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Mariachi & Cinco de Mayo

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This is my last post for LAist.

What It’s Like To Be A Mariachi Performer on Cinco de Mayo

In the grand U.S. tradition of co-opting ethnic pride as an excuse to get totally blotto, this weekend bars and dorm rooms across the United States have been celebrating the Mexican Army’s 1862 defeat of invading French imperial forces (nevermind Mexico’s subsequent defeat and status as French colony for three years). Drinko de Mayo, Gringo de Mayo, whatever you call it, is what Gustavo Arellano calls a “mestizo St. Patrick’s Day.” This weekend will be the only time of year mainstream U.S. will want to be Mexican, putting on fake bushy mustaches, wearing sombreros and listening to Antonio Aguilar lament about being away from his homeland.

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May 6, 2013 at 7:58 pm

Mira Macario, esta es la humanidad, part II

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This is part II of yesterday’s post.

Word had spread that my uncle’s health had deteriorated and a stream of distant family members, friends, & acquaintances were visiting my uncle while my aunt (who used her visa to stay in the Bay Area with him), uncles, grandfather, & (sometimes) dad kept my uncle company. My dad last saw my uncle about a week-and-a-half before my uncle died. It was clear that he would die soon and everyone allowed my dad time alone with my uncle. My uncle was the child before my father, with only two years between them.

On March 2, around 10:30 am, my mom called my cell phone and left a message. I was in class with terrible cell phone reception. The missed call and message did not show up on my phone until around noon, before I had lunch. It was one of those winter days that I really like: cold, with no clouds, only a bright sun warming people. I had already developed a resistance to cold weather and enjoyed walking because the opposing sensations of warm sun & clothes and cold air felt great. Before I walked in to have lunch, I felt my phone vibrate and listened to my mom telling me my uncle had died that morning.

I wasn’t shocked by the news; I knew the day would arrive. We were prepared for this death, but I didn’t know what to feel about his death. My uncle and I were never close and I did not know how I should conduct myself. My family has always held that when someone close is near death or has died, no music should be played. That week, for the first time, I decided not to go to a mariachi performance. I felt that though I was unable to attend the memorial service with my family, not performing would be my way of honoring my uncle. The next time I am in the Bay Area, I want to visit his grave, as a goodbye.

A few days ago, I was looking through old photo albums, trying to find pictures to scan. I came across a series of photos taken a few weeks after my birth. In them, my now-deceased uncle is holding me, smiling.

This is my 200th post.

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July 28, 2009 at 3:00 am

Posted in Family, Personal

Mira Macario, esta es la humanidad, part I

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The title of this post comes from a scene from the film Macario. In the above clip, it starts at 2:21.

I’ve thought a lot about death in the past few weeks. I know this isn’t the kind of thing that I should publish or mention so publicly, but I’m not about to practice so much self-censorship.

I’ve never dealt with death directly in my life. No one in my immediate family has died in my lifetime. My paternal grandmother, maternal grandfather, & a maternal uncle died before I was born. I wish I had met them, if only to know how they were and how we would have interacted. My maternal grandfather, Jesús, died a few months after my month’s birth and my maternal uncle, Benjamín, died in the mid-1970s in San Leandro. My paternal grandmother died in 1986, a few months after my parents immigrated to the United States.

The only death in the close family in my lifetime was that of one of my paternal uncles, who died in March. I was not able to attend his funeral, as I was at Harvard and didn’t have the money to travel to San Francisco & back for a half-week. I was in the Bay Area last weekend, but we didn’t visit his grave. I wish we had because I was unable to be there for his burial. The last time I saw him was on New Year’s Day, when my dad & I visited the Bay Area and stayed with him for a number of hours. His health had deteriorated in the last decade, more so after a car accident in L.A. put him in a coma for a few days.

After we returned to L.A. and I was back at Harvard, it was hard for me to get my uncle’s health out of my head. Each day, it was more and more obvious that his candle neared extinguishment. My dad began to go to the Bay Area more often. In February, I think he was in the Bay Area every other weekend. My dad would leave Los Angeles Friday night by Greyhound, be picked up by one of uncles, go to the hospital to see my uncle, and be on a Greyhound bus back to L.A. Saturday night.

Part II tomorrow.

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July 27, 2009 at 3:00 am

Posted in Family, Personal

Mariachiando: La raíz

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Mariachiando will be an ongoing series of posts at L.A. Eastside and here about my experience as a mariachi musician throughout Los Angeles. The posts will not be in chronological order in order to fully document these experiences and create a narrative. To follow these posts here, visit the Mariachiando page.

My paternal grandfather was a mariachi musician in México. in the weekends, my grandfather often left for a whole day or a weekend with his violin, guitar, or vihuela, to play with compadres in other pueblos around los Altos de Jalisco. Often, he’d be in the plazas, playing and singing with friends. When he came to the United States to work in the 1970s, he spent time working, but eventually quit and spent the rest of his time in East L.A., playing throughout the area with other mariachis and friends.

Meanwhile, my dad and siblings grew up listening to my grandfather’s music and the music that filtered to their pueblo’s radios from Guadalajara. When they had some time to themselves, either when they walked from their rancho to the pueblo, they played games or sang. While none of my grandfather’s children became mariachis themselves, they all sang, a few of them very, very well and my dad learned to play the guitar.

My dad is the third-oldest male and the fourth-oldest child. The eldest three males immigrated first to the United States in the late-1970s. They originally lived in East L.A. & Boyle Heights, but moved to South Gate in the early-1980s. All the siblings eventually moved out to the Bay Area, the last one, the oldest male of the family, leaving South Gate in 1989 and his stove to my dad (which is still in operation today). Read the rest of this entry »

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December 14, 2008 at 4:59 am

Madre mía de Guadalupe, ¡por tu religión me van a matar!

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I try to keep my religious beliefs to myself, but there are times when I cannot. Often, it’s around Thanksgiving (el día de Santa Cecilia) or today, December 12th, that I give in to emotions and feel I must. I’m not much of a Catholic, but there’s something about la Virgen that transcends feelings about the Catholic Church. It’s probably the fusion of religions and national sentiment. Back in high school with my former mariachi, I played misas often. Here, I miss the weekly performances, but what I miss most is playing misas because they allow me to be part of someone’s special day, especially inside la iglesia.

I’ve wanted to research my family history and learn if any of my relatives (however distant) were part of la rebelión cristera in Jalisco. This song, Valentín de la Sierra, is a corrido that really doesn’t have much to do with this day, except for the line I put as the title of this post. Only Antonio Aguilar does this song justice.

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December 12, 2008 at 6:30 am

Posted in Family, Mariachi, Music, Religion

Saludando a los abuelitos

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I wrote the following as a comment over at Lotería Chicana and I decided to make it into a post. I started a post like this a few months ago but never finished it:

My maternal grandfather passed away when my mom was three months old and my paternal grandmother passed away in 1986, so I only have one grandparent from each side of the family. I was taught to refer both as “abuelita/o.” My whole family (cousins, aunts/uncles) uses abuelita/o. Thinking about it, our whole pueblo uses abuelita/o. Sometimes I’ll refer to my grandparents as Don/Doña ______ and they also don’t mind that, but this is rare.

I was too young when I met mis bisabuelos to remember. I only have photographs.

My physical greeting towards my grandparents is something that I don’t know many other people do. When I see them, I always take their hand and kiss it before hugging/shaking it. My parents also do this when they see their parents. Maybe it’s done after a certain age.

In my Spanish class in high school, we started talking about greetings and we got to physical aspects (handshakes/kisses/etc.). I raised my hand and said that when I see my grandparents, I always kiss their hand. No one else in the class said they did it, but my teacher did. She was also from my part of Los Altos de Jalisco and I was the only Alteño in the class. Does anyone else kiss their parent’s/grandparent’s hands?

Image above is a portrait taken in the mid-1970s of my dad’s family (he’s the tall male on the left). My grandfather and his oldest son are missing because they were in East L.A., working. My dad and his brother next to him would make the trip to the U.S. a few years later. In the center is mi Abuelita Catalina and the youngest child, then no more than two years old. My abuelita died in 1986 due to a degenerative disease. My brother and I think it’s ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

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October 25, 2008 at 9:48 am

Posted in Family, Questions

Trapos sucios

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As I say in my About page, I listen to music in Spanish, mostly mariachi, banda, and norteñas, almost all the time. When I finally started looking at music and choosing what to listen, sometime in 2002, I began listening to the Ramones and slowly moved towards listening to classic rock on KLOS and Arrow 93.1 (Remember it? I was crushed when it switched to the new format by replaying the same U2 song all day. My brother called me that day with the news that it was know one of those “Jack FM” radio stations). In classic rock, I stuck to Journey/Foreigner/Cream/Allman Brothers Band/Lynyrd Skynyrd/Creedence Clearwater Revival. While listening to these stations, I also became a fan of Metallica and Slayer by hanging out with metalheads for a good year in high school. When I found out both bands had local ties, I enjoyed them more.

Since I grew up with Mexican music, I don’t count encountering new artists in those genres as branching out. I’ve kept up listening to Mexican music, amassing a lot of music in the past years. I have run out of space on my iPod for all my music and now I’m forced to select which music to no longer have on my iPod (So along, Eminem! Adieu, Bon Jovi! Te chingaste, Gravy Train!!!!) Read the rest of this entry »

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August 23, 2008 at 7:30 pm

Posted in Family, Music, Random