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
a response to the US saying, count sheep when you can’t sleep
By Anel Flores
I don’t know
where you got the idea
you were invited to this party
you tangled us up
in your shadowy breath
the smell of hot beer
you talked into my ear
your red eyes
your smile sly
as you look out to the side
like you looked at her
when you took her home
drunker than you were
to the table of butches
they didn’t laugh as deep as you
they didn’t laugh at all
but you slapped her on the shoulder
expected us to cheer you on
come on dude
who the fuck are you
you’re talking to the wrong man
my skin crawled
you laughed loud enough for everyone
she didn’t laugh at all
my chest fluffed
my neck got hot
I pushed down on my feet
to stand up
everything came back
the smell that came from his open pants
the shadow my body kneeled in
the way my head screamed sin
when he told me to open up
“o vas a quedar aquí, en mexico conmigo.”
in the desert I’m in
my soul folded
in my mouth
imagined my lips
thorned like mami’s rosas
and cut in him
imagined drinking a coca cola
next to a christmas tree
a woman in a business suit
smoking a thin
and a blond
since I never had one
of nice things
where there is water to drink
books to read
all I could do was believe
Until you slapped my back
and it all came back
in a different package
that nasty fucking smell
my throat gagging
my tongue growing into a knife
my feet on fire
my chest blowing up
and I laughed in your face
this isn’t a tiny bit of what it feels like to be treated like shit
now pick up your pants
before I cut off your fucking dick
your story makes us sick
we don’t give a shit
now tell me
where is this one
woman you tell of
from your drunken nights
we have a show for her delight
for some it may be fright
hold on tight
close your mouth
damn your breath
I’m gonna turn out the light
This City is a Poem. April 23, 2016. (http://sanantoniopoetics.tumblr.com/post/143282370909/nightmare)
I did not grow or grind the frijoles y tortillitas de maiz that built your strong bones, impenetrable panza and brown eyes lifetimes old:
only the water, the truth of letting pain wash away with the rain,
the coffee that tells secrets black and old,
the burning wood scent of your Mexican border once upon a time home.
From Piedras Negras where you first jumped in the river
to the refreshing waters of Yanaguana where you swam to me,
you are a sweet sour tough mesquite bean pod fallen from my abuela’s tree:
biting down, wooden limbs and feather soft green leaves dart out from my mouth and the wind blows in again.
Woman from Mexico, it’s not your fault you didn’t know
how two lifetimes ago I was a river and you were a hundred year old tree.
But the earth became too warm and I dwindled into a small stream, remembering your legs – and I drifted on
and on through another lifetime where I spotted you again passing by,
until I expired one last time, Mi Amor: I am a life for the third time
alive for the first, a raging ocean between my thighs and a moon reflection in my eyes.
By Anel I. Flores
For Erika A Casasola, my wife
inspired by Pablo Neruda’s Soneto V: Mañana
© Anel I. Flores 2015, All Rights Reserved
Photo Credit © Jorge Sandoval 2015, All Rights Reserved
I don’t know what it’s like to hold a baby in my hands that has just been born out of my womb, and unless my love Erika ever miraculously is able to fertilize one of my eggs, I will never know that miraculous feeling everyone talks about. I do know how important it is to be held by those you love but in my new years as a lesbiana Mami I have found it peculiarly challenging to express the affection and tenderness modeled to me by my parents and grandparents.
In 2005, after both my paternal and maternal grandparents had died, I was on a road trip down to visit some of our elders with my parents. Like when I was a child, I lay down in the backseat of my mom’s car, while my father drove. Mami had her petite legs and small feet on the dashboard and they both looked out onto the highway and held one another’s hands right above the parking break, on my mom’s purse which she put there to cushion. Being that the deaths of my grandparents all happened one after the other and all within just a few years, my parent’s cheeks were heavy and they both wore a sadness so wide it cast a shadow over their smiles and what used to be bright eyes. I was in out of sleep during our four and a half hour drive down to the Rio Grande Valley, passed the stubby palm trees I remember used to be as tall as the sky before the big freeze on 1983, and passed the five or so fruit stands which withered down from at least twelve since then as well. At one of the speed traps, I think in Falfurias, Mami asked my Dad to stop. I sat up to see if we were there yet and found us parked in the center of a big lot framed in king-size, bright-color, fuzzy blankets, strung up by a clothes line and swaying in the Gulf Coast wind. Mami hopped out of the car and Dad watched her do her thing. Wearing the same shoes he bought in Leon, Guanajuato 10 years before, it was clear Dad was not a shopper. Mami, on the other hand loved to shop and especially loved everything that was homey, or for the home, which is why we stopped to look at these huge cuddly blankets. I followed my mom who stared compassionately at the black Selena blanket with the late Tejana singer’s king-sized portrait printed on it in black and white fuzzy fabric. I stood behind my Mami, transfixed on the silly fantasy of the beautiful Selena cuddled up beside me in bed every night. She eventually walked away and stared intently at each blanket one by one as if she was among the grand halls of the MET, looking in on the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth century paintings of Soutine, Matisse or Picasso. She admired the cartoon blanket work of Betty-Boop and Hello Kitty, moved on to the Al Pacino blanket art of his portrait in burgundy, white and black threads, and than last and certainly not least, decided on a rose and creme colored blanket with the print of several enormous open roses collected on thorned branches and surrounded by mint green leaves. I saw a Laura Ashley knock-off but I didn’t dare tell my Mami that because she saw home. I was still standing in front of Selena when Mami motioned, with her waving arm and snapping finger, to the blanket salesman sitting in a nylon weaved blue folding chair I remember my dad had for fishing in the 80’s. The salesman stood up and briskly walked over to her in front of the rose blanket. They chatted and pointed in every direction until they finally pointed over at me. Almost immediately after their chat, the man walked away from my mom, peppy with a hop in his step, over to the back of a beaten up, white storage truck, threw open the door, slid down the ramps that seemed to slide right out from the bumper, and walked up into the darkness of the truck walls. Mami fumbled inside of her purse and through the million pockets that aligned the inside. The man walked down the truck ramp with one rose folded blanket wrapped in clear packaging in his right hand and another black folded blanket in his left hand, also wrapped in clear packaging. They made the exchange of folded bills and folded blankets, crossing a few words none that I could make out except the emotions of thanks expressed in the nodding up and down of each of their heads. When the exchange of goods was final, Mami turned to me with the giddy and teeth baring smile of a child, holding up the Selena blanket up closer to her chest so I could recognize her gift. I smiled with the exact same teethy joy and met up with her halfway between the walls of swaying blankets to help her walk both back to the car. Dad was happy mom was happy and after throwing our new blankets in the back, we continued on our trek to visit familia and hear a few last stories from our elders.
Back on the highway, I lay right back down in the back seat. My parents resumed their regular romantic handholding. Mami’s legs were again on the dashboard but this time instead of looking out the window rested her head back on the bucket seat and faced my father. Dad lifted his thick, brown, ranch hand and cupped her forehead heavily. Hollow sounding sobs fell out of her mouth. Dad dropped his hand over her heart and Mami continued to sob. The side of my face laying against the leather back seat slipped around and startled me into the same tears. Eventually Mami couldn’t hold herself up anymore and crouched her upper body down into a ball toward her knees, catching her tears on her lap.
I wanted to wrap Mami up in her new fuzzy blanket, and hold her like a spoon until she was able to catch her breath the same way she used to when I got spooked by the pale little girl ghost sitting at the end of my bed at night. There were even a couple times in my teenage years when I ran to her bed and was already too big to squeeze in between she and my Dad, so he would slip her a kiss, slide out of bed in his calsones and stumble to my room and my empty twin sized bed too short for his feet. I was lucky to have my mom hold me like a spoon when I was too old to be held.
Mami was still crying but after a few exits, lifted her body back up. My Dad murmured in a low voice and through tears of his own, “I know, honey. I know.”
“We aren’t anyone’s baby anymore,” my Mami said.
My throat tightened and I felt her loneliness and longing for the longest moment of my life.
At 64 both of my parents were longing to be held and cared fore like a baby again, to belong to their parents, but they had each died and left them like “orphans,” my Dad finally said.
I was lucky to have love and affection from both of my parents. Also lucky to have the same great gift of being babied from both of my abuelas and from all my tias.
Daddy stopped at a rest stop and I closed my eyes to pretend I was asleep. Both my Mami and Dad got down and I lay there feeling the abandonment they were feeling and wept the same. The memory of my head cradled in Buela’s lap asleep, on this same voyage to visit her nietos and primos, accentuated my sadness and craving to be babied. The car-doors re-opened and my sadness evaporated when Mami slowly and gently tossed the black Selena blanket, still folded in half because of its enormous size, passed my head and over my body. She leaned in over me, cupping her arms around my shoulders and kissing me more times than I was able to count all over my face, wet with tears and still pretending to be asleep.
Today, as a new mother my memory amplifies the importance of affection and the value of tucking in your baby to sleep, no matter their age. Unfortunately, the scars left on my memory from the inaccurate attacks I endured by television, radio, religion, teachers, co-workers and even family members, proclaiming that lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-people were perverted and disgraceful, affect my “affectionate” and loving nature. When I started teaching, thirteen years ago I remember an elder teacher and my assigned mentor told me, “Leave your door open all the time because for you it is even more dangerous to be left alone with a student,” meaning that I was more likely to have relations with them because I was gay. Every year I heard the same from teachers, even from other gay or lesbian teachers. Those years were so disheartening and surprisingly calloused my tender side.
This morning, in the midst of my writing, Big J, our sixteen year-old woke up on her own to study for a final exam she has in Geometry (summer school) and the calloused lesbiana Mami walked passed her on my way to the coffeepot and said, “good morning sweetness.” She reciprocated with a quiet and still drowsy smile. After returning to my desk, to review these words, I rekindled the tender Mami inside of me who kissed me all over my face even though she wished she was being kissed by her dead Mami on that very day when she realized she was no ones baby. I stood up and walked over to my new daughter to see her focus as hard as she could on her math, even so early in the morning. If I would of had a blanket I would have wrapped her in it and held her like a spoon until she fell asleep. But instead, I stood over her at the wooden kitchen table, scooped her upper body in my arms and kissed her little forehead over and over. Her body fell into mine and she rested with me, no doubt feeling as safe as I did in my Mami’s womb. Thanks to Erika, I was impregnated another way, with love, and finally I know the miraculous feeling of being a Mami.
© Anel I. Flores 2011, All Rights Reserved