Video by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
Video by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
Video by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
Eight different stories were told to an intimate group at the Central Library Thursday night, but a collective story of struggle for space, freedom through art, and perseverance was told. In the section of the library that will soon be known as the Latino Studies Collection Space, dozens listened to local and national Latino artists, scholars, activists, educators, […]
Photo Credit: by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
When I left home at 17, I searched tirelessly to find a home that combined my Tejana upbringing of musica, asadas, cervezas and dancing with my lesbian world which at the time looked more like white girls in khaki cargos singing love songs to Melissa Etheridge. I longed to connect the warmth of the familia I once celebrated with to my lesbian world, because they were absent during this time and not supportive of my coming out. I drank myself to numbness on most nights, and searched and searched for the feeling of family everywhere. Finally, in the corner of a bar, one day a week, on San Antonio’s gay drag, within the walls of Petticoat Junction on Main St, I found a space where I could be tejana and lesbiana for the first time. It was 1995-2000 and it was in this bar that I daydreamed I would one day dance with my mother there, tenderly, the way we danced to cumbias and romancias in the kitchen. I learned how to love from her. I learned how to bidi bidi bom bom and cumbia in her arms. But, I knew during that time it would be years and years until we danced together again. “The Next Song” is my daydream of meeting my first love, my mami, in the first place where I felt complete, in the Tejana lesbian bar on Main St one night a week.
This piece is dedicated to my Mami who has worked very hard to make sure I have everything I need and who has taught me to stand up for my convictions- even if we don’t agree on everything. And to all mujeres who lose thier mami when they come out, she will come around one day.
The Next Song
Ruby probably served me one too many drinks because she knew my garage apartment was one block south of here, and I’d more than likely stick with them after closing for our usual 3:00 am Mr. Taco feast.
I barely saw you across the room, but in the corner of that dimly lit bar the jeweled details of your tejana shirt reflected off the three-colored light fixture pointing towards the dance floor. What were you doing there? Wasn’t it too late for you to be away from home? The smell of forty-year-old throw up should have been enough to keep you out of this old bar.
It always felt like I was standing under the exit sign at one of those weddings in a Catholic school gym, like the one your prima’s daughter threw just recently in San Benito. It smelled the same there, like sweat, old cigarettes and beer mixed together. The music was the same, and the color and density of the fog machine smoke in the air was the same. Except here, women were dressed like the viejos from the wedding, in black tejano hats and tight jeans. And instead of giving me asco, these Tejanos put the aaaaaaa in Tejana when I stared at their tipping hips moving back and forth across the dance floor with another Tejana in their hands.
Tejana dyke night at the bar brought me the closest to feeling like all of me: lesbian, Chicana and Tejana. But after each long night, I always drove back to my apartment alone, with the same knot in my throat I had when I backed out of your driveway for the last time, leaving home three weeks after my seventeenth birthday. You found out from a phone call my lips kissed your friend’s daughter’s lips. You said I could spend the night over there to study. And, we were studying at first, but then we kissed and her mom walked in. After you hung up the phone the next morning, you looked through me like I wasn’t there. I got the hint and got myself out of there, out the backdoor, out of the driveway and to the bar.
In between drinks, I saw you out of bed and in my home, my bar. You weren’t wearing what I imagined you’d be wearing. I was used to seeing you dressed in Sunday, church spring colors and flowy material. At the bar that night, you went beyond my expectations by not only joining me here but by also dressing the part in dark jeans, botas picudas and a pressed shirt. Do you remember when you used to take me to your friend’s baby showers and barbecues? I would dress in pastel colors and linen to please you. I guess you realized how important it was to return the favor. Thank you.
At the tejana bar it was hard to see the details of your shape because of the thick smoke soaked air, but it was easy to hear your rumbling heartbeat because it pumped at the same speed and volume as mine, through the jumbled wiry ritmo of the dj jams.
Pairs of girls, one small and round, the other tall and slim, in one another’s arms stepped on, passed you with one step, then another, brushed briskly against the floor, a third step, and again, over and over. Neither you nor I tired of watching the women dance around the floor in a large circle, following the shuffle of one another’s feet. While I wished the women were you and me dancing in the kitchen like we used to, you were mesmerized by the newness of two mujeres. I understood your curiosity.
I raised my short glass of undressed Tres Hermanas tequila, took a slow sip and choked at the sight of a girly-girl tejana ass crookedly swing by, all alone. If you wouldn’t have been there I’d chase after her myself, but that night you were the one I had my eye on.
I would’ve enjoyed you much better closer on the stool beside me. Instead, I talked to you telepathically, tapping my leg to the beat, but you didn’t get the hint and come over. With your face behind the smoke I tried to pick out your heartbeat between Selena’s “Techno Cumbia,” audio-mixed chords, soft steps and smooth glides of the dancers parading in front of me, but I picked up my own heartbeat instead, beating faster than the song and the steps, faster than both rhythms combined. The overlapping of dancers covered you. My right palm was sweating and my left one could hardly hold my drink. I tried to see you, squinted my eyes, bobbed my head around between the small space of their legs or under their arm during a turn, but only was able to make out the milky white of your cheekbone, high and thin. Even when I thought I could see you, you were not there and it became hard to believe the smoke was the only thing blocking my view to you. Did you have any idea I was there? I saw you fan the landscape with your eyes, searching. That bar was the last place I wanted to be seen by you, Mami. I came to the Petticoat Junction on Main. St. to combine my worlds, my worlds of Tejana and Lesbiana. I imagined what I would say if I could go up to you, “It’s just like Ninfa’s wedding last summer! Remember, you watched me closely to make sure I didn’t reveal any hints of my girlfriend and gay friends back home? Why were you in the corner of this bar trying to combine the two worlds, like I do?
The dance floor spread under us. “Do you want to dance?” You gave me your hand. The other toddling dancers circled around us, amazed at our kitchen-mastered moves. My chest pressed forward, the way Papi normally held you, and my cheek leaned against yours. Your dark red, wide smile chilled and warmed me. Mouths hung open around us. The sharp women with their hair cut short on the sides and long in the back let go of their women, and held onto their gold and silver buckles hoping you’d please them next with your hand. Your face of many years and legs that have walked and kicked up many miles stirred everyone, including me. The simplicity of your stance, the not so simple lines of your open child bearing hips, your pancita rolled into a perfect bolillo, and the grace of your feet across the dance floor, built your austere body into a bronze statue. I pressed my hand firmly against your back and kept dancing until Ruby yelled, “last call.”
An excerpt from my book, Empanada: a Lesbiana Story en Probaditas.
To purchase the book, go to: Korima Press
Flores, Anel. “The Last Song.” Empanada. San Francisco / Austin: Korima & Evelyn Street Press, 2012.
Incredible reading with some hardcore Tejanas!
(*Find me at 39 minutes!)
March 31, 2016
The CSRC was pleased to welcome Inés Hernández-Avila and Norma Elia Cantú, the editors of “Entre Guadalupe y Malinche: Tejanas in Literature and Art” (University of Texas Press, 2016) for selected readings by contributing poets Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Inés Hernández-Avila, Norma Elia Cantú, Anel I. Flores, Emmy Pérez, Maria Herrera Sobek, and Juanita Luna-Lawhn.
This event was co-sponsored by the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, LGBT Studies Program, and the UCLA César E. Chávez Department of Chicana/o Studies.
To learn more about the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, please visit: http://www.chicano.ucla.edu
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by Stephen Miller
photography by Mario Gutierrez