100 Refutations: Empire of Flies

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When the Spaniards reached what is now called Bogotá, all they saw were flies.

An electric-black cloud of dark bodies humming, swarming, twitching, and pulsing. “The quantity and color of them…,” I once read in an old history book in the Luis Ángel Arango library in Bogotá while imagining a tribe of plucked paper wings and metallic bodies like fitted armor plates and wind-up tin toys, “…is what led the Spaniards to the name that they would bestow upon the indigenous group of the region.” As I turned the page, I slid my finger on the glossy edge and it cut a red meridian into my skin.

In Castellano: Moxcas; in Spanish: Moscas; in English: Flies.

“There were so many.” The Spaniards wrote it in their journals, in their letters home, in their bestselling chronicles, and in the margins of their bibles. “So, very-very many.” Because it was so unbelievable (“Too many to be men!”) that they could only compare them to flies.

The Spaniards stumbled off their boats and wore out their feet hiking up the Andes just to look deep into the eyes of the New World, and all they could see was a buzzing empire of black flies. Old-World words for New-World women and New-World men. And, “This is what they are still called today.”

I dug my fingernail into the papercut slit and stared at the red stain I’d left on the page. I remembered my third grade teacher saying, “Muiscas,” a slight variation on the old word, I was told—linguistic shifts and drifts, accents and pronunciations misheard, misremembered, and misspelled. So, Muiscas, I wrote down on my notebook and stared at my teacher as she dug her own finger into a history textbook as if it were an open wound, “That is what we are.”

Moxcas.

Moscas.

Muiscas.

Flies.

Though, of course, the only true thing about this story is that someone believed it to be true.

“So many!” They said they had said. Unconquered, unruly, undiscovered, ungodly, uncatalogued, and unnamed: blank spaces in maps and dictionaries. “Moscas,” the book said they had said—and said it enough that we started saying it too. Wrote it down. Read it aloud. Write, read, repeat. Shithole empires of winged insect kings and six-legged subjects.

“And some, I assume, are good people.”

False entomology, fake etymology.

Because they were neither unknown nor unnamed, and an old made-up story printed on a blood-stained page does not truth make.

The people of the Andean plateau knew what they were—had always known—and being unknown to foreigners did not change this. When the pale invaders asked, “What are you?” they replied, “Muysca,” in their native tongue, pointing at each other and themselves. “We,” they said, “are people.”

Lina M. Ferreira C.-V.

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To help more directly, please visit:

Hispanic Federation: http://hispanicfederation.org

Hope for Haiti: https://hopeforhaiti.com

Salvadoran American Humanitarian Foundation: https://www.sahf.org

Bios

Lina M. Ferreira C.-V.

*

Lina M. Ferreira C.-V.

Lina M. Ferreira C.-V. (100 Refutations translator and editor) earned MFAs in creative nonfiction writing and literary translation from The University of Iowa. She is the author of Drown Sever Sing from Anomalous Press and Don’t Come Back from Mad River Books, as well as editor, with Sarah Viren, of the forthcoming anthology Essaying the Americas. Her fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and translation work has been featured in journals including Bellingham ReviewChicago ReviewFourth GenreBrevityPoets & Writers, and The Sunday Rumpus, among others. She won Best of the Net and Iron Horse Review’s Discovered Voices Award, has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes, and is a Rona Jaffe fellow. She moved from Colombia to China to Columbus, Ohio to Richmond, Virginia, where she works as an assistant professor for Virginia Commonwealth University. ************************************************************************* Amanda Dambrink (100 Refutations co-editor) works as an editor for the University of Wisconsin's Continuing Education, Outreach & E-Learning program in Madison, Wisconsin. She also holds an MA in creative nonfiction from Ohio University, and her previous work has appeared in Prairie Margins and The Normal School, among others.

Copyright (c) Lina M. Ferreira C.-V., 2018.