Rant.Chant.Chisme. by Amalia Ortiz

As a child growing up in South Texas, I knew what being a hocicona meant.

It meant you were a repelona who enjoyed arguing. A chismosa who told everyone’s business. A cabrona who often picked a fight. A metiche who put her foot down when nobody asked her opinion.

Mostly, I understood a hocicona to be someone who had something to say and the best part, had an audience to listen to her.

Someday, I want to be an hocicona like Amalia.

Her chismes entertain me like a good Mexican telenovela. Ella suelta la sopa and speaks in volumes through her resonating verses, opening up conversations often suppressed, as with ‘Women of Juarez’ and ‘the short skirt speaks’.

Amalia’s poems remember. They cry. They tell on you. They don’t know how to play hide-and-seek well. They count you in when you try to blend in. And caray, do they speak!

Cuentos Wela Told Me: That Scared the Beeswax Out of Me!

theworldis youroyster.

Author: Priscilla Celina Suarez
Cover Image: Chusy Ocala

Purchase a copy of my new ebook by clicking here!

Have you experienced an eerie chill crawl your skin and give you goosebumps for no apparent reason? Have you been haunted by an apparition you can’t explain? Has your abuelita told you stories about the legendary cucuys that have, for centuries, been a part of our valley folklore?

These stories are simply cuentos many are skeptical to believe in. Leyendas my family has shared with me.

It is up to you to decide whether to believe in these stories or not. Regardless, they are intriguing and will continue to be told for generations on end.

Read on, enjoy, and beware of the cucuys!

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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.

Unwoven by Erika Garza-Johnson

Erika Garza-Johnson’s debut, Unwoven, is a collection of poetry that refuses to be labeled. It is an anthology that explores the author’s identity and plays with a variety of genres. At times, it is autobiographical, contemporary,a saga, or a narrative. At others, it is an observation, a mystery, a drama, or a reflection. But most of all, it is a collection of love poems.

I have known my comadre, Erika, for almost a decade. We’ve traveled together all over the valley and central Texas for poetry readings and workshops. I’ve heard her voice deliver those punches in her work up close and know the shifting of her borders are obvious with her spoken word. Erika has one of the greatest stage presences I’ve encountered because she does not shy away from the intentions of her poetry.

After reading Unwoven, I can honestly say her words vaporize from the page and into one’s perceptive consciousness. So honest and with the lenguaje that is typical of a South Texas community. The rhythm a pattern of words that make it simple for others to comprehend our Tex-Mex slang.

From writing about ‘Heridas Abiertas’ to ‘Pinche Princesses’, my comadre reveals her love. For her family, her community, her culture, her experiences. Sometimes it is not so obvious. Sometimes, her love is coraje. Sometimes, her love gives you the finger.

In all possible explorations of her work, one cannot mistake how she has unwoven her world to share it with her audience.

Comfort Food: Cafe con Canela

If I think back to comfort food, one of the first things that comes to mind is a cafecito calientito. Even better? With canela.

It’s really the easiest thing to prepare – just boil a cinnamon stick in a water and use that same water to prepare your coffee as usual (coffee pot or a la Keurig style).  Drinking this special brew reminds me of my trips to Durango with apa and welo, how it is called cafe de olla in some places and was sweetened with piloncillo. I’m not sure why I haven’t tried using piloncillo, now that I think about it.

I’ve been told that cinnamon tea is good for stress and headaches, so I’m sure this is an added bonus to the comfort part. Funny thing is, all my memories of drinking coffee in Mexico are with the spicy taste of canela. And the pan dulce!

Pan dulce is a delicacy that translates into a tradition in my family.

Visitors stopping by? Panecito run. Novela finale? Panecito run. Domingo? Panecito run. It’s cold outside? Panecito run. Funeral bound? Panecito run.

Thinking about it, maybe this post should have included the pan dulce as comfort food too. Only because it is. And us from the valley, we’re vicious when it comes to critiquing our sweet bread. For one, it MUST be fresh. And there MUST be an assortment, because Lord knows all of us have different tastes. Even our grocery stores (cough *HEB*) carry an assortment of panecito.

I’ve seen a variety of panaderías popping up all over the Sharyland area. My goal? To have a critique of every single one!!!

Beautiful Scars by Edward Vidaurre

I first met Edward Vidaurre a few years ago at a Rio Grande Valley International Poetry Festival – I believe it was the Poetry Pachanga at the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center in San Benito, TX. Every year that I’ve attended VIPF, it’s always a great opportunity to meet new poets and listen to a diversity of voices. I remember how Edward’s presence was inspiring. His poetry unique because although we have claimed him as a valle poet, his memories of an upbringing in East Los Angeles add a twist of flavor to his verses and allows for us to discover some semblances to life in South Texas that are not quite the same at all instances.

From being an acquaintance to becoming a poetry compadre I am truly inspired by, Edward’s passion in sharing his writing supersedes the idea of simply promoting his work when invited to read at events. Edward shows up to events with the intent of inspiring others to collect their own experiences into writing. A proof of this is the periodical Pasta, Poetry and Vino events he hosts to promote other poets and to open a space for the literary community.

As you can probably imagine, when his latest poetry collection “Beautiful Scars: Elegiac Beat Poems” was released, I was first in line to grab a copy. One can always count on having a great time when reading my compadre’s stuff. I know it’s a rule to not judge a book by its cover, but Edward’s book…well, the cover is enough to have made me grab a copy anyways! The photographs included in between poems offered an extra glimpse into Edward’s world and incorporated a story of their own.

evidaurreOne look at the table of contents and I knew I’d read the book in one take. I mean, who wouldn’t want to read a book about his “greñuda”? As a daddy’s girl, I was able to relate to the bond the author has with his Bella, and embraced the language of amor eterno flowing from those verses. Perhaps not visible to the naked eye, but his corazón bled between the empty spaces on those pages dedicated to his daughter.

I feel this was the most beautiful scar he shared with me as I read his book. Sometimes, loving is just too much!

Visit Edward’s Blog Here: http://edwardvidaurre.blogspot.com/
Purchase a Copy of His Book Here: Beautiful Scars

You Know What I’m Sayin’? by Daniel García Ordaz

What would a poetry pachanga be without the Valle’s own Poet Mariachi? He is, after all, a force of language and literature in our community. His play with words and music taught me to be comfortable with our cultural imagery in my own work, and his work has introduced hundreds of students how powerful our own identities can be.

As pochos, we are not used to finding our own voices and colors define themselves in the literature we are asked to read in school. But his work is sure finding its way into the hands of librarians and educators that are more than happy to share his unique style of rhyming and emphasizing the patterns of our language.

Daniel García Ordaz approaches his audiences by sharing a universal approach to the written word. He writes about what he knows – of belonging to immigrant roots, pertaining to an American dream, of legacies and family, accents and superstitions.

Maybe you’ll even run into a mariachi song in his book, You Know What I’m Sayin’?.