Chapter 30

The music. The Mexican music. Mariachi. It sounds a little different here in the mountains of Mexico.  At home, the music comes from tinny speakers on cheap radios, and gets bounced off stainless steel walls and cold tile floors. The music is different too. Here the music blends with the fire and the stars and the happy faces. The guitars strum like the beating of six kindred hearts, and the horns are a family, crying into the night, longing for their father, working in the United States to come home. The voices are like a group of men who sacrifice everything for their families, calling out to them, wishing them well, from so very far away. It sounds like everyone singing along hears the message. A few couples hold each other close, and sway to the music. Aunt Adriana stares off into the distance—northward I think.

This is not like my family in the US. I can’t help feeling this is not just different, it’s more. My family eats together at Thanksgiving and sometimes at Christmas. We listen to the stereo playing holiday music, or watch TV specials. This party is meant to be more personal, and it’s not even Christmas or anything.

The coyotes “yip yip yip yo-uuuuu,” in the background, as if singing with my uncles and aunts and cousins around the fire. It’s so painful to think that a few hours ago, I looked down on these people. Heck, I hated them. They were inferior. Unwanted, dishonorable and dirty. I try to look at them like I did before, but it just doesn’t work. How quickly the heart heals.

The shadows of the rocks on the ground move to the music. I draw a “P” in the loose soil with my boot. I like the dirt—it’s natural, it supports us all, every last one of us. It makes life, and this dirt, the very dirt beneath my feet, made my family. My dad came from this dirt . . . I came from this dirt.

There has been an almost constant line of women outside the little shed behind the house, and a constant stream of men flow to and from the far side of the barn. We are definitely not in Kansas any more, but no one seems to mind.

Outside bathrooms; you sure wouldn’t find ass gaskets out here, that’s for sure.

Some of the adults have found chairs, or brought their own. Others use benches, tree stumps, and large rocks. They even sit on top of cars, leaning back against the windshields, staring into the night sky, drinking beer or sangria and watching the light show. That brief little rain seems to have missed this party, which is great. I don’t think we’d all fit in the barn.

A coyote calls out in the distance, and as if on cue, a few of the men reply in kind. I’m hit with a revelation: that’s what they were doing at work. When they yell their high, laughing yelps, hey are imitating something familiar from back home. I always just thought it was just a Mexican thing to do. The superiority complex I landed here with is dissolving. Or perhaps I’m just hiding it under an invisible cloak of shame.

I walk back over to the food tables and start eating everything in sight. I’m suddenly very hungry. Surprisingly the food here is terrific, some of which I’ve never even had before, nor do I know the names of some of it. Tamales, a fajita bar, where you make your own soft tacos, there is just so much food. Guacamole, salsas, green, red, brown, lumpy, creamy, orange (shudder). Apparently everyone brought something to the party too as there are more tables than were in the barn, and way more pots and pans and bowls than could possibly fit in the house. Probably everyone brought their specialty, to show off for everyone. Showing your cooking prowess here is futile, in the best possible way; everyone is obviously a really good cook. There are many contented and happy faces enjoying the music and dancing.

I hear a voice that sounds like my grandma. There are some men and some of the boys gathering in front of the fire where people were dancing. They are waving me over.

“Ben.” Uncle Carlos wants me to go over to him. I look around and everyone is smiling and telling me it’s okay. What’s okay? The band is playing softer than usual.

Carlos begins a speech in Spanish, but slowly, and he puts his arm around my shoulders. I feel really embarrassed. I don’t really know all of what he is saying. I hear “tiempo” which means time, and “negro” which means black and their brother Armando, and something about me . . .  siempre, which I just learned means forever. . .  Corazone—heart . . . familia—family . . . Pancho—me again.

 

There are no tears that I can see. It looks like everyone is just happy and glad to be a part of these festivities. Uncle Carlos raises his beer, “salud!” Everyone says, “salud,” and drinks.  Some people shout, “Ay-yay-yay,” and the band plays a happy tune. This is not the same song they play all the time. Hey, I’m beginning to be able to tell the difference.

Herminio and Jose run up to me and Herminio hands me a beer. We all clink our bottles together and, “salud.” I like these guys. I look over at a giant of a woman, and just before I can say anything, Jose speaks first, “Herminio, I think she has a heart, big.” He looks in her direction. She is over six feet tall and probably weighs two-fifty, straight black hair and tight fitting blouse and skin tight white pants.

“I hear she has a great personality too,” I add.

Herminio immediately starts chasing us and we laugh and run from him. We end up at the corral again and lean against it to catch our breaths and finish laughing. I can see this is one of those cases where confiding your innermost secrets can backfire on you.

It hasn’t been very long since the toast, and I see some of the guests are starting to leave. I guess this party isn’t going to be an all-nighter.

I’m called over to my grandmother, and the three of us go to say goodbye. I am the guest of honor. I guess that means it’s my duty to thank everyone for coming.

Donna Villa is the first one to leave. I look down on her glittering semi-circle comb and her immaculately styled hair and clothes. She really does look like a queen, but one who wears black.

She grabs my face with both hands and looks me square in the eyes. “Te quiero Pancho.” I nod. “Via con Dios hijo.” She kisses my forehead. Her son, Tio Fernando Villa and his wife, Tia Maria, shake my hand, and hug me and kiss me. I think I’m going to get a lot of hugs in the next hour, as it looks like others are now picking up and leaving too. Uncle Fernando hands me his card and says something in Spanish. Probably: keep in touch.

And so it begins, over a hundred people—I mean relatives—pay their respects to me, and not my father; that tribute had already been done earlier. They want me to know how happy they are that I’ve come home to meet them. This is, I guess, a big deal in their lives, and I’m coming to believe it will be in mine as well.

 

With hugs, and tears, and handshakes and plenty of, “hasta luegos” and, “vio con Dioses,” many more hand me cards, and pieces of paper with their names and addresses and phone numbers. Tio this, and Primo that. I’m stuffing my pockets with slips of paper from people that want me to stay in touch. “Llamame,” they say. I don’t need Joselyn to translate much of it, really. All the important stuff is said with their hugs, their eyes, their lips.

Lots of people have little Instamatic and Polaroid cameras and someone with a nice, modern camera comes by and I stand with my grandmother, two aunts, great uncle and two uncles, and he takes a few pictures. Now everyone wants a picture with me. I feel like I’ve just been married and the bride is, “To Be Determined.” The cameras all flash now, and people are forming a line for pictures.

A group of my relatives leave and I hear Jose whisper, “Pancho, she has a tight butt no?” I turn to see what he is talking about. Walking away is a fairly chunky cousin with skin-tight black pants and there is a rip along the seam of her butt, exposing a thin slit of white underwear. They bust out laughing, but when she turns around we are all as solemn as pallbearers . . . until she turns back around again and walks away.

Grandma looks very pleased like she has waited a long time for this party, sad and relieved it’s finally over, all at once.  It only seems like a day in the planning to me, but everyone made it feel a long time coming. I look out over an ocean of sleepy, contented faces, and for the first time in my life, I feel like a Mexican.

Mike J Quinn About Mike J Quinn
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