A daughter lies, beaten and dying in the desert. A mother searches frantically for her missing daughter. In Hilary Bettis’ The Ghosts of Lote Bravo, Juanda plays the role of the heroic mother searching courageously for her missing and brutalized daughter, Raquel. But as the truth-teller, La Santa Muerte states, “There’s no such thing as villains and heroes. Only those lost in the desert” (49). Bettis uses La Santa Muerte, who represents the middle ground between right and wrong, to expose Juanda’s role in Raquel’s demise and to create an unsympathetic moment for an initially sympathetic character.
Juanda’s desperation to find Raquel consumes her opening line: “RAQUEL! MI TORO BRAVO! WHERE ARE YOU? WHERE ARE YOU!” (49). Her cry in the desert is the first depiction of her desperation, but Juanda’s anguish begins with a fruitless interaction with the Lote Bravo police. Police officers, Roberto and Pedro, not yet exposed for their involvement in Raquel’s disappearance, offer to write up a missing persons report but do nothing further. Recovering missing bottles of añejo preoccupies their daily duties.
With no official help in sight, Juanda seeks the guidance of La Santa Muerte (a saint she doesn’t believe in and even looks down upon). Camille, a coworker at La Maquiladora, assures La Santa Muerte will listen to and respond to Juanda’s prayers unlike the Holy Virgin, since she “sees all of humanity as equal no matter the mistakes one has made” (51). Considering Juanda’s ignorance of Raquel’s nocturnal excursions or the “mistakes” leading up to her disappearance, she reluctantly places her faith in “The idol trash of Monsters and Ghosts” (51).
Her desperate pleas to the police and placing her trust in La Santa Muerte, make Juanda a sympathetic character. She takes down her beloved religious icon, the Holy Virgin, whilst stealing a bottle of añejo to offer La Santa Muerte in exchange for help. Juanda exhibits motherly behavior in the course of the frenzied search of her daughter — she makes sacrifices.
Ironically, these sacrifices disguise the greatest one of all: Raquel. As La Santa Muerte shows Juanda the events leading up to Raquel’s brutalization, she learns that Raquel resorted to prostitution to financially support the family. Juanda doesn’t flinch, deep down knowing this was a possibility. She confesses to La Santa Muerte, “I…My daughter’s blood is on my hands. I sent her out on the streets. I knew how to feed us the moment I saw that red shirt. I’ve sacrificed everything for nothing” (60). Juanda pressured Raquel to help the family in any way she could, even buying provocative attire to attract the men of Lote Bravo. The family may have needed Raquel’s illicit income, but it came at the ultimate price.
In this moment, Juanda is revealed as complicit in her daughter’s death. She’s not just a mother in anguish but someone responsible for her daughter’s demise, subverting the notion of a caring mother. But in Lote Bravo, nothing is simple or black and white as La Santa Muerte proves. Morally ambiguous characters exist — that’s reality. Juanda may have pushed her daughter into the night, but poverty is the real driving force here. Raquel never returns. She’s a victim of the cyclical violence perpetuated against women, especially the young women of Lote Bravo.
Instead of solely blaming Juanda, blame should also fall on systems which oppress people in poverty, forcing them to make agonizing decisions. How can anyone be the perfect mother in a world of hunger, corruption, and survival? Juanda left her daughter behind as a pink cross in the desert. Raquel will live on as the brave bull who saved her family and serves as a testament to the sacrifices women make to survive their realities.