May 5th, 2010

tell me a story


I'm on a Los Lobos kick right now. I'm listening to "Kiko and the Lavender Moon" on youtube right now and given my mood, I suspect I'll just click and click on Los Lobos (and maybe Los Super Seven, and maybe even ) all day.

Part of it is because I truly love Los Lobos. I've seen them live in Rockafellers Club in Houston, Texas, The Fillmore in San Francisco, California, at the Austin City Limits Music Festival (twice), and the Camel Rock Casino in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I own and listen to a shit ton of their music. I have been known to dance in the living room to "Maricela" or "Maria Cristina."

But I also think part of this is a reaction to the anti-Hispanic sentiment going around the country. I start embracing that part of myself when people start criticizing it. I feel myself embracing that part of me that is sometimes difficult to hold on to, because I don't necessarily understand it very well.

I'm Hispanic, and I've always considered myself Hispanic, but I don't think I was necessarily immersed in Hispanic culture in the same ways a lot of other Hispanic kids were. My Hispanic culture is entirely family based, not community or socially based. My elementary and middle school was actually quite diverse, but I don't recall more than a handful of kids who had latin last names and none of my particular school friends were necessarily Hispanic. I was one of two or three Hispanics in my high school class. I had a bunch of Hispanic friends in the Sea Explorers, but again, it was a diverse group of people. I consumed American media: tv, books, movies, music. Spanish was more or less abandoned as the language of the household when I was six or seven; the little kids didn't speak it very well, and the older kids were speaking English exclusively in school. And my siblings and I were fairly easily assimilated into mainstream culture. We looked white, we talked white, and aside from pinatas at our birthday parties and our unpronouncable five letter last name, there wasn't anything particularly "foreign" about us. I think it wouldn't occur to a lot of people, especially people evaluating us superficially, that we're minorities.

Certainly there were signs, like my having to go to speech therapy in fourth grade because of my lisp. Apparently kids who grew up speaking both languages often have a problem with their esses in English. Or my kicking ass in Spanish classes throughout school. Or having a lot more family stuff to do than a lot of the other kids did. Or not knowing the english word for "jelly" for probably the first eight years of my life. Or the incapability of speaking to a Spanish speaker in any other language, even if they speak English. This goes on today, and you'll see any one of my family members ordering in Spanish.

But it was really the family, that extended, crazy group of people that I love dearly, that grounded me in my culture and made me understand how important it is. It was the tamale making parties and the dancing to norteno music and the Spanish language peppered in conversation. It was the reminiscing about old family members with names like Cleotilde and Lazaro and Gumecindro and Luz. It was the way we dressed with lots of color and displays of jewelry. It was the way our accents subltly changed when we were around each other, taking on a more musical lilt. It was actual frequent trips to Mexico in the first fifteen years of my life. Sometimes a drive down to the Valley to see the ancient homeland, sometimes vacations to the Yucutan or Mexico City or Alcapulco. It was the use of ingredients like chiles and cilantro and garlic and masa and mangos, well before those ingredients were incorporated into mainsteam American fare. It was my grandmother's molcajete. Or Leonore's Aroz con Pollo. Or snacks of pan con canela (To this day, I sing "pan con canela" instead of "Guantanamera," when I hear the melody to the Cuban patriotic song.) when I came home from school. Or my grandfather's absolute love of his people.

The guys in Los Lobos look like they could be my cousins. A lot of them, especially David Hildago and Cesar Rosas, have my dad's physique. Sort of compact with broad shoulders and a panza. They have my dad's hair. Wiry and black. They sort of talk like some of the relatives that I grew up with, though obviously they're Californian, so the accent is a little off. And they sing songs in both English and Spanish, songs that my family collectively loves. I remember a tamale party at my cousin Sari's house, and someone brought a Los Super Seven CD, which is a sort of Mexican American super group with both David Hildago and Cesar Rosas (with five other guys) in it. The whole family spent an hour dancing in my cousin's back porch, tamale masa everywhere, embarrassing the hell out of the younger kids. It's not the only time I've danced to Los Lobos with my family. Happens all the time at the ranch if "Maria Cristina" comes on. Or "Kiko and the Lavendar Moon". And lord help us if "Estoy Sentado Aqui" or "Volver" come on...

I think that's why this whole anti-Hispanic thing bothers me so much. For me, being Hispanic is being part of my family. Attacks on Hispanics in general feel like attacks on my family, and that's not something that sits well with me.

My mom tells me about a couple of things. First, the Texas Rangers and my grandfather's loathing of them. I never really understood this. The Rangers, as I'd learned in school, were supposedly awesome lawmen. But my grandfather hated them because they also killed thousands of migrant workers, often lynching them (According to Wiki, "In January 1919, at the initiative of Representative José T. Canales of Brownsville, the Texas Legislature launched a full investigation of Rangers' actions throughout these years. The investigation found that from 300 up to 5,000 people, mostly of Hispanic descent, had been killed by Rangers from 1910 to 1919, and that members of the Rangers had been involved in many acts of brutality and injustice."</a> Second, there was a sign on the Methodist Hospital elevator here in Houston that directed blacks and Hispanics to the service elevators. My grandfather took one look at the sign, disregarded it, and got on the regular elevator. "I," he apparently said, "read Cervantes in the original Spanish." These events are in my family memory, my family history.

I stumbled on a Youtube Video that I think is appropriate for today.

These are two songs. One by Los Lobos called "Mexico Americano". And the other is almost an anthem in Mexico called "Volver." If you bother to learn the easy words to the lyrics, you will likely have lots of others singing along with you.

Here are the lyrics to first.

Por mi madre yo soy Mexicano,
Por destino soy Americano.
Yo soy de la raza de oro.
Yo soy Mexico Americano

Yo te comprendo el ingl?s,
Tambien te hablo en castellano.
Yo soy de la raza de oro.
Yo soy Mexico Americano

Zacatecas a Minnesota,
De Tijuana a Nueva York.
Dos pa?ses son mi tierra,
Los defiendo con honor

Dos idiomas y dos pa?ses,
Dos culturas tengo yo.
En mi suerte tengo orgullo,
Porque asi lo manda Dios

Por mi madre yo soy Mexicano,
Por destino soy Americano.
Yo soy de la raza de oro.
Yo soy Mexico Americano

And the second.

Este amor apasionado, anda todo alborotado , por volver.
voy camino a la locura y aunque todo me tortura, se querer.

Nos dejamos hace tiempo pero me llego el momento de perder
tu tenias mucha razon, le hago caso al corazon y me muero
por volver

'Y volver volver, volver a tus brazos otra vez, llegare hasta donde estes
yo se perder,yo se perder, quiero volver, volver, volver.'

Nos dejamso hace tiempo pero me llego el momento de perder
tu tenias mucha razon, le hago caso al corazon y me muero por volver.

'Y volver volver, volver a tus brazos otra vez, llegare hasta donde estes
yo se perder, yo se perder, quiero volver, volver, volver.

I could give a shit about the battle of Puebla. And if any of the people "celebrating" Cinco de Mayo here in the US were honest with themselves, they don't care about it either. Most people don't even have a clue what it is. But they vaguely know that this "holiday" is about Mexico, about Hispanics. And they sort of celebrate it in the same way everyone decides that he or she is Irish in mid-March. Because of that, I'm not celebrating.

But I do celebrate, a lot, my family and where they came from. And that means I celebrate Mexican culture as we understand it. And I celebrate Los Lobos, cuz they rock.

Down to where, down to there; It stops by itself!

So I'm innocently sitting at my desk, doing work type stuff, and the phone rings. My mother is on the other end of the line laughing her ass off.

"What's up?"

"I heard the funniest thing on NPR."


"So apparently, one of the best things to sop up oil with is hair stuffed into nylons. They call them booms."

"Huh. Who knew?"

"Right? Anyhow, hair isn't really that much of a problem. Salons have been saving it for this sort of thing for years. And animal hair works too. The problem is no one wears nylons anymore."

"Well, I certainly don't unless absolutely necessary."

"Except drag queens."


"So the group that does this is conveniently based in San Francisco. And the transvestite community has stepped up it's game."

"That's awesome."

"So apparently salons across the country are saving hair and sending it to these people, and it's being stuffed in the nylons. They're calling the parties to make the sausages 'Boom-b-ques'."

Who said American innovation was dead???