Dispatch 5 Dies y seis de Septiembre
Tonight felt like an extension of last Friday as the
tastes and sounds of Ginas 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 youre under 30
and unmarried here, its 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 cant access.
And its not something that has an equivalent in my
life, even though my skin isnt 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?
Its not something Ive 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, Im 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, whos 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.
Ginas 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 didnt know (nearly everyone),
she waved, or said "hola!" as we passed them.
It didnt 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?"
"Im thinking about my hometown," she said.
"Thats 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 Ive never known or
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!" Its 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 wasnt 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 didnt speak the whole way home.
I dropped her off next to the co-op.
"Are you okay?" I asked.
"Just reflecting," she said. "Im
fine. I just miss everyone. I need to call my boyfriend back home. Goodnight!"
I waved as she turned and went away.