Dispatch 5 – Dies y seis de Septiembre

     Tonight felt like an extension of last Friday as the tastes and sounds of Gina’s culture warmed us in continuing dark-cloud weather. Today was the eve of Mexican Independence Day, the 16th of September. We went to a celebration at the Austin Coliseum near Palmer Auditorium. The parking lot was near-full, and the music, a mix of accordion, passionate vocal and bouncy beat, drew us in.
     Over the weekend, while she was out of town, thoughts of Gina lingered, and the events of our night out salsa dancing kept playing in my head, looking to be part of something significant. Maybe none of it is significant. Two girls out dancing and drinking on a Friday night in Austin. If you’re under 30 and unmarried here, it’s almost criminal not to spend a weekend night that way.
     So what does it say about Gina? I remember her eyes closing in passion, not for the nameless (Julio, I tell myself, not nameless, but close to it) guy she was with. Passion for a music that reaches far beyond her ears and into something in her soul that, being outside the culture, I can’t access.
     And it’s not something that has an equivalent in my life, even though my skin isn’t white. Is this what it feels to not be a minority, to feel rootless and ungrounded and cobbled together from pop culture and recent history? It’s not something I’ve given thought to in the past, but despite the fact that my ancestors have a country of origin, a language, a history, a good-sized population here and even restaurant enticing others to eat what we eat, I’m as removed from it as Gina is close to hers.
     I keep thinking of her praying with Luisa, losing herself in music, crying for her mother, not because of a fight or a current disaster, but just because she misses her. Close to her family and her roots, she speaks her own language perfectly, unlike the pseudo-Latinos with their broken pronunciation and fractured sense of family. "Coconuts," she calls them, brown on the outside, white within.
     Does this clash with the other parts of her, the vamp in tight clothes, who’s never on time, who loves the attention boys give her, who turned out the lights as the tequila shot buzz lingered and Julio waited? Or are the two parts together what make her whole?
     More evidence to pore through tonight as we walked in to the smallish coliseum which, truth be told, looked like a high school gym without the basketball goals. A group ("La Diferencia") was playing, the young, handsome lead singer jumping around, trying to get the medium crowd near the stage to sing along. As he bopped in a black, nearly see-through shirt, most of the audience was sitting in bleachers, stamping their feet a little, but mostly sedate.
     Gina’s whole body, wrapped tonight in forest green, swayed and swung to the music, even before she had a partner to dance with. To those she didn’t know (nearly everyone), she waved, or said "hola!" as we passed them.
     It didn’t last long. When we arrived, the band was playing its last few songs. Gina spotted some friends she knew from campus and we all chatted briefly. She was asked to dance, and was again spun and twirled, then held close for a slow song. I learned later it was, like many of the best loves songs in Spanish, a remake of a classic Bolero, a song that it sung again and again for generations. The children and grandchildren know the same song, the same heartbreak in the words, no matter who the current macho is singing it. And we cry into our beers at the crystalline beauty of the moment a heart breaks.
     After the band said its goodbyes, an attempt to clear the floor was made as Mexican ceremonial soldiers marched, complete with drums, trumpets and the presentation of the Mexican flag.
     Lots of people yelled, hooted, screamed, cried rallying cries. Many held a right hand straight across their chest in salute. As the band marched, Gina watched them, solemnly. I tapped her arm to ask and smiled.
     "This is great!" I said, before the noise quieted down to a near silence. "Are you okay?"
     "I’m thinking about my hometown," she said. "That’s what all this reminds me of."
     I nodded in empathy, unsure if that was what I really felt. Unsure, too, if I knew how to sympathize about something I’ve never known or lost.
     After the presentation of the flag, the Mexican Consul to the area led the audience in a cry. "Viva Mejico!" he cried, to a deafening response of "Viva!" It’s called the Grito. Gina yelled it loud, and as she did, I could see that her eyes were shiny beneath auditorium lights. The tears were there, but she wasn’t ready to shed them.
     We stayed long enough to hear a mariachi band play, then we left into a muggy night, with dozens of others navigating their way out of a narrow parking lot. Gina didn’t speak the whole way home.
     I dropped her off next to the co-op.
     "Are you okay?" I asked.
     "Just reflecting," she said. "I’m fine. I just miss everyone. I need to call my boyfriend back home. Goodnight!"
     I waved as she turned and went away.