Poxo by Isaac Chavarria

Desarraigados are those of us who have been uprooted and confused by the theories of fronteras. Confused by labels and labeled because it is logical. Regional subcultures mess us all up – so how can we associate with labels that marginalize the distinctiveness or our South Texas community?

It’s a conversation meant to have us running in circles. Jumping from being Hispanic or Latino to being Chicano, possibly Mexican-American or Tejano. I’ve lived all these labels without ever truly owning them. Sometimes, it’s all about the occasion.

And that’s what I appreciate about Isaac Chavarria’s collection of poems. In reading Poxo, I was able to identify with the author’s jumble of lenguajes, never settling between one world and the other. Aware that he can distance himself from one root and never be able to branch away from it.

Tristes Recuerdos: My Primo Eddie

There is something about primos in my family that embraces all aspects of my life. They are my best friends. My worst enemies. My sidekicks and my lifelines. They have been the bad influences and have given me the greatest heartaches.

The idea is that we will grow old together and be tíos and tías to each other’s kids, our kids being each other’s primos. We want for them to experience the essence of belonging to a big Mexican family – or, Tex-Mex, in their case.

Our favorite memories seem to include one primo or another, and a tejano, corrido, or norteño song. For us, that has to include Ramon Ayala. Ramon has been there with us from since I can remember.

At Christmas, he’s there in the newspapers with his ever famous party and toy drives. At parties and bailes, he’s there with his Tragos Amargos and what not. Boots stomping a tipsy step, step. Hats waiving in the air. Voices belting out the tune – if not tipsy yet, drunk because of the song. He was there at my quinceañera with his verses coming from a band that played an imitation of his song. Not cheap, the emotions were all there. Maybe just not original.

Ramon Ayala is there all those times mis primos and I are together, enjoying what has been more than a friendship and a blood bond. My family, mis primos, they aren’t just my best friends. They’re keepers of my past and the backbone that’s there any time I’ve needed them.

Ramon Ayala, he has been there to witness everything, and to make it all more emotional. He was there the day Eddie died, with his Tragos Amargos. He was there the day we buried my primo, with his Un Rinconcito en el Cielo. Ramon was there all those days afterwards that we mourned his death and had only each other, primos and primas, dealing with the greatest loss we’d ever dealt with.

That is the roughest part of listening to Ramon Ayala when I tune in to his music while trying to get work done. The ambient is always there reminding me of my primo Eddie. Of his young life taken without giving us a chance say goodbye. Of all those signs that could’ve been read beforehand, the superstitious nuts we are. The mirror falling when he touched it a couple of days before he died in that horrible car accident. Him asking his mother what death was like just a few days before. Him trying to get us together one last time. It was always him. And it is him that I’ll always remember with the Tristes Recuerdos that Ramon sings.

I swear to you, that day we buried him, when the mariachis played Eddie’s favorite music – Ramon’s music – I swear to you that we all felt him there. Maybe kicking back his legs a little, stomping down his boots. With a step, step. A black hat flying in the air, chiflando and singing. His bootie shaking just a little.

And a vuelta here.

And a vuelta there.

Invisible Borders

Deslenguadas. Somos los del español deficiente. We are your linguistic nightmare, your linguistic aberration, your linguistic mestizaje, the subject of your burla. Because we speak with tongues of fire we are culturally crucified. Racially, culturally and linguistically somos huerfanos – we speak an orphan tongue.”  — excerpt from Borderlands, Gloria Anzaldua

I was eight years old the first time I was taught to be ashamed of my language. Growing up in a household on this side of the frontera, it wasn’t strange for my parents to choose teaching me their primary language when it was what everyone in our community spoke. Sometimes a bit of English, but with our raza, it was either Spanish or Spanglish.

My parents were (are) pochos and grew up in America as migrant farmworkers, traveling the nation every year for work opportunities and witnessing firsthand discrimination towards their language and skin color. But it wasn’t only from those unlike them that they experienced the burlas. What was worse was that it would be from mejicanos like them that didn’t have to live their childhood working in the labores or go to school in the migrant portable rooms, where they were labeled as outcasts of the regular school system. Mejicanos like them that didn’t have papeles and spoke with an accent in their everyday lives. Eating the same type of meals but yet, felt superior because they didn’t have to come to school smelling like cebolla and prietos from the valley sun.

I remember listening to my mother and brother speak in English, with no idea as to what they were saying. I was curious, for sure. I’ve asked my parents why they chose to speak only Spanish in our household when we were kids, and they insist it is because they knew the opportunity had to be seized- you see, they knew that eventually, our way of being would become Americanized.

Moving school districts from PSJA to McAllen was a major shock to my younger brother, Luis, and me. Moving from a school where all other children were Spanish speakers like me, to a school where ESL students were placed in a portable that separated them from the ‘regular’ students. There were about 7 other kids in my particular grade level, our connection instant because we were unlike the others. We were children and naive, but we understood why we couldn’t be with the other kids. Our lunches, library visits and PE classes always consisted of us being in the corner.

That is my memory.

It took me less than six months to assimilate with the English language and move into a ‘regular’ classroom. After that experience, I decided to speak only in English when in school and around my friends. Peer pressure to fit in, I suppose. But I still had the environment of our frontera culture to let me fit in with my relatives on the other side, in Reynosa.

Times have changed. It’s been almost five years since the last time I crossed the frontera, and what saddens me most is realizing my nieces and nephews will never know the frontera as I do. Their world only consists of este la’o and they have never met or visited la familia in Mexico.

Not because of a physical border, but that invisible border called fear.

Imagining I were on The Voice

I’ve caught myself imaging what choices I’d make if I were ever on The Voice. I mean, of course, it’s my imagination…so, I’d have an amazing vocal range to envy. But, so do many of the others auditioning for a spot on the show.

That means, I’d have to have some strategies on my song choices. What would be best for my amazing voice that would get me cast on the show’s season? That’s the bad thing, I listen to everything here and there, and the judges would be quick to typecast me. So my strategies have to start at the beginning.

In my ideal season, the judges would be Blake, Shakira, Adam and Pharrell. I’d go in with the intent of being on Blake’s team, a country girl at heart. Not wanting to be typecast so early in the show, I decide to audition with Alanis Morissette’s ‘Thank You’. She is an alt-rock singer, but her music is so mainstream that it can also hit a poppish audience. Only thing is that Shakira is the only one who turns her chair for me. She gets it.

And then come the Battle Rounds, she chooses for us to perform “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera. My teammate and I battle it out, but, she beats me in this round. So there I am, eliminated and up for grabs. But does Blake pick me with his safe card? No.

Luckily, Pharrell likes what he hears and I get a second chance for Battle Rounds 2. But Pharrell, he pairs me up with a singer who has a powerful voice, and comfortable in her skin. Meanwhile, new at this singing in public stint, I’m intimidated and not ready to break out of my shell. He selects for us to sing “Unpretty” by TLC. And once again, I’m eliminated.

Shakira presses her button to save me again. But then, so does Blake! Blake! Of course, when it comes down to the decision, do I choose Shakira again or do I choose Blake, who has taken this long to consider giving me a chance?

I’m petty. I choose Shakira. Time to take out the claws and show my true colors in the upcoming Live Playoffs.

For the Top 20, I choose “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac. Top 12 would be “Crying” by Aerosmith. Top 10, maybe “All Shook Up” by Elvis. Top 8, “Best of You” by the Foo Fighters. Top 6, “I’ll Fly With You” by Gigi D’Agostino.
For the semi-finals, it’s “Believe” by Brooks and Dunn. And boy, does Blake regret not selecting me for his team! Even in my imagination I wouldn’t make it to the finals. But at least, I walk away with a contract deal for my stellar performances.