Cuentos, Música

Perfect songs for imperfect moments

Spotify Playlist

“This song?”

“Not this song, this song is perfect.”

We were on our way home from school/work and for once we weren’t arguing over who got to choose the playlist. The previous day Xavi had asked me to play Hall & Oates’ “Maneater” after hearing the cover by The Bird and the Bee. Since he was showing interest in old school favorites, Sean and I ran with it. You mean we got to play our old school favorites? Yes.

Xavi’s phrase has stuck with me. There are so many perfect songs and songs that are perfect because they take me back to a very specific moment. I like to think of them as the songs that have altered my brain chemistry because I can’t hear them without instantly being transported 20 (or 30!) plus years to that moment.

El Noa Noa by Juan Gabriel

It’s really hard to pick one life-altering JuanGa song because his music is omnipresent. He died on the day before my second son was born and I listened to a playlist through most of my labor, at least the early part before I realized the epidural wasn’t as effective in blocking pain as it was during my first time giving birth. (Aside: that one knocked me out and I took a glorious nap in active labor.)

I don’t associate El Noa Noa with that hospital room. Instead, I’m taken to the Kern River (always known as just El Río) in the Mojave Desert. Growing up, it seemed that we’d go to the river every long weekend and were always accompanied by 4 or 5 other families, both our relatives and compadres. There was no shortage of kids. We spent all day in the river because it was too hot outside. At night I’d still feel myself being pulled by the current as I laid awake trying to get the ghost stories out of my mind. Really, whoever decided to tell the story of La Llorona as we camped beside a river was just cruel.

A calm river surrounded by a rocky bank of white rocks. in the background are leafy trees, shrubs, a mostly clear blue sky and grey mountain. A few people wade in the water.

When I hear El Noa Noa, I can still see my cousin Eric standing on a boulder dancing and singing along with El Divo de Juárez. Eric was fully dressed instead of in his swim trunks like the rest of us because he had the bad luck of stepping on some glass on our first day. We hadn’t even set-up camp when my tío and tía had to leave and take him to the ER. The cut was bad enough that he had to get stitches and couldn’t swim with the rest of us, but dancing and singing on a rock was fine.

It’s hard to know if I remember this moment so well because of how we laughed or because my tío Chuy captured it on home video. Who knows, but it’s fitting that I think about my cousin singing in a desert along to a song that’s an ode to an El Paso bar.

Teenage Cindy posing with her brother Danny. Both are dressed up and smiling at the camera.

Soul to Squeeze by the Red Hot Chili Peppers

Summer 1996 was the first summer Danny had his driver’s license. We also signed up to host a Spanish exchange student, Esteban, for a month. Esteban had come with a group of students to learn English and his peers were also hosted by families we knew from church. During the day, they had class, but afterward they had excursions around LA like the beach or Disneyland. On this afternoon, Danny drove Esteban, his friend Sergio, and me to Guitar Center in West Covina. I don’t remember the reason for the trip. We had the radio tuned to KROQ, as always. Soul to Squeeze came on and I found myself singing together with Sergio to the chorus:

Where I go, I just don't know
I got to, got to, gotta take it slow
When I find my peace of mind
I'm gonna give you some of my good time

It was just a moment but it was the first time I remember that tingle of a crush acknowledging me in a flirtatious way. Nothing came from it and it was all probably in my head. Despite that, Soul to Squeeze always takes me back to my mom’s minivan with our Spanish exchange students.

1979 by the Smashing Pumpkins

This will forever be associated with my alarm clock radio. I can’t remember the exact morning in tenth grade this happened, but I do know Billy Corgan woke me up and I was probably late.

La Bamba by Los Lobos

La Bamba is the first soundtrack I became obsessed with. My siblings and I would play it over and over. Los Lobos’ version of La Bamba ends with the traditional son jarocho style. When the jarana starts in the outro I think of standing in our living room near the clunky stereo and dancing in a circle with a silly zapateado with Adrian. Writing this now it’s funny that I recall Adrian dancing like he was circling the sombrero in El Jarabe Tapatío because he was the only one of us kids who never danced ballet folklórico.

So Fresh and So Clean by OutKast

This is the song that inspired me to rack my brain for other songs I associate with indelible moments. When I hear the opening line, “Ain’t nobody dope as me, I’m just so fresh, so clean” I’m instantly back at a house party in September 2001. I had just turned 21 and went to a party at my friends’ house. When I arrived I didn’t know anyone besides the host, Chris and Lamont (shoutout to #thatsite), and remember walking through to the back yard. That’s when I saw D walk through the sliding doors singing.

Note: I used the El Noa Noa section for my takeover of this week’s Leave it to Leonor newsletter.


January Mini Book Reviews

The beginning of the year is always a time when I tend to read a lot. It’s cold outside, I have some time off from work, I’m motivated to tackle the challenges I’ve signed up for, and I have lots great end of the year recommendations. This year is no different.

The books below are listed in the order I read them.

Cover of the book Loving Day by Mat Johnson

Loving Day by Mat Johnson

The last satirical novel I read was too cynical and absurd for me. Loving Day wasn’t like that. I liked seeing the relationships between Warren and his daughter as they get to know each other at a utopian mixed cult. Like satire, there’s a lot of funny parts that had me laughing out loud and reading to Sean, especially the comic book content. On a serious note, while it is satirical, it did make me think of some of some of the thoughts my children may have as mixed kids. Here’s a quote that stuck out.

I’m not white, but I can feel the eyes of the few people outside on me, people who must think that I am, because I look white, and as such what the hell am I doing here? This disconnect in my racial projection is one of the things I hate. It goes in a subcategory I call “America,” which has another subheading called “Philly.” I hate that because I know I’m black. My mother was black—that counts, no matter how pale and Irish my father was. So I shall not be rebuked. I will not be rejected.
Cover of Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

Silver Sparrow by Taiyari Jones

Loved this! It’s a story about a secret family told from the perspective of the two teen daughters. One doesn’t know about the other and thinks her dad and family are perfect, while the other harbors jealousy for her father’s affection and resources. I love how Jones develops her characters. Everyone has such depth.

There’s only so much that you can chalk up to coincidence. I believe in the eventuality of things. What’s done in the dark shall come to the light. What goes up comes down. What goes around comes around. There are a million of these sayings, all, in their own way true. And isn’t that what’s supposed to set you free.
Cover of Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

I really enjoyed Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s debut novel which was recently republished. It’s a blend of YA with magical elements. Think if The Craft and Eleanor and Park (sorta – without the weird racist undertones) were set in Mexico City in the 1980s. I liked the flashbacks between adult Meche and her awkward teen self. I could see the friend group, Sebastian and Daniela, in my mind. Signal to Noise features lots of songs from multiple genres such as jazz and rock. I loved this part and was nostalgic for my college days. It reminded me of my good friends who wore The Smiths t-shirts, had Jim Morrison posters up on their walls, and were the first on the dancefloor when the DJ began playing ’80s rock en español. If you read this, make sure to follow the Spotify playlist.

You don’t get to rewind your life like a tape and splice it back together, pretending it never knotted and tore, when it did and you know it did.
Cover of Native Country of the Heart by Cherrie Moraga

Native Country of the Heart: A Memoir by Cherríe L. Moraga

I took Native Country of the Heart with me to ski club and kept reading even though my hands got cold. Moraga tells her family’s story, mostly focusing on the women, their relationships, and how they changed through time. I was touched by her honest and heartfelt voice as she shared the challenges of being a caretaker to an ailing parents while also dealing with complicated family relationships and the importance of home as country. Moreover, she explores what it means to be Chicana on Tongva land it was now called San Gabriel and the painful history of indigenous displacement. It gave me a lot to think about and I’m glad I finally read it after having it checked out from the university library for nearly two years.

It’s really hard for me to pick a quote from this one so I’ll do two. The first reminded me of my parents’ own yards and the trees my Papá Chepe planted and sitting under la mora (our mulberry tree).

Standing beneath the canopy of century-old blossoming jacaranda, it came clear to me that we are as much of a place as we are of a people; that we return to places because our hands served as tender shovels of that earth; that those yellow-peach and cream-colored roses, that wild yerba buena, las verdolagas covering the earth like loosely woven cloth to catch the steady drop of rose petal and leaf, this was my mother’s constant site of comfort. 

On the word m’ija or mija:

The translation cannot possibly express the pure grounding provided by that word for a Mexican child of any age. In a gesture of familial confidence, parents and tíos and abuelitas and even strangers tell it to us. So that, in a certain way, entre nosotros mexicanos here in an English-speaking world, it denotes the extended Familia de la Raza. A child knows instinctively whom to trust (or not) when that word is relayed between generations.
Cover of Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley

Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley

This was okay. I was gripped by the story, Walter Mosley’s style, and how he writes about LA. It’s easy to see why the Easy Rawlins series is so popular. That said, I can’t read too many hardboiled detective novels. It gets dark and sometimes I need something lighthearted and fun.

Because in L.A. people don’t have time to stop; anywhere they have to go they go there in a car. The poorest man has a car in Los Angeles; he might not have a roof over his head but he has a car. And he knows where he’s going too.
Cover of Brown: The Last Discovery of America by Richard Rodriguez

Brown: The Last Discovery of America by Richard Rodriguez

I finished this because I am a committed to completing series. This was the third of Richard Rodriguez’s essay collection which was the least autobiographical and most pedantic. The most memorable essay was where he really gets into his thoughts on Hispanics (his word) as a group. Even though it was written twenty years ago, it still felt somewhat relevant considering the debates and discussions around Latinidad.

Hispanicity is culture. Not blood. Not race. Culture, or the illusion of culture—ghost-ridden. A belief that the dead have a hold on the living.
Cover of Feed by Tommy Pico

Feed by Tommy Pico

Tommy Pico’s poetry is sometimes challenging for me since his style is unconventional. Rather than a collection of poems, this is one epic poem in free verse filled with song lyrics modern shorthand used in texts and social media, musings on life in the universe, and scientific names in space. It sounds like a lot, but it does come together. I’ve enjoyed each poem/book for the humor, melancholy and perspective of a gay indigenous man living in New York City. That said, the book I enjoyed the most, Nature Poem, was the one I listened to via audbiobook.

I don't have a food history.

If the dish is, "subjugate an indigenous population," here's an ingredient of the roux: alienate us from our traditional ways of gathering and cooking food.
Book cover of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

It’s easy to see why this is such a popular book. It’s set in old Hollywood featuring a Evelyn Hugo, a legendary actress who I think of as a cross between Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Monroe, and Elizabeth Taylor. I went in not knowing much about the plot besides the title and a recommendation that the audiobook was good. I enjoyed this overall and would recommend the audiobook. My main quibble is that I don’t think we get enough of Monique’s perspective as a Hugo’s biographer. She has her own arc and character growth, but I feel like most of it is “off screen” and remains untold.

When you realize you can tell someone your truth, when you can show yourself to them, when you stand in front of them bare and their response is "You're safe with me" -- that's intimacy.
Book cover of Mestiza Blood by V Castro

Mestiza Blood by V. Castro

This collection of short stories was delightfully creepy. It reminded me of sitting around the campfire listening to urban legends of brujas and other creatures with a modern twist. V. Castro center’s women’s voices and fantasies of revenge against abusers, white supremacists, and corporations that create harmful byproducts. The stories are both fantastical and speculative, but also somewhat realistic. While there is some gore and it’s technically a horror book, I wasn’t scared. Okay, maybe a little.

Cover for Eulogy for a Brown Angel by Lucha Corpi

Eulogy for a Brown Angel by Lucha Corpi

I started the Gloria Damasco Chicana detective series several years ago. I remember thinking it was a mystery novel for Chicana@ studies majors or those who enjoy history. I still maintain that, especially seeing as the first book in the series begins with the historic Chicano Moratorium on August 29, 1970. I liked this book and am working my way through the rest of the series. Warning, there is child death, which is hard to read.

When he'd shown interest in me, five years before, most of his friends had advised him to stay away from me. I was pleasant to look at but not pretty; and I was too young, too intense, too intelligent and too independent. All capital sins. Chicano nationalism and feminism didn't walk hand in hand before or during the summer of 1970.
Escuela, Parenting

School days

A few weeks ago we were watching Abbot Elementary. My older son loves the show. Some of the teachers remind them of the adults in his life either at school or his after-school program. Some are just silly. The episode was Fundraiser. In it, the kids sell chocolates to raise money to go to the Franklin Institute.

While watching, I realized that I have children in fourth and first grade and the concept of fundraising may be foreign to them. I’ve never taken a box of chocolates or a catalog of overpriced items to sell at work or share with friends and family. I remember SO. MANY. FUNDRAISERS. as a kid. Some were associated with Girl Scouts or our baseball teams, but mostly they were for school. They probably went to fund the extracurriculars like museum trips. I know we didn’t have great funding because I can recall at least once when our teachers picketed.

The kids have participated in fundraising events. They’ve helped out at bake sales and gladly bought items. The school has events like a winter fair or summer end of the year festival that doubles as a fundraiser for a fifth grade trip. We try to make those since it’s a fun thing to do and I like seeing them interact with their classmates since it’s rare.

But the kind of fundraising they did on Abbot Elementary? Nope.

Empty brick school on a sunny day. The blacktop play area is painted with blue and yellow for four square games. In the background are palm trees and low mountains.
This used to be my playground… really.

This brought to mind other things about their schools that are very different than my own experience:

  • Specials – I didn’t know about specials until I had friends with kids starting schools. They have dedicated music, art, and PE teachers. I remember doing all of these as a kid, but in elementary school I only had one teacher.
  • Orchestra – starting in third grade, children can sign up to learn a string instrument. In my experience, we could sign up for a wind instrument in third (maybe fourth?) grade for the concert band.
  • No letter grades – The kids get numbers that correspond to their progress, e.g., “4 = meets or exceeds grade level expectations”. I’m pretty sure I had letter grades and also had citizenship marks like O for outstanding, S for satisfactory and N for needs improvement.
  • Limited homework – now that X is in fourth grade, he has some math and reading assignments each day. Prior to this, he rarely brought home assignments. I can’t remember how much homework I had.
  • Enrichment activities – the school PTA offers after-school enrichment classes in things like learning about bugs or gaming club. There’s a cost, but the PTA subsides this activity. I don’t remember anything like this when I was a kid.
  • Bus – The kids have been riding the bus since pre-k. I lived a block away and never rode the bus to/from school. Even for the kids who lived further away, I’m not sure my district offered buses to our school and for middle and high school, I got a ride from my mom or another parent who was part of our carpool.
  • Class sizes – I remember having 30+ students in my classes. I don’t know how small my K-3 grade classes were, but the kids’ class sizes have always been under 20 students.
  • Water bottles – Each fall we get a list of things the students should be taking to school daily. The water bottle is always a part of this.

I’m not even getting into technology, dressing for the cold weather, COVID protocols, and lockdown drills because all of that seems obvious and a sign of the times.

Cuentos, Familia

Cry Now, Smile Later

When I was a junior in college I took a creative writing course called bilingual autobiography. We wrote daily in the class and I still have my journal. Some of the prompts were things like “describe the last time you heard a mariachi.” Our final story for the course was something that stemmed from the prompt, “write about something that you can laugh about now, but was tragic or very upsetting at the time.”

I wrote about getting caught cheating on a test in eighth grade. My co-conspirator was my crush. It had everything a YM Say Anything tale of woe and embarrassment was made of: humiliation in front of peers, a kinda scary authority figure, bad judgment, even worse luck, and a crush there to see the whole thing. In my case, my crush was also getting in trouble. I worked on my story all quarter and was very proud of the final draft. I still have it in a box put away somewhere.

The tragicomic story has been on my mind a lot lately. I grew up hearing my parents tell stories about their childhoods in ways that made us kids roar with laughter. When my dad’s family migrated from Guanajuato to the US they settled initially in Texas. There, my grandpa Bartolo was a ranch hand on a farm. My dad’s tales of the time involved busting up bales of hay to find snakes and going to a school where all the white kids talked about fun summer activities that were foreign to him. They didn’t stay in Texas too long. When they left my grandma’s brother came to help them move. My dad was forced to part with his beloved dog, Blue Boy. The dog didn’t fit in his uncle’s station wagon. The car was already full of the family of 8 people. Perhaps it was 9. I don’t remember if my dad’s youngest two sisters were born yet.

I had my own recent situation that I could only laugh at because it’s too ridiculous to cry over. After finally rebooking some flights from last summer, I had to postpone a family trip to Disney World because of COVID. Coincidentally, the first cancellation for an LA trip in August 2021 was also due to COVID. After 2.5 years it finally got me in mid-September. I wasn’t too bummed although I had to spend my anniversary weekend isolated and feeling crummy. We were able to postpone a few weeks and save some money by altering our hotel plans.

As our trip approached, I started looking closely at the news about Hurricane Ian. Ultimately, we opted to cancel the trip. The kids understood, knowing that it was all out of our control and ultimately cancelling a trip is not a big deal when others are suffering the impact of the storm.

They’re clamoring for when we’ll reschedule this family vacation. I don’t know. Maybe the fourth time will finally be the charm we need.

For now, I’ll just make TikToks, laugh, and be thankful that although we didn’t take the trip(s) we’re safe and have recovered from mild bouts with COVID (yay for all being fully vaccinated and boosted!). I realized long ago that I need to be able to laugh in these situations to cope. It’s what my parents taught me.

Parenting, Sentimientos

It’s Not A Competition

One of the things I frequently do to speed up the kids is make a simple task into a game.

Who can put away their things from school the fastest? Who can get all their winter gear on first? Who will be the first to get ready for bed?

Sometimes it works and other times someone gets distracted and leaves a backpack strewn on the floor, como salero, as my mom would say.

And still other times the kids object and remind me, “It’s not a competition!”

That little phrase comes to mind frequently. On the playground or school hallways it makes sense. Teachers don’t want kids tripping over themselves or fighting.

To me it’s a good reminder that I’m on my own path. So are my kids. It’s okay if my comadre’s daughter is reading well beyond grade level and my child is still learning sight words. It’s okay if my younger brother bought a home before I did. And it’s okay if a good friend gets a well-deserved promotion. Their success and talents have nothing to do with my own efforts.

Still, saying “it’s not a competition” – and believing it – hasn’t come easy. In graduate school I struggled with this. I always said my congratulations when a friend achieved an important milestone, but I didn’t feel very congratulatory. At the same time they were ticking off their goals I was struggling with motivation. I was unsure if it was the right path for me. As I saw their announcements it felt like others were finishing the race and leaving me behind.

Then I started running. I came to understand races differently. Of course there was a winner, but most of the people in the race had different goals. We wanted to finish, PR, negative split, avoid injury, take fun race photos, or just enjoy the process.

These days I still struggle with feeling like I’m behind. I talk about it with my therapist and we work on it by focusing on my strengths, accomplishments, and resources. I also remind myself that I have amazing family and friends who will support me when and if I want to work on a goal.

It’s not a competition, but that doesn’t mean I’m not moving forward and meeting my own goals on my own time.