THE THREE OLD GENTLEMEN WELCOME THE NEW ICONOCLAST
BESIDES MY MOTHER AND FATHER, my sister and myself, two female relations of my mother lived in the house on Pocitos Street. These two boarders, my Aunt Cesaria and my great-aunt Vicenta, were very religious. My father, who was a liberal and anticlerical, had worked out a truce with them. He did not interfere with their observances and even permitted them to display the religious pictures and images which figure so much in Catholic worship. Around my soul, however, he drew a line; that was off limits to the pious ones. Until I was six years old, I had never been inside a house of worship.
One day, without my father's knowledge, my great-aunt Vicenta risked taking me to the Church of San Diego. She thought I should pray to the Virgin Mary there for my mother's success in her diploma examinations which she was taking that morning.
On entering the Church, my revulsion was so great that I still get a sick feeling in my stomach when I recall it. I remember examining the wooden boxes with their slots on top for the coins, then the man at the door in his long, dirty smock, collecting more money in a tin plate. There were paintings all around of women and men sitting or walking on clouds with little winged boys flying above them.
In my own house, I had inspected my aunts' images of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ. I had scratched them and discovered that they were made of wood. I had put sticks into their glass eyes and through their ears to discover whether they could see, hear, or feel anything -- always, of course, with negative results.
In the church, my great-aunt Vicenta took her place among the crowd of old men and women, some of whom were kneeling. She whispered to me to beg the Virgin of Guanajuato to help my mother. I had a funny feeling then which I remember vividly. It was a mixture of indignation and an impulse to laugh at the people around me. I did not laugh, but I gave vent to my feelings by scornfully calling them idiots. My poor aunt and some other old ladies who had heard me tried to explain to me that they were not idiots, that I was only a boy and did not understand such things. My aunt had to be cautious with me because our visit to the church was a secret from my father who had forbidden my ever being taken there.
I said nothing more for the moment but sat quietly, looking at everything around me. I observed the carving on the altar and the images of the Virgin Mary and Jesus, pictured as they were supposed to appear in heaven. Suddenly rage possessed me, and I ran from my aunt and climbed up the steps of the altar. Then at the top of my voice, I began to address the astonished worshipers. I remember the words because each one had a strange sound, each one left a burning imprint in my head.
"Stupid people! You reek of dirt and stupidity! You are so crazy that you believe that if I were to ask the portrait of my father, hanging in my house, for one peso, the portrait would actually give me one peso. You are utter idiots. In order to get pesos, I have to ask someone who has pesos to spare and is willing to give some to me. "You talk of heaven, pointing with your fingers over your head. What heaven is there? There is only air, clouds which give rain, lightning which makes a loud sound and breaks the tree branches, and birds flying. There are no boys with wings nor any ladies or gentlemen sitting on clouds.
"Clouds are water vapor which goes up when the heat of the sun's ray's strikes the rivers and lakes. You can see this vapor from the Guanajuato mountains. It turns to water which falls in drops, and so we have rain.
"At the entrance to this place, I saw boxes to collect money, and a man asking for more money. I also know the priest who comes often to our house to drink my aunt's good chocolate and glasses of liquor. With the money he collects for the church, he pays the painters and sculptors to paint all these lies and puppets. He does this to get more money to make stupid people like you believe that these are truths and to make you fear the Virgin Mary and God.
"In order to have the priest appease these idols to spare you because you are cruel, dirty, and bad people, you give this money to the priest. Does that fear stop the beggars, the poor people, and the jobless miners from sneaking into the houses of the rich people, the grocery stores, the clothing stores of the gabachos, and the haciendas of the gringos, and taking from them a little of what they need?"
At this point some terrified ladies began to scream. They made the sign of the cross in my direction, shouting, "This child is Satan! Satan has appeared in this child!"
The man with the long smock came over to me with a big brass cup full of water which he threw over me, all the while making the sign of the cross. By now my fury had passed, and I was full of mischievous fun. No longer preaching, I began taunting the worshipers with the worst insults and profanities I had learned up to that time.
Suddenly the priest came out, dressed in an impressive robe crusted over with gold embroidery. In his left hand, he held a big book from which he read loudly while looking at me foolishly. I retreated to the small altar at the right, calculating eventually to take a candlestick and throw it at him.
With my back to the wall so that I could not be attacked from the rear and with my hands clenched, I faced the priest. "What about you, you old fool?" I said. "If there really is a Holy Virgin or anyone up in the air, tell them to send lightning to strike me down or let the stones of the vault fall on my head. If you are unable to do that, Mr. Priest, you're nothing but a puppet taking money from stupid old women. You're no better than the clown in the circus coaxing coins from the public. If God doesn't stop me, then there must be no God."
The priest read on more loudly than before, making funny signs in the air. Nothing happened. The atmosphere was so charged with hatred against me that I looked up to the dome to see if stones were really starting to fall.
Then I look two steps toward the priest and shouted, "You see that your God, your Virgin, and your saints mean no more to me than your old book and your signs." Then I grabbed the candlestick in my hands.
"Get out of here!" I shouted.
Whether he was trying to prevent a scandal or simply didn't know how to cope with a boy like me, I can't tell; but the priest closed his book, covered his head, and ran out. At that moment, I wouldn't have changed places with anyone in the world. I took the center of the altar and, gesticulating with my fists, I shouted, "You see, there is no God! You're all stupid cows!"
Many rough-looking men had joined the old people, but when I said, "There is no God," they put their hands over their eyes and ears and ran away. They pushed each other in their panic to get out of the church, crying as they ran, "The devil is here!"
My great-aunt, melting in tears, gathered me in her arms to carry me out of the profaned church of San Diego. When we reached the street, I expected to be pelted with stones, but the people were too busy shutting their windows and doors against the devil. The streets were as empty as if a herd of wild bulls had stampeded into town.
My great-aunt ran with me through the streets and up into the mountains. She didn't bring me home until late in the afternoon.
When we returned, a crowd of doctors and fellow students were dancing in the street with my successful, pretty mother. They were celebrating my mother's passing her examinations.
If that morning I came to know the feeling of triumph, I learned the nature of jealousy that afternoon. No one paid me any attention.
That night, however, as I was blowing out the candles before going to bed, three old gentlemen called at my house. They wore top hats and black riding boots and behaved in a very formal manner. Stiffly they requested an audience with Don Diego de Rivera.
My mother, supposing that they had come to see my father about fighting a duel, paled as she called him. But my father, who never avoided a fight or an adventure, came out immediately. On seeing them, he pretended not to know them, though actually they were friends of his. One of the gentlemen asked if they could speak with his son, Diego. Hearing my name, I came forward saying, "At your command, sirs."
My visitors took off their hats, and the eldest, looking stately in his big white mustache, made me this speech:
"We come to you here, in the name and as representatives of the eleven freedom veterans in Guanajuato. We men are liberals, veterans of the wars against invaders, and fighters for reform and liberty. Our brotherhood keeps up the fight for freedom and the rights of men. After today we consider you our younger brother, and we have come to invite you publicly to join our group. We sit every day in the Union Garden at the time of the evening paseo. No fanatic, conservative, or Catholic would dare sit with us without fearing to be condemned to hell. Therefore, we never suffer intrusion.
"We veterans have fought with arms, thoughts, writings, and speeches against clericalism. You are a legitimate son of our brotherhood and as much our brother as is your father. Both he and your grandfather have been distinguished members of our order. No wonder you have performed such a feat at the outset of your life -- a feat superior to any of ours. Not one of us has ever used the freedom of speech and thought inside of the house of religion itself! We congratulate you, young wolf. Will you shake hands and join us?"
With great pride, I shook each man's hand. I felt so full of new learning and vanity that I left home with them that evening, without asking my parents' permission. From then on, I was permitted to sit with them whenever I chose, on their special benches in the park. And these graybeards of between fifty and eighty talked to me as if I were their peer, although much of their conversation was beyond me.