Yo soy quien soy. I am who I am.
We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Desideria Mesa’s Bindle Punk Bruja, an historical fantasy inspired by an ancient Mexican folktale—out now from Harper Voyager.
Luna—or depending on who’s asking, Rose—is the white-passing daughter of an immigrant mother who has seen what happens to people from her culture. This world is prejudicial, and she must hide her identity in pursuit of owning an illegal jazz club. Using her cunning powers, Rose negotiates with dangerous criminals as she climbs up Kansas City’s bootlegging ladder. Luna, however, runs the risk of losing everything if the crooked city councilmen and ruthless mobsters discover her ties to an immigrant boxcar community that secretly houses witches. Last thing she wants is to put her entire family in danger.
But this bruja with ever-growing magical abilities can never resist a good fight. With her new identity, Rose, an unabashed flapper, defies societal expectations all the while struggling to keep her true self and witchcraft in check. However, the harder she tries to avoid scrutiny, the more her efforts eventually capture unwanted attention. Soon, she finds herself surrounded by greed and every brand of bigotry—from local gangsters who want a piece of the action and businessmen who hate her diverse staff to the Ku Klux Klan and Al Capone. Will her earth magic be enough to save her friends and family? As much as she hates to admit it, she may need to learn to have faith in others—and learning to trust may prove to be her biggest ambition yet.
I AM WHO I SAY I AM.
The family spell book stares back at me from the black cushions of my Model T. Rough limbs twist around the tree on the front cover, splitting off into three branches of magic—my reminder of everything I’ll never be. I practiced for nearly an hour after I left the newspaper office, but I don’t know why I try anymore. Time never stills and the stars won’t speak to me. All practicing ever does is solidify the fact that I’ll never fit into my family, that my father’s Anglo blood is mucking up my abilities even though I carry around his physical features that help hide that I’m the daughter of an immigrant. So there’s at least that.
But it’s not like I’m gonna thank the classless man who left my mother out of shame, either.
Ugh. Just the thought of my biological father makes the side of my nose wrinkle as I tuck the useless book under my arm. Pretending to check the crimson on my lips in the rearview mirror, I make sure the dirt road is clear of anyone who might recognize me. My hands are already dampening at the thought of someone seeing me anywhere near the river community. Not because I’m embarrassed by my family. I wish every day that I could claim them. But my mother worked too hard to erase any ties I had to them long ago—can’t let all that go to waste just because I got careless.
“¡Bruja falsa! ¡Bruja falsa!”
Instinct slides my body down the cloth seat, my heart and head ducking below the door panel before I hear the tiny, annoying cackles over my gasping. Righting myself with as much dignity as I can muster, I smooth the front of my blouse with leveled eyes at the two barefoot ragamuffins who are bent in half with laughter at the front of my car. My breathing calms back into submission at the relieving sight of the only kids near the tracks who are brave enough to mess with me.
“Step closer if you wanna see how real my magic is!” I snap, cracking the front window open.
“¿Sííííí?” The little boy without a shirt flashes me a gap-toothed sneer while the tiny one reaches up to play with the metal headlamp. “Mi mamá says you’re a night owl.”
Shorty stands on his toes to shout over his brother. “¡No puedes hablar español!”
“An-an-an she says you’re a gold dig—”
I jerk the driver’s-side door open with a challenging glare in their direction, the two grubby darlings hopping backward with amused, curious eyes.
Not quite the intimidation I was hoping for.
“Well then!” I call out with twitching lips asbrown water splashes their legs from a grassy puddle. “You tell your mother that my business is none of hers. And if you ever bother me again, I’ll come and walk around in your brains while you’re sleeping! ¡Fuera de aquí!”
The muddied boys shriek with fearful giggles, grabbing each other as they sprint toward the riverbank’s line of oak trees. Out of sight, I finally let free a bursting laugh, rolling my eyes at the newest gossip. Can’t speak Spanish. What a racket. Of course I can…
I just hope my mother didn’t hear it.
My eyes dart at a passing Roadster, its nickel grill catching my breath as I think of the tales she used to tell of greedy men who would come after us if I didn’t hide my heritage to play the part of an anonymous citizen. Presenting as anything but white would strip me of everything my mother and I have worked for. There’s no real opportunity for immigrants and their kids, even without our witchery. But what they would do to a bruja like me is a whole other realm of danger. Though most people don’t know our magic exists, the risk of visiting home is still very real—as real as the lump in my throat as I hold the book tightly to my chest at the thought of something happening to the people I love if I get careless.
Luckily, my mixed ethnicity has helped keep me from being found out… and arrested, since non-whites can’t rent in most parts of the city. Not to mention the risk of having even a little bruja blood. The goons I work with would sell me out in a second if they ever discovered who I really am or what (little) I can do. Of course, independent women have to use what they’ve got. I mean, I know I shouldn’t charm them. But… it helps me get what I want. What I need.
Besides, those guys are too busy looking at my legs to be suspicious about childhood fairy tales of witches on the west side.
Swallowing my angst, I grab the hand brake with a cringing glance up the hill toward the house. A family of four living in a boxcar near the decimated Union Depot is unappealing enough. That it’s my family, the one I’m supposed to be hiding from even while I’m supposed to visit them (because no sane person tells their abuela they’re not stopping by because they’re “white” now), makes it even tougher to make myself move toward it.
The humid sunset thickens the marinade. As my automobile idles in the rail yard, the breeze rushes through the open windows, sharing the pungent cattle sweat and ash from the nearby steel factory and stockyards, adding to my dismal mood. The more time passes between visits, the more I feel like a stranger in my own family. It’s not their fault I was born different, though. It’s all a risk, but it’s all for family, so it’s worth it.
With another nervous glance around me, I pull the hand brake with dread of soot-stained mud that’s sure to stick to the bottom of my heeled shoes.
Okay—mostly worth it.
Excerpted from Bindle Punk Bruja, copyright © 2022 by Desideria Mesa.