roxy has been running the family restaurant since her father's fatal freak accident when she was seventeen. Her eighteenth birthday wish for a husband brings sudden attention from Jaime Padrosa. When she sees the firm body and boyish good looks of the new produce man she instantly marries him with her eyes.
Roxy stays home to raise their sons while Jaime runs the restaurant. When a roll of film found in the garage is developed the photos reveal a visual account of Jaime's infidelity. Thirty-six different women (actually, thirty-five and a thumb) are wearing nothing but the white satin heels Roxy wore on her wedding day!
Roxy kicks the serial adulterer out, and then files for divorce. Only Jaime won't go away. Not satisfied with half of the business, house, and their savings, Jaime decides to kidnap their sons and make 'la torta' really pay.
On Roxy's 25th birthday she wishes Jaime needed her as much as she needs him. Moments after the candles are blown out Jaime's motorcycle is struck by an oncoming truck. Miraculously surviving the accident he is left paralyzed from the neck down. When Jaime is released from the hospital, to her care, it dawns on Roxy that she got her wish.
Where Roxy thrives in the restaurant's front rooms her little sister, Leah, prefers to work in the kitchen. Far away from the loud and unpredictable crowds. After nearly being gang-raped in Golden Gate Park, Leah moves to the bucolic Napa Valley and attends the Culinary Institute of California. When her instructor, Chef Jacob Lasson, finds out that she was the cook at one of his favorite San Francisco restaurants he reserves a kitchen for a tutorial on Mexican cooking.
She explains traditional techniques to the chef along with the origin of each dish. They learn from one another and about each other. They fall in love. Jacob is married and Leah agrees to become his mistress. The lonely affair lasts the span of her stay at the academy.
Having written several cookbooks Leah's lover encourages her to start writing down her recipes and cooking lore. By graduation, she has a firm offer for the first ever encyclopedia of Mexican cooking. The book details techniques and recipes in addition to passing along folk wisdom.
Reina can't wait to go to Stanford and leave the small-minded people of the Mission District behind. During the summer break of her junior year, Reina and her boyfriend plan to fly back east to meet his family. As they are about to board the plane she finds out that his parents are convinced she's an illegal alien trying to secure a green card and bag their rich American son!
While staying with Atticus' family in Washington DC, Reina learns of the rash of burglaries taking place in Spring Valley. She gets caught in the middle of the conflict between the residents of this exclusive community and the suspected hired help. When Reina discovers the identity of the thief she becomes the most hated person in the Capital—politicians aside.
Dulce is a precocious boy trapped in a woman's body and even buys most of her clothes at the boys' department of K-mart. She claims they have the most durable socks.
When a friend named Carolyn dies she bequeaths to Dulce her tattoo. The octopus had covered the back of her head, neck, torso, and buttocks; with tentacles extending the length of her arms, legs, and to the heels of her feet.
Months later, Dulce is packing her artwork for an exhibit at Galleria de La Raza and decides to take Carolyn along as her date. At the gallery's opening party, a reporter from a local newspaper asks Dulce to elaborate on the piece entitled, 'Carolyn.' Raising her smart brown eyes to look at him, she says, "People aren’t just good subjects in art, they are good materials for art."
Shortly after Carolyn's ‘debut’ Dulce receives letters from prisoners, war veterans, bikers, businessmen, housewives and a Holocaust survivor. All wanting her to take their tattoos—posthumously. Now, what is a budding artist to do with so much willing controversy?
Where is China? The first time we learn about Christina "China" Nieves is after her mysterious disappearance. She was last seen by her parents when she went to church to light candles for the American Hostages in Iran.
As the story unfolds, we learn that China actually moved to New York against her parents' wishes. Since she was eighteen and a legal adult, they couldn't lock her in her room like they had wanted to do. In order to save face China's father implies to an inquisitive neighbor that their daughter is missing. The tragic news spreads through the Mission like a cold through a preschool.
Mr. Nieves is pressured to report his daughter's disappearance to the police by a house filled with concerned relatives. Being a slow news day the media picks up the story. The Valencia Street home is soon bombarded with reporters and camera crews.
The reluctant couple, now the center of a media blitz, become curiously captivated by all of the attention. Mr. Nieves is promoted to usher at Saint Juanita's church. Mrs. Nieves, a whiny woman usually ignored, can't walk down the street without receiving food and sympathy. While guests on Good Morning America the Nieves' get a little carried away and become the co-founders of a national Latino support group for parents of missing children.
For someone we never meet, China leaves a profound impression on the novel. Cogent observations about life within a Mexican American community will be attained through this non-character.
About the Author
"I thought I was a boy until I got boobies. That was a pretty sucky day."—Annette Sandoval
Annette’s writing is tightly bound to her experience as a Mexican American. Her parents are from Jalisco, Mexico. Annette's father worked as a migrant worker and later as a janitor at a convent where he was sponsored for green card status. After securing work and papers he sent for his fifteen-year-old bride.
Annette was named after a Mouseketeer. While in her teens she worked at Disneyland where she was forced to wear a paper hat and a name tag. When customers asked if 'Annette Funichello' was her mother, she would say, deadpan, “Yes.” After her shift she would smoke pot in the Disneyland employee parking lot, and then ride Space Mountain. At 21, Annette moved to San Francisco. She spent the next decade backpacking around the world, touring nearly every continent on her own.
Annette is the author of The Directory of Saints (Dutton/Penguin), which appeared in hardback in 1996. Her second book, Homegrown Healing: Traditional Home Remedies from Mexico (Putnam/Berkely), published in 1998, is one of the first modern works preserving this rich oral tradition. Spitfire (Thomas & Mercer) 2012, a whodunnit, was translated to German. She's on the final revision of her fourth book, 10,000 Souls.
Annette lives in Washington State with her partner, Philip, and their sweet, but really stupid golden retriever.
EARLY REVIEWS ARE IN
“Some of the most interesting, well-drawn character in
contemporary Chicana literature...It shines.”
—Rudolfo Anaya, author, Bless Me, Ultima
"...female friendship and empowerment strikes
universal chords that will resonate with all readers.”
—Michael Nava, author of The City of Palaces
“The yarn Sandoval spins of their lives…
would make an HBO show-runner proud."