an open letter to my father
03.05.05 // 8:31 p.m.

Mi papá

Dear Dad,

I saw Los Lobos live for the second time last night. This time it wasn’t at the Hollywood Bowl, but on campus in Royce Hall. Can you believe that in the nearly seven years I have been at UCLA this was the first time I had ever taken advantage of the student ticket deals for events at Royce? The crowd wasn’t too different than the one at the Hollywood Bowl. There were a lot of white people and a lot of older Chicanos. It wasn’t anything like a Café Tacuba concert, but of course I didn’t expect that.

I went to the show by myself not because I couldn’t find anyone to go with, but simply because I was only able to buy one ticket. I almost didn’t go, but luckily my advisor reminded me about the concert.

I did not mind going alone. I thought I would be okay with it, and that I could enjoy the music by myself. I was wrong. I was barely able to handle the opening act, Perla Batalla. I thought about how much you and mom would have loved to hear her sing haunting renditions of classics like, “Cucurrucucú Paloma” and “El Reloj.” I felt bad to be there without you. In fact, it felt wrong to be there alone.

That feeling intensified when Los Lobos began their performance. They began with some son jarocho tunes from Veracruz. They played “Nicolás” and I wished more than anything that you could have been there to see them. I wished Danny was there to dance along to the song with me. I know that despite the fact that neither one of us has danced in over 10 years – like we used to when we were kids – our feet would remember the songs. And they did, I couldn’t stop imagining myself waving my skirt with the left hand, fanning myself with the right, and arching my back all while doing the quick zapateado.

Dad, you know what I realized for the first time ever last night? I realized the true reason why I love Los Lobos so much. It has nothing to do with their music or the way their music makes me feel. That’s all just a plus.

Simply put, the real reason I love them is because of you.

When I listen to Los Lobos or see them perform, I see you. I see a middle aged Mexican man strumming a guitar and singing classic ballads and boleros.

The Mexican thing isn’t the only thing you have in common with Los Lobos. Did you know that the members of Los Lobos met while they were students at Garfield High School in the early 1970s? Imagine if you were just a little older, you could have been a rock star too. They’re well known in the music world, but they seem to downplay that by proclaiming that they’re “just another band from East LA.” Aside from the East Los connection and similar music taste, I also see you in them because they have pansas and canas.

Last night, Los Lobos primarily stayed away from their blues-rock repertoire and focused on classic Mexican tunes. They played boleros like “Gema” and “Sabor a Mí,” as well as son jarocho, rancheras (“Cielito Lindo” and “La Pistola y el Corazón”), cumbias, blues-rock (“Saint behind the glass” and “Kiko and the lavender moon”), and songs from other Latin American countries (“Guantanamera” and “El Cuchipé”).

At one point, they sat on stools in a half-circle. They recounted a story about playing the same tunes at parties for friends and families when they were just starting out as a band. At that moment, I thought of you and was reminded of the dozens of times throughout my childhood when you did the same thing at a party or around the campfire. In my mind, I saw you, my Tío Johnny, my padrino Chaparro, Alberto M, my Tía Susana, and other former Marcianos singing “Volver, volver” or “Camino de Guanajuato” with feeling I hoped I would one day comprehend. Sometimes you just played the guitar without singing and other times you sang just as loud as the others.

He sings too

I always watched. I’d ignore the other kids telling ghost stories or playing hide-and-seek just so I could learn the songs. I wanted to be like you.

When I think of those times, I also recall the time you taught Danny and me to sing. I don’t remember what Danny sang, but I sang “Bonita finca de adobe” (I think). You taught me the meaning of the words, and strummed along. It was like that scene out of Selena. Those were great times.

Seeing Los Lobos perform last night reminded me of all those beautiful memories. They made me thankful for having a father who taught me to love the music of a country I have only visited a handful of times.

You taught me to sing, to dance (sort of, others deserve some of the credit – or blame – for this too), to love music, not to be ashamed of my mother tongue or culture, and to use my gifts. Gracias.

I wish you could have seen Los Lobos with me. You would have loved it.


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Me siento: gratefel
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