The Guachimán

I used to spend daily hours at the park in front of my house. From individual imaginary games to competitive tournaments and collaborative games, that park was the place where I’d sweat and laugh with friends, and occasionally hold my breath while I experienced a temporary new kind of pain.

I felt great dismay when a gang of older boys on a bike stop by and stole our caps. By that time was already aware of the “roba-gorras” (cap-thieves), so I understood what was happening, but I remember feeling vulnerably invaded.

Not too many months later, in that same park, the community organized a bingo night and, after a couple of weeks, a small guardhouse with three big windows was erected on the south corner of the fútbol field in the park. The community was introduced to Numa, the Nicaraguan immigrant chief of a group of watchmen who, from now on, would prevent the individual misfortunes of a social systemic failure.

My neighborhood was not the first nor the only one: the same pattern was being replicated across all neighborhoods in the Central Valley, giving birth to the guachimán phenomenon that lasts through our days. Thousands of Nicaraguan immigrants, usually on a bike and armed with a whistle and a truncheon have become the safety icon of every neighborhood organized enough to pay for its own security. Their job is to watch, and sometimes perform an extra gig for a neighbor or two.

The cap thieves no longer exist, and the guachis and at the corner in front of my mom’s house are gone, there’s only a tree that someone planted so they could have some shadow during the hot summer days.

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