Friday, February 22, 2008

Chicanas Con VOZ

I´m always looking for contemporary Chicanas who have found their voice and are sharing it with others. Recently, I caught up with two Chicanas who are out there breathing life into their cultura. The first Chicana (at bottom), Candice "Chiquitita" Reyes, sings her heart out any chance she gets. I caught up with her a couple of Wednesdays ago at a sushi restaurant on the East side of El Paso, Texas where she sings with her ban "The Candice Reyes Quintet." I´ve known Candice "Chiquitita" for about 3 years now and has proven to be a chica with SOUL...con alma. One afternoon after swimming a couple of laps together, she insisted I go salsa dancing with her to an eastside joint. I expressed my concern, "Hijole chica, I´m not very good at salsa dancing. I´m more of a Tex-Mex kinda chic." And before I could say "otra vez," I had high heels on my feet and we were practicing salsa in my living room. At the dance hall/bar, her mom´s group, AZUCAR was playing some great salsa music. I didn´t dance much, but Chiquitita got out there and danced. Not only did she dance, she got on stage and sang a couple of songs with her mom.

Since I know she's into singing and performing, I asked her, "What do you think about the reality show American Idol?" (My take on American Idol is that it's a show in America that feeds our youth with the idea that people just show up to a try-out, sing a line or two from a popular song, and a couple months later be famous. This feeds the "anything worth going for can be accomplished in months...Wrong!). Candice answered by first telling me about the time she won the El Paso Idol and got a trip to San Diego to try out with Simon and his crew and represent El Paso. "What a crock.." she said about the show."It´s all political. It´s rigged. It´s a waste. People think that you can be a rock star without hard work." We continued our conversation. She stated how glad she was to have had the experience and learn that it's gonna take a lot more than a simple try out. This month, Candice will be applying at Southwestern State in Texas to the Jazz program to study music. She wants to be a BIG name someday, but she won´t fall for the lies of the American Idols. ¡Adelante, Chiquitita!

Next is Amalia Ortiz. She traveled from her home in California and presented her Chicana slam poetry at UTEP to raise money for women´s causes. Before the show, she had a writer´s workshop. It was more of a presentation about Slam poetry than a workshop, but Amelia presented her poem "Otra Esa of the Public Transit. " I went to the workshop just to meet her. Her presence as a poetisa is electrifying. Each word delivered during her poetry recital is carefully twirled, counted, and flung into the air with a true Chicana accent. She represents a voice in the world of Chicanas that lifts voices many times forgotten. In the video below, she presents her poem whose title I'm not sure of, but she repeats a line "Me acuerdo de mi hogar, la tierra, el aire, el mar..." Yo tambien me acuerdo, Amalia.

This poem carries a hint of Anzaldua and Little Joe! As well, it speaks of linguistic colonization! What theorists express in convolutions at times, Amalia expresses in poetry.

¡Adelante, Amalia Ortiz!

Nationwide spoken word sensation Amalia Ortiz remembers her South Texas roots.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Mi Vida Mestiza...

"Indigenous like corn, like corn, the mestiza is a product of crossbreeding, designed for preservation under a variety of conditions. Like an ear of corn - a female seed-bearing organ - the mestiza is tenacious, tightly wrapped in the husks of her culture. Like kernels she clings to the cob; with thick stalks and strong brace roots, she holds tight to the earth - she will survive the crossroads."
Gloria Anzaldúa from the chapter of Borderland "La conciencia de la mestiza"

Memoria Mestiza

"¡Ya vamos ha comer! ¡Lávense sus manos!" my mother would yell from the back door of our house. Me and my brothers would come running in from outside ready to eat. We´d been running up and down the alleyways of San Angelo, Tx. on Tulane St. We played with kids named Trisha Holloway, Alex Tresler, Kim Cole, and Bret Miller. Running home each evening, I knew something was different about me and my brothers. As a young girl, I knew they didn't know the real me. I don´t ever remember telling them that my mom was Mexican and that we listened to Mariachi music like kids today talk about the Podcasts and music videos they watch. I don't ever remember wanting to tell them that we spoke Spanish at home, and that my favorite grandmother lived in El Paso, Tx, the Mexican border town. I knew some how that they would not understand. I knew somehow they wouldn´t think that it was "cool." We had the same skin color, but that was all me and neighborhood kids had in common. I just knew in my soul that I was different.

After serving the drinks and setting the table, we would sit down to dinner. My dad would choose one of just to bless the food. "Cristina," is all he would say and I knew to say the prayer on cue. "Nuestro bendito padre celestial te damos gracias por esta cena. Bendisela que de salud y fuerza a nuestros cuerpos. Te pedimos una bendicion para Gran´ma y Gran´pa Devereaux en California y tambien para Gran´ma Gonzalez en El Paso. Cuidalos y bendigalos. Tambien, bencie los hermanos y sus familias de la iglesia. Bendiganos mañana en escuela que nos valla bien. Te pedimos estas cosas en el nombre de Jesucristo...Amen." As soon as I said amen, the hands would shoot forward to grab the best chicken leg or to sip the Koolaid. The talk at dinner would go from school to who we were playing with that evening and what time we should come back after the meal. Dinner time was spoken all in English.

After the meal, my brothers would rinse their dishes and run back outside. I would scramble into the living room, sit down next to my dad in front of his homemade stereo and watch him select the music album of the evening. My father served a Mormon mission in the early 1960's in Mexico, right at the end of the siglo de oro. My father fell in love with the music, people, food, and culture. He brought that love home to us. Some nights it was Barry Manalow, and we´d buggy down to Copacabana, or Perez Prado and do a bit of Mambo No. 5. "Dad, let´s listen to some mariachi." Quiero oír Beatriz, o Lola, or Los Mariachis Vargas or Vicente or un Trio. My dad had all the masters in his collection. With the evening sun streaming into our living room, I was learning all about la música Mexicana. La música mas apasionado en todo el mundo.

And then other nights with the music playing in the background, I would creep into the family room where my parents had built a study station from left to right up and down against the wall. The shelves were stacked with books from American Literature to Encyclopedia Britanica. My favorite books were full of poems by T.S. Eliot, e.e.cummings, and Robert Frost. Poems written about dark things, winter evenings, and love. Poems carrying an Euro-Anglo tint. In my innocence, I didn't know about the radical nature of listening to Mexican singers such as Beatriz Adriana, Lola Beltran or Vicente Fernandez playing in the background while I perused through the pages of great American Literature. The cultural mixings in the evenings of my childhood have made me who I am today. I love good Am. literature (I got my undergrad degree in Am. Lit. and minor in Spanish), and I believe that the Mexican people and their culture live in me and form part of who I am in my memory, each memory of an after dinner time with my father, el profe Devereaux.

Below: Listen to Lola Beltran sing "Paloma Negra." This music stirs my soul... What stirs yours?

Monday, February 4, 2008

Changing the Realities of Downtowns: Alleyway Rhetoric

This past weekend I visited my hometown of San Angelo, Texas. With a population of about 88,000, it fell asleep for many years forgetting that it had such a rich downtown. Unfortunately, too many towns let their downtowns, the heartbeats of a city, fall into disrepair. Driving around, I pulled into some clean and inviting alley ways! Yes, alley ways. The rhetoric, both visual and verbal, the artists painted on the walls frame the downtowns in a new light. I found this alley way in a historic section of downtown that an artist or group of artists painted their view of what a downtown should look like. The picture with the leaning dilapidated bike shows street rhetoric at its best. The bright red wall reads, "More often than not, I would prefer to walk into the rear alley precisely for all those little hints of life, activity and transition which the placid visual arts of suburbia did their best to politely suppress or politely disguise." More and more, people are realizing that the continuous barrage of capitalistic competition in the form of commercials can wear on one's soul numbing them to life's beauty. And slowly, San Angelo is remembering that they don't have to look to Dallas, Texas for their inspiration and art and that they can grow as their own city.

As a young girl, I remember my father driving us through downtown San Angelo in our green station wagon. Out of the backseat window I saw nothing more than a sleepy central Texas town with tumbleweeds and dust blowing down the sidewalks. "Ugh! I live here?" I thought. "There's got to better," I thought plastering my cheek to the window and dreaming of some better place.