Chapter 28

Ragged notes are hinting that some of the musicians in the family are getting ready to play. Several guys have gathered in a spot near the corral and are tuning up. Just in front of us is an aunt who looks like she’s trying to get her husband to put the beer down and pick up his giant guitar-looking-thing. Apparently he’s not finished with his beer and interrupting him is a major party foul. She, on the other hand, doesn’t look like she’s the type to take no for an answer. “Despues, despues,” he cries.  Just past them I see a lady near the barn smacking her husband upside the head with a trumpet. All the people near them laugh. I guess that’s how they got the phrase, strike up the band.

Little children are being herded to a large empty space next to where the band seems to be assembling.  Looks like the entertainment is about to begin. I have a feeling this is the part where I start to hate being Mexican. Yep, there’s the accordion.

“Come, Donna Villa is coming,” Aunt Josie says, and we walk quickly to keep up with her. Even Mr. Giant guitar is making a bee-line for the band area now.

Some of my uncles and cousins have finished warming up and are now showing off with their instruments. The guy playing the normal guitar is really good, and that trumpet is really loud. Looks like everyone is getting into good viewing positions. Even the teenagers, who just a few minutes before didn’t look like they were interested in anything, are making it to the audience. Who is Donna Villa?

Adriana tries to get me to go somewhere. “I can see fine from here Aunt Adri—I mean, Tia Adriana . . . no really . . . I’m fine.” She’s not taking no for an answer either. I guess being the guest of honor, I have to have a front row seat. Someone is arriving; I can’t believe there’s more to this family. Having everyone assembled in one area, there’s gotta be a couple of hundred people here. And this is just the relatives who live nearby?

An old man helps an even older woman out of the big black car that just pulled in. She takes small steps, but her back is rigid and her head is held high. Everything is very quiet. Even the crickets are silent. “That is Donna Villa,” Aunt Josie whispers. “Mi Abuelita. The mother of my mother. She is the most old relative to Pancho Villa. She marry Carlos Armando Villa Sala, my Grandfather, the son of Pancho Villa and Alberta Sala,.”

I look at Aunt Josie and she nods.

“ Pancho and Alberta marry for one a week.”

“One week?”

“Pancho make all the priests burn the marriage papers after the wedding, but not the photos. He did not burn those.” She smiles mischievously, “He like his photo very much.”  She quickly returns her attention to the old lady and her entourage.

Donna Villa is led to a big green vinyl overstuffed chair that a group of teenagers wrestled out from the back of a pickup. Everyone calls out to her, welcoming her. Some have the blood and some don’t, and you can’t tell the difference to look at them, but she definitely has it. She wears her blood like an invisible crown and everyone fawns over her, and caters to her like she is royalty.

Her every movement is regal, and proud. Her posture is rigid and straight and her head is held high, even for someone who is obviously at least eighty, maybe ninety years old. Her gown is black silk and her waist and neck are covered in white lace. A black broach hangs around her neck and something gold hangs from it. She looks like she has been mourning the death of her husband for a long time. Her grayish black hair is pinned up with a big, black comb, with shiny points that stick up from her head like a fan. Black stones in the comb catch the firelight and scatter it like confetti.

I’m startled when Grandma takes my arm. I didn’t realize I was so focused on the old woman in black, but she is amazing to look at. Grandma tugs at me to follow her over to the large green chair. I’m going to be introduced. This must be the thing I’m supposed to stay clean for. My legs begin to shake and each step is like walking on mattresses. I feel like I’m about to meet the Queen of Mexico. I wonder if this makes me a prince or something; I have the blood too.

The rest of my Grandma’s family comes over to where the big green chair has been positioned. My uncles are fixing their hair with their hands and dusting themselves off. I’m suddenly self-conscious of every spot of dirt on my clothes. What’s going on? What am I supposed to do?

Uncle Carlos clears his throat and the world stops spinning. “Donna Villa, permítame. Este es su sobrino Francisco Carlos Villa O’Reily.” Uncle Carlos is the oldest male of my family. That must give him the duty of making the announcements. Cameras click and phones get into position off all over the place.

She is looking at—no, looking upon me. Her gaze pierces my body and I feel her staring at my bare skeleton. Her smile is reassuring. Grandma nods at me. What does that mean?

Donna Villa holds out her hand and I walk over to her and take it in mine. It’s small, and warm, and soft. I feel like I should say something, “Donna Villa. . . mucho gusto.” Should I kiss her hand? Do I bow, what?! She smiles at me. I bend over and kiss her hand. A huge warm shock explodes in my head and then goes through my body the moment my lips touch her skin. I think I’m going to pass out. I feel like I’ve walked onto a stage in the middle of a performance and I don’t know my lines.

“Pancho Villa. Ese nombre es muy especial y tengo muy buenos recuerdos de él. Pancho Villa es la padre de me esposo Carlos Villa. Yo vivir en la sombra de la nombre de Pancho, pero Alberta Sala hablas con el y Ignacio y yo tiene una vida bueno, porque la sangre de Pancho Villa es en mi familia y la historia de Mexico es en mi sangre . . .” I don’t get much of what she’s saying. I hear a bunch of names, but even though she talks slow and loud, I’m just not getting it. I look for Joselyn, but she is nowhere to be found.

“. . . felicitaciones Pancho. Yo quiero tu vivir como su nombre, y poner mucho honor con la familia, y Mexico.”

With that she pats my arm and I move to leave, but she doesn’t let go. I think I’ll just stand right here and hold her hand a little longer.

With a smile and a wave of her other hand the band begins playing.

While I was busy getting introduced to Donna Villa, the mothers gathered their children and got them into some costumes. It looks like they’re going to dance. I guess it makes sense to dance first—pinata later. After the sugar rush, you can’t even talk to a kid, much less get them to do anything needing organization and concentration.

The band walks over to us, playing their instruments and singing gently in the late afternoon sun.

They are serenading Donna Villa. The sincerity in their eyes, and their voices is touching. They are singing to an old and highly-revered woman, and are giving her the honor she obviously deserves. It’s something we should do more of, ourselves, back home. I wish she’d let go of my hand. Being so close to someone who is being sung to, I get the feeling like some of the affection they shower her with is splashing on me too—it’s embarrassing

The song ends, the band bows deeply to Donna Villa, and then they move back over to where they had originally set up. The kids are now in colorful costumes, and have all lined up with the girls on the left, and the boys on the right. The music starts again and they step in their lines and kick the ground to the music.

The little boys, in black pants & shoes and white shirts, with their arms behind them and their elbows popped out. The little girls swinging their very colorful ankle length skirts. Their hair is up in a bun on top of their head. This is so cute. They look so serious.

After the first song ends, another one begins. “This dance is Huapango,” Tia Josie says in my right ear, her breath moist and warm. It takes all my strength not to shiver.

Some of the kids are smiling and having fun now, but I can see them sneaking peaks at the piñata, and silently counting down the steps before they can run and beat that colorful candy dispenser to pieces.

The song finally ends and they stay standing there, waiting.

Donna Villa waves her blessing, and off they run, screaming all the way to the tree. I guess that’s the last we’ll see of them for a while.

Next up, the teenagers. Those are not the same clothes they had on a little while ago.  The girls are wearing brightly colored skirts, trimmed in white lace. Their white blouses are worn off the shoulders, and are trimmed with material that matches their skirts. Around each of their necks is an inch wide strip of black ribbon with a gold locket hanging from it. Their hair is up in a bun like the younger girls, but they have combs stuck in theirs with white lace and shiny diamonds sticking out of the top. They are wearing gold hoop earrings that dangle from each ear. All their eyebrows are painted dark, and their lips are fire engine red. Some of them have beauty marks on a cheek near their eyes, or on their chin near their mouth. They don’t even look like the same girls; they are very pretty.

Herminio and Jose have joined them too. The boys have black pants with a shiny black stripe going down the sides of their legs, from their waist, to their shiny black shoes. Their shirts are white with puffy sleeves and black stitching down the front. A wide cloth belt with gold stitching and gold fringe at the ends, hangs from their sides. All the boys are wearing black bolo ties. They seem to naturally fall into four lines of six rows. Another song begins and the musicians have trouble competing with the screams of delight and laughter coming from the pinata area. The kids are actually out-trumpeting the trumpets.

The dance begins with a bow and a curtsy. They’ve obviously been doing this since they were kids. It looks kinda like the dance the kids just did, but the girls are spinning and whipping their long and brightly colored skirts, with the white frilly edges.

The boys dance with such confidence and authority, really moving and holding the girls, then letting go, then holding them with their other arm, then letting go again. This is kinda cool.

The shadows of the trees are climbing up the side of the barn, and the temperature begins to cool down a bit. Shadows are everywhere now, and it seems everyone is now free to move around as they wish, and not just hop from one shaded area to the next.

I check on the progress of the kids. It looks like it’s Carlita’s turn. Someone gives her the stick and she takes a few practice swings. Go Carlita! She’s a natural. An aunt or cousin blindfolds her and leads her to the pinata.

She swings that stick like a baseball bat. Nice form. Someone has been teaching her a thing or two. She almost had it that time . . . One more swing, she steps in and nails it! Candy is flying everywhere. Kids are covering the ground in half a second, grabbing up candy with such precision, Carlita just has time to get her blindfold off and the candy is gone. That was amazingly fast. They are like little sugar piranhas.

Uncle Carlos picks her up in a victory celebration. He looks like he’s proud of her. I’ll bet he is the one who has been teaching his niece a thing or two while her Dad is away. It must be nice to have a big family. I never had a brother or sister. Come to think of it, I never had cousins or uncles. I never really thought about this before. It must be tough on a kid to have your dad gone so much—what am I saying? Of course it’s rough. That’s one thing I do know something about.

Uncle Carlos pulls a piece of candy out of his pocket and hands it to Carlita. He must have picked up one that came his way. Awwww. She kisses his cheek. Those two have a special bond. Carlos is a good uncle.

 

 

The first song ends and I missed most of the dance. “Bravo!” That appears to be all for the dancing. All around I see people relaxing, settled into comfortable positions. The kids are rushing to eat their prizes; the adults with their beers and sangria; and the teens, with their cigarettes, and the cups full of “soda” which is probably the Mexican version of don’t ask don’t tell.

Donna Villa finally lets go of my hand. Aunt Adriana is trying to get me out on what is considered the dance floor area. “I don’t know how to dance.” Oh, great! Everyone is egging me on. I guess I’m the next act. A hot flash flows through my entire body. I haven’t been taught how to do this stuff. I know my name is Pancho Villa, but come on, there is only so much you can do with a name. “Seriously Adriana. I don’t know how . . . “ She’s not listening. Looks like everyone wants to see if this white Mexican can dance.

Herminio and Jose join us. “Gracias.” Apparently being white means you can’t dance—in any language, but that makes them all try showing me how to dance a “Jarabey Tapatio,” as Herminio called it. Sounds like a fruity hot sauce.

Uncle Carlos, Aunt Adriana, and Aunt Joselyn are going to dance with me too. The guys start out showing me how to stand with my hands behind my back, and then they show me some kicking steps. Okay, I can do that. Then there are some straight legged, high-stepping things, turn, turn. Aunt Adriana comes over and it looks like she is showing me how to dance around a girl and duck here, thanks Herminio, and kick there while the girl twirls her skirt and smiles. Okay, I think I got this.

Music starts playing again and I forget everything I was just shown. I’ll just follow Herminio and Jose. Kick-jump, step, kick-jump step—oh, right, step hop, hop, hop to the right, step hop, hop, hop, to the left, I feel like Miguel Flatley, Mexican Lord of the “bye-lay.”

. . . Ooops! grab her elbow and walk to the left, switch and walk to the right.  I feel so stupid—Ah! It’s that kick-jump thing again, and now step hop hop hop, step hop hop hop, grab her elbow left, switch and go right.

I watch the other guys,and just follow along.

There. Not too shabby. This is kinda fun. It’s like a Mexican Dance Dance Revolution, only with a live band and without the flashing dance floor. I’m doing pretty good, I think. Hey! Either this is a really long song, or the band just keeps going until I get it right.

Everyone is cheering. “Gracias Adri—Tia Adriana. Gracias Tio Herminio.” They are so happy for me. I am surrounded by congratulations and hugs. A few people shout, “Viva Pancho Villa,”  which, makes me laugh. This is the first time in my life, when someone calls my name, it isn’t to make fun of me, or in utter disbelief.

Donna Villa is smiling and patting her son’s arm. These people just met me and yet they act like I’ve been a part of the family all their lives. A warmth spreads throughout my chest like a rash of guilty happiness.

A couple of cars have just pulled up and there seems to be a commotion. A tall man with grey hair and a grey mustache is getting swarmed by people. One of my musician cousins rush over to him and they talk for a moment. My cousin leads this man over to us and everyone is talking excitedly and running to see him.

I am grabbed by both arms and pulled over to Donna Villa and where everyone in my immediate family is gathering.

Donna Villa stands up and the man is introduced by my cousin as Diego Fernandez. He bows graciously and there is much excitement all around. I’ve heard of this guy. I’ve even seen his picture on billboards back home. This guy is really famous. Am I related to him too?

Aunt Josie says that one of my cousins plays in his band and when he heard that an American Pancho Villa was coming home, since he was in the area, he thought he would see for himself. It’s not every day you get to meet such a famous person.

Me?

Donna Villa extends her hand towards me so I walk over to her and take it. She introduces me to Diego Fernandez with much pride and seriousness.

He asks me how I got here, or what brings me here or something like that. Aunt Josie is not close enough to whisper her translation. He is waiting for an answer. All I can think of is, “I was deported.” The look on his face is hard to describe. Amazed? Surprised? Confused?

“If you were deported, then you are more Mexican than you think.”

He speaks English? Everyone laughs with Diego as he looks around as if to see if anyone is playing a joke on him.

A few people shout out requests for him to sing, and everyone else agrees.

He thinks for a moment, then smiles and says some more stuff in Spanish. Something about a perfect song for this occasion. A lot of it sounded like English.

The band gets together and some of the other people that came with Diego take out their instruments. The band that was playing for our dancing moves over to let the pros take over, but they will have none of it, insisting that they play with them, side by side, in a great show of camaraderie.

Uncle Carlos says, “he is going to play a song about the people who go north to work for their families who stay here in Mexico. The song is called, “Pulpus de Amor.”

All around are enraptured faces. Adults looking like they are children on Christmas morning. The music seems to stop time and erase our differences for a moment. The violins cover the hills in soft velvet. The bass pulses like the beating of hearts and the trumpets soar into the night sky, as Diego pleads his case for all humanity.

The guitars strum like the beating of six kindred hearts, and the horns take on the role of a family, crying into the night, longing for their father, working in the United States to come home. Diego’s voice is like a man who sacrifices everything for his family, calling out to them, wishing them well, from so very far away. The father, endures the hard work of many jobs, and the shame of many bad names, but the thought of providing for his family makes the insults easier to swallow. With the thought of rejoining his family, the trumpets are the children’s happy voices, and the violins are the many arms of the pulpus de amor as the whole family embraces the the man who sacrifices everything for the love of his family and together, with many arms entwined, grabbing, squeezing, grateful for the chance to touch each other again, they form the “Pulpus de Amor.”

Mike J Quinn About Mike J Quinn
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