Rinconcitos off the Beaten Path

One of the random hobbies I picked up from my mom is taking road trips within El Valle in search for curious or historical or haunted or abandoned or quirky places. Whether it be a planned trip or a spur of the moment occasion, there’s something about it that makes the experience seem like an expedition in our own back yard. Discovering what’s off the beaten path.

Cemeteries have introduced us to forgotten children from ages past, wondering if time would have seen them to be grandparents. Making calculations to determine that at this moment in time there is no chance they’d be walking this world because aging would’ve made then older than a century. And how did they die? Would modern medicine have prevented their death? When was the last time anyone paid respect to their gravesite?

Often a time, we’ve jumped a the sight of remnants from rituals seemingly done to honor la Santísima Muerte. Incense and statues and broken glass littering around gravestones. Our fear was mostly because we don’t understand the practice. A heaviness following us on the road home from that dark unknown.

There is a magic in discovering what has been forgotten. Imagining the hands that built wooden homes in the outskirts of Hidalgo, Pharr, San Juan, Edinburg, Brownsville, Rio Grande City, Mission, Alamo. From one corner of South Texas to the next. Agriculture evidently being the purpose of families settling in those regions and monte growing over these isolated structural bones.

Mom taught me to be curious at the sight of Historical Markers. They tell of stories we do not learn in school. Of mi gente and the leyendas haunting our ears.

The pictures I share above were taken in the outskirts of Hidalgo. Or Alamo. Not sure what city it pertains to, lol! I had gone on a sporadic road trip with my nephews and at the sight of this home, we decided to take a walk around the monte there. We didn’t go far that time once we saw several border patrol trucks patrolling about 100 feet away. The river wasn’t too far off.

What are some of the random road trips you’ve taken in your rinconcito?

Jackson Ranch Cemetery

In February of 2019, I first found out about the historical Jackson Ranch Church Cemetery during a local history program at McAllen Public Library. As part of their Black History Month celebration, the program ventured into the past of the Jackson Ranch as part of the Underground Railroad leading into Mexico. Prior to that, I had no knowledge of this and, of course, I was intrigued!

Read this article from Texas Standard for more about the Underground Railroad leading south.

When I found out my nephews were studying the Underground Railroad in class, we made plans for a road trip to find the cemetery. I’m not the best at following directions and the maps I found online confused me when my GPS took me in circles. My mom would call me norteada because I’ve always had a broken internal GPS, lol! If I were to describe the location I’d say its somewhere in the middle of Pharr, San Juan, and Hidalgo near the Rio Grande River. Waymarking.com has real directions that may help you reach the destination though at waymarking.com/waymarks/WMJYPR_Jackson_Ranch_Church.

Once there, my nephews and I came across a peaceful protest in the cemetery grounds with tents spread throughout and generations gathered in a communal space, ranging from elders performing spiritual ancestral rituals and children sitting by bonfires. The day was cold and it was sprinkling on and off. At first, because I was confused, I drove past the place but my nephews were adamant they wanted to know what was happening.

We were greeted at the entrance by a U.S. veteran who explained why and what they were protesting. He asked us not to take pictures of the protesters and described how the crowd included several indigenous gente from throughout the nation joining local folks as they brought awareness to the community about how the border wall would actually run across the cemetery and disturb human remains, several were unmarked Native American remains and others were the remains of several Jackson ancestors. It was also one of the first black cemeteries in the Valley.

We were welcomed to be part of the experience and the kids and I were overwhelmed with what we learned. We listened to heartbreaking prayers and when I peeked at them, I noticed my nephews sobbing. Back at home, Mami was on her deathbed and the chants had such an effect on us, we couldn’t help but to feel the energy in our souls. And when we finally walked away, my nephew whispered “Don’t disturb the bodies.” My heart broke.

I underestimated them as children and didn’t think they’d comprehend the seriousness of the situation.

This video clip was filmed when we were back in the car.

The threat for the wall disturbing the remains loomed into the 2020 presidential elections. In March of 2021, I asked my apa to join me for a trip back to the cemetery to see where the wall stood now that construction had been delayed or cancelled. As you can see from the images below, the wall surely almost came to split across this sacred space.

Most of the pictures had to be taken from a distance as stepping onto the cemetery was prohibited. These images were taken from different angles and I tried my best to give you a glimpse of the area.

I Sometimes Imagine Borders

I sometimes imagine borders when I think of home. Not the physical lines that cross through the green blues of the Rio Grande, swelling against the cactus of the dry heat. No, not the obvious terrain without a bloom of roses or the branches of poincianas.

The liminal borders I pretend to imagine come to mind when my roots react, the realities of today eclipsing the limbo of my lenguajes. An imaginary border, tender thoughts slipping from my womb. I imagine my homeland out of grasp like the opal glittered with gold on Motecuhzoma’s chest.

I imagine swimming through oceans when I think of home with my relatives in our sister country, merely a river away.

Boundaries guilty of fear.

Boundaries separate of me.

My Perspective as a Poet from the Borderlands

As a poet from the Rio Grande Valley, I write about what I know – which is my family, my culture, the distinctive region I live in, and the borders that surround us. 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 only Spanish when it was their primary tongue and so common in our community. (Though my now pocha tongue would tell you otherwise.)

I am a Chicana/ Mexican-American from an immigrant family, I’ve lived my entire life in the border deeply immersed in Mexican culture. My parents 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. They experienced the burlas I never have.

I look at the divide between my parents’ upbringing and mine – what I see is how their struggles and experiences are embedded in everything I do. Their storytelling of calloused hands, deportation, and empty food pantries.

I am fortunate to be a part of an artistic family of comadres and compadres in El Valle that embraces the diversity of our borderland voices, acknowledging each other’s endeavors and experiencing how a support system has helped build a foundation that opened doors for our literary and arts community to flourish in the past decade. In my work at McAllen Public Library, I have seen the passion our local librarians and school teachers have for cultivating an environment of preserving our cultures.

Recently, I had the privilege of becoming my city’s poet laureate from 2015-17, an experience that has connected me with a larger audience in my region. I have been visiting schools and community centers spanning the geographic length of the Rio Grande Valley. This role has been a humbling and enlightening experience, allowing me the privilege and opportunity of observing how residents of South Texas experience poetry with writers approaching me from the unlikeliest corners. My community has opened its doors in venues I’d never considered, such as the Mexican Consulate in McAllen, TX. This absolutely thrills me but also has shown me that even in the Valley, there’s a spectrum of literacy we have yet to acknowledge.

After all, how can I consider events I’ve attended and hosted as being an embodiment of ‘border voices’ when our peers from el otro lado haven’t been represented?

In recent years, I have seen a growing number of Mexican, Central and Latin American residents at poetry events here in the Valley. This is due to immigration surges from Central and South America and also because of the closure of cultural centers in Mexico, where our frontera neighbors are facing increased fear and inseguridad. I’ve wondered what encourages them to participate in Valley events, and it is, I believe, because of the power of the spoken word and the Latino literary tradition that runs deep through the spectrum of Latinos with very different life experiences.

I believe these events must be documented by those living it.

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.

I am from the borderlands of deep South Texas. A place where a wall was built to divide one region from the other – a symbol that confuses me with theories. I jump from skin to shell with my lenguajes – that’s what my borders gave me. Infinite roads of luck and legends and memories.

But to write of life en el otro la’o…to write about life as an immigrant…I could never do that because what I have learned is that all connections I have to those experiences aren’t enough. I have learned I am ignorant and naïve. I have learned that even though I am a writer, sometimes my job is to listen and learn and embrace and support other voices who can authentically tell these stories.

Eulogy for Sylvia Suarez, my mami

I would like to give abrazos and a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has offered their prayers, thoughts, condolences, love, and support to our family these past few weeks. Seeing my mother going through pain devastated us, and then accepting it was time to let go was so very difficult; but your friendship and companionship has truly, truly been a blessing. I wouldn’t be surprised to have gained twenty pounds after all the pan dulce and hot meals brought over to my parents’ home lately. The tears you have shed for my mother, and for us, have made it clear we are not alone.

Our mother was a passionate woman, always amazing us with how many people she knew and her friendships from all moments of her existence. She never forgot the name that went with the face, nor the stories that went with the friendship. She loved, anyone and everyone.

The past year had been difficult for her, depending on others to drive her when she was used to her independence….always de pata larga, as my father would say. O de jacalera. Our memories with mom consist of dropping by to visit an old family friend, or a relative, and remembering to pick up a box of pan dulce or donas to take with us. And if a visit wasn’t possible, there she was with her hours long phone calls to catch up on chisme.

I can’t recall having ‘peaceful’ weekends at home either. Our house was always a jumble of visita, primos and friends staying over, and overrun by the many pets that came in and out of our home. From all of us, it was mami who would be tumbling outside in the backyard and playing with the pets…como si fuera niña. Our neighborhood puppies escaping their yards and coming over for a visit with her. At one point we even had a rooster as a pet and every morning, there was mami acariciandolo.

A few days before mami had been admitted into the hospital for the last time, she posted a video on Tío Robe’s Facebook page that made her reminisce about their childhood in the 50’s and 60’s. Sometimes, they would be here at home en el valle. At others, it was up en el norte doing migrant farmwork. The song was “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother” by The Hollies. (Listen to song here: https://youtu.be/EYzfTdIZoP0)

It’s easy for me to picture the De La Garza siblings growing up near Bell Street in Pharr, TX, experiencing moments such as Uncle Ram being drafted and heading off to Vietnam War, the tumultuous Pharr Riots and the chaos that affected them and other neighborhood families, going to sock hops and dancing to the latest records in their school gyms, and heading out to Montemorelos for visits with their abuelo Tomas and Toñita.

Mami’s childhood always came up in her stories, usually making us giggle, confessing things such as how she would pin the blame on whoever was nearest when she’d hurt herself out of clumsiness. Everyone running in all directions as soon as they heard her cry, out of fear they’d be blamed.

Or how Uncle Ramiro would stash candy in his sock drawer and would blame Robe when he’d discover it missing…until the day he caught his cute baby sister red-handed. Not that I’m making a case for Robe. I mean, if he was the first one they pointed the finger at, it was for a reason.

The lyrics to this song by The Hollies say:

“The road is long / with many a winding turn
that leads us to who knows where / who knows where
but I’m strong / strong enough to carry him
he ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.”

These past few weeks, this song was a testament to what I’ve seen from many who loved her, but particularly her brothers (Robe and Ramiro) and sisters (Ninfa and Juani).

29357178_1691358477627063_7851192564537047621_nAnd then I think of my father, the love of her life. She was so grateful for all he had done for her, spoiling her, taking her to the casinitos – legal or not – when he was exhausted, going on road trips to Oklahoma, or flying out to Vegas for a few days. Being her best friend and understanding her like no one else.

According to my dad, and I know this isn’t true, the first time he saw her he thought she was my Tío Robe wearing a wig. La guera, his honey, as he called her. Ama and apa were so different, yet so alike. I can picture them at a baile, dancing to her favorite music, as mami let apa lead her with vuelta tras vuelta. A veces, her dress slip would fall after all those vueltas during a Tejano baile.

One of her favorite musicians was Jay Perez. Any time his music came out on the radio, a grito escaped her lungs. There is a song of his that goes (Listen to song here: https://youtu.be/syl4nP4ab88):

“Amor / Yo te e dado lo mejor de mi
Amor / como quiero estar cerca de ti
jamas / olvidarme de tu corazón
y volver amarte asi”.  

To me, these are the lyrics in my father’s heart. As we go on, it’ll be most difficult for us to see him growing old without his güera by his side. I ask for you to help us remind him how much he is loved and needed as he heals from this heartbreak.

My first memories are of being about four years old and living out in a ranchito in Las Milpas. Back then, it was all monte and labores for miles. We had stray dogs that would end up in our ranchito, and on one particular day, I was outside being a diva and singing a Daniela Romo song to a crowd of about twelve dogs. Before you ask, no, they weren’t barking at me!

When I was done singing, I turned and saw mami smiling at me from the entrance to the house.

She called me in for a nap and as she sang me a lullaby, I looked out the window and wondered if my mami had a mami of her own. When I asked her, she explained her own mami lived too far away and that we’d have to climb a thousand steps into heaven to visit her. At some point while sleeping, I peeked my eyes open and saw mami silently sobbing as she looked out the window.

There have been many moments like this throughout my life and though I didn’t understand them then, I do understand now that I’m an adult.

I think about how fortunate we are to have had our mother into our adulthood, thinking how she was a kid when she lost hers. We will always miss her, but she left us with enough love for a lifetime. There has not been one single day in our lives when we have not known we are loved.

One of the things we’ve learned from our parents is that love is not something that expires, and the heart has no limit. Loving someone else doesn’t take away the love you already have for another. It helped my brothers and sisters bond and learn not to live with jealousy for one another. And I really thought I understood our mother’s love. That is, until grandchildren came into her life. Her Pingüinos Marinela and Chicharrones, as she called them.

10858615_836547623096256_6294296171969953693_nI can hear her singing a melody of Sonny and Cher to Tori Bambori, “Tori don’t go / pretty baby please don’t go”; putting a Tejano song on full blast and getting all her babies to make a riot dancing, carrying Navia on one arm and turning Luisito with the other; putting Diego and Fabian to sleep with one of her silly, made up stories; letting Julian get away with anything, scolding us to “Dejenlo!” when he broke yet another thing; asking to carry her baby Sophia when she had no strength left in her arms.

406926_2614037722187_536601067_nMom’s last days were filled with memories and love. And we’d like to thank all of you for sharing your stories of mom’s sense of humor and friendships. These past few days were filled with stories about running into las tías Suarez at bailes at Bocaccios 2000 and Starship, drinking zombies…whatever that is; empapachando her nephews and nieces; stories about abuelita Carmen and Toñita; and her being an accomplice with her grandchildren in so many ways.

Mom would often remind us after our visits, “Recuerden que tienen una mala madre y un buen padre…al revés!” Always joking but reminding us my parents would be there for us, regardless of the circumstances.

And that’s what I’d like to leave you with. A reminder. Her reminder.

Don’t forget to remember those who’ve loved you. Visit them, call them, let them know they are thought of. Particularly our viejitos.

Announcing the Upcoming McAllen Poets Laureate

“Do work that matters. Vale la pena.”
-Gloria E. Anzaldúa

I am at a crossroads between crying from pride and laughing because of joy. Ready to let someone share this incredible journey of being a McAllen Poet Laureate, and being tremendously grateful for this experience that has changed my life and taught me so much about my wonderful community. We are a community living through so many transitions that must be documented as we live them, from this side of the Rio Grande Valley border to el otro lado.

I often think of Gloria E. Anzaldúa and the legacy she has left for us, the bonds she has given me with other Valley writers and community activists, and her courage to speak from the heart and soul about her experiences in el valle – the heridas that remain with us even now. To me, this platform representing our community was at times overwhelming, mostly because there were so many opportunities and goals I set for myself. But more often than not, I found how our vibrant literary and arts community had already found ways in which to approach these projects – which made my job that much easier!

There are so many who have mentored me and taken me under their wings along the way, it is almost impossible to list all without failing to forget my peeps! But I can certainly list a few who have inspired me, opened up venues and networks to learn about political and social changes our gente are experiencing, and helped me find my voice along the way: Daniel Garcia Ordaz, Erika Garza Johnson, and Lady Mariposa (their craft for documenting our stories through poetry and letting me learn from them has had the most impact on me as a poet); Olga Valle-Herr (for paving the way as our city’s first poet laureate); Emmy Perez, Dr. Stephanie Alvarez, and Dr. Rob Johnson (their academic and social work, both on campus and in our region, has opened up dialogues that have had a tremendous impact on our region); Kate Horan (who has taught me so much about literacy, how it impacts communities, and has provided me with unconditional support); Jan Epton Seale (Texas Poet Laureate and a mentor as I transitioned into my role as my city’s poet laureate); Dr. Norma Elia Cantú (who has been a literary madrina to so many of us in el valle – I don’t think you understand how much your support and encouragement is valued); and most definitely, our community activists, artists, and organizers who are instrumental in bringing to light social issues one must be vocal about (Sister Norma Pimentel, John-Michael Torres, Veronica Gabriela, Celeste De Luna and many, many others). You all have truly been a blessing!

I have a tendency of going off topic, so let me reel it back in and focus! After having been notified of who was selected to take over as McAllen Poet Laureate, I am typing out this post as an informal announcement. It is my greatest pleasure to announce that not one, but two, of the greatest voices and mentors in our community have been selected to take over the next couple of years! They already have a plethora of projects planned, such as organizing readings, festivals, workshops, writing new literature, etc. They really don’t need much of an introduction…but I definitely will post their bios!

Drumroll…

As 2018 McAllen Poet Laureate

23847710_10214699761591772_327974449_oEdward Vidaurre is the author of four books. I Took My Barrio On A Road Trip (Slough Press 2013), Insomnia (El Zarape Press 2014), Beautiful Scars: Elegiac Beat Poems (El Zarape Press 2015), and his latest collection Chicano Blood Transfusion (FlowerSong Books) was published this year. Vidaurre is the founder of Pasta, Poetry, and Vino–a monthly open mic gathering of artists, poets, and musicians. He resides in McAllen, TX with his wife and daughter.

 

As 2019 McAllen Poet Laureate

RGRodney Gomez is the author of Citizens of the Mausoleum (2018), Baedeker from the Persistent Refuge (2019), and the chapbooks Mouth Filled with Night (winner of the Drinking Gourd Chapbook Prize from Northwestern University), Spine (selected by Ada Limón as winner of the Gloria Anzaldúa Poetry Prize), and A Short Tablature of Loss (selected by Eduardo Corral as winner of the Rane Arroyo Prize). His work has appeared in Poetry, The Gettysburg Review, Blackbird, Pleiades, Denver Quarterly, Puerto del Sol, and other journals. He is the son of migrant farm workers and the first in his family to attend college. A proud member of the Macondo Writers’ Workshop and the Chocholichex writing collective, he was educated at Yale, Arizona State, Berkeley, Cornell, and the University of Texas-Pan American. He reviews poetry and nonfiction for Latino Book Review and works at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. He lives with the love of his life, Sara, in McAllen.

The Smoking Mirror by David Bowles

I have often been told not to judge a book by its cover – and I usually don’t listen. So when I saw the cover for ‘The Smoking Mirror’ by Dr. David Bowles, I knew I had discovered a gem. It doesn’t hurt to know the author is known for the amount of research he puts into his projects, and the charismatic nature of his work makes it almost impossible to put a book down.

‘The Smoking Mirror’ is a Young Adult Fantasy that mixes folklore & mythology with modern day adventures, bringing Aztec/Mayan histories into mainstream pop culture in a most credible scenario for a fictional story. Keep in mind, the plotline is based in South Texas and Mexico, something we don’t often come across is novels. The story is thoroughly relatable to those of us from the border who have family ties in both countries.

Carol and Johnny, twins who have learned their mother has gone missing, are trying to pick up the pieces as their world begins to tumble at home. The twins are your average tweens dealing with issues youth often experience – bullying, doubts, moods, fitting in. The problems at home lead them to an extended stay with maternal relatives in Mexico, away from their home environment and their father. What they don’t know is the journey and revelations awaiting them! Peeling the layers of secrets their mother has kept from them, Carol and Johnny discover they have inherited powers from her and are introduced to their nagual forms – just the fuel they needed to journey into the underworld and search for her, with the help of new friends and allies.

‘The Smoking Mirror’ kicks off a Young Adult book series in a fast paced adventure sure to teach you a thing or two about regional histories often forgotten.

New Border Voices: An Anthology

Borders transition for an array of reasons, time being the indicator of how a new generation comes to rely on the histories of their land(s), reminiscing about what was and accepting (not eloquently though) that change alters realities. This anthology of voices are direct proof of how recent experiences, particularly in the Southwest region, have caused a metamorphosis in our communities. We slowly alienate ourselves from our ties to el otro lado because in our minds, borders close and fears become our distances.

As a fan of many of the prolific authors who form a part of this anthology, I am delighted current reflections from the border are represented well.

Name That Brings Back a Memory: Timbiriche

Timbiriche is the name of a popular 80’s Mexican pop group with the likes of Paulina Rubio, Eduardo Capetillo, Sasha Sokol, and Thalia having been members of it.  Their music still has a great influence on mainstream pop culture.

They remind me of being a kid, visiting Tia Chuy and ‘buelita Linda in Reynosa.  Of the coca-cola bottles fresh outta the ice box and dulces I could buy for a peso from the tiendita near tia’s house.

More specifically, Timbiriche reminds me of my flower girl days and of mi primo Pilarin, a teenage noviero with the hugest celeb crush on Thalia.

Timbiriche reminds of one particular flower girl dress my mother had to put away.  Of being 7 years old and taking a cruise down the streets of Reynosa, being coerced by a handsome primo to sing ‘Si no es Ahora’ as we pretended to be running mandados with the extra time it took us to get back home.  Of his secret novias I could tell nobody about.  Of the Gansitos he bribed me with so I could ask tía to let him take me de paseo, when all it was really for was to visit a new girl he wanted to pay a visit to.

The Quinceañera song reminds me of his silent goodbyes.  Of the news nobody expected as we prepared for his sister’s wedding.  Timbiriche reminds me of those days before his mother’s forever grief.

I can picture her still, sitting in her rocking chair in the wee morning hours as she prepared last minute details for her eldest daughter’s wedding.  I can hear her impatience, knowing something was wrong when her son wouldn’t come home as the morning hours passed. I wasn’t there but I can hear her shrieks when police walked up to her as she sat in that rocking chair, telling her of her only son’s death in a freak car accident.

Timbiriche reminds me of that morning when we learned that instead of a wedding, we should dress for a funeral.

Canicula: Snapshots of a Girlhood en La Frontera by Norma Elia Cantu

La frontera is a mystical region influenced by an embrace of cultures, the lapses of time, the economy of two countries, and the growth that comes with opportunities. To explain it is difficult because so much is lost in the intent, trying to translate a community’s language with the vocabulary that divides our accent. But that doesn’t stop us from trying to share our Mexican/American borderland because our culture is about extending a hand to the world.

Dr. Cantu’s snapshots take us back to a youth where traditions are molded and family is an expected backbone. Her stories are shared, rather than told, and the history tejanos have experienced are documented without boundaries.

Not exactly fictional or autobiographical, Canicula immerses readers into a family’s timeline that spans generations and captures the essence of life bonds.