On the eve of World War II, young Alejandro comes of age on his family’s South Texas farm, known as Chicken Foot Farm because of how his mother marks her chicks. “Mamá held the chick against her breast and splayed its left foot between her thumb and index finger. With her free hand she … quickly cut off the end of the chick’s shortest toe.” Rich with the customs and traditions of rural, Mexican-American life, Chicken Foot Farm depicts a multi-generational family in flux as change crawls relentlessly toward their land and lifestyle.
As the seasons—and loved ones—come and go and misfortunes befall the family, Alejandro learns the lessons of life: the importance of family, honesty, hard work, and compassion. When the kitchen burns down one night, Alejandro feels they have lost something integral to their family unity. But his father promises they will build another kitchen, the new one better than the old. As Abuela Luciana ages, she begins to behave erratically, burning tortillas, forgetting to add water to the beans she is cooking, and even disappearing from the farm. She is certain someone has cursed her—put mal de ojo on her. How can the family cure her when she is the curandera, the one who has always taken care of them?
Most importantly, Alejandro works hard to win his father’s approval, even though Papá generally ignores him in favor of the eldest son, Ernesto, who Papá says will inherit the farm. When Ernesto joins the Army, the family must face the possibility that he may not return as the entire country is thrown into the uncertainty of war.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, young Alejandro notices something new in his family’s kitchen: a framed United States flag now hangs on the wall. “It’s something I can do for the war,” his Abuela Luciana tells him. Not understanding, she explains to him, “I can remind people that we are Americans.”
In these poignant images of a time and place long gone, Anne Estevis sketches a tight-knit, Mexican-American community on the cusp of a new way of life as tractors replace mules and modern science competes with superstitious beliefs.