Tuesday, November 20, 2012
My new book, "Songs From the Barrio" is now available at https://www.createspace.com/3902152. It is the culmination and distillation of an idea that festered in me for many years. I started writing when I was a young soldier in Germany in 1963. I had no idea then where it would take me. But I knew I wanted to write!
And here it is at last! Here I am at 74 and publishing my first book, proving that you are never to old to realize your dreams! But it is well that it all worked out the way it did, but I almost missed the boat; I have finally aquired all the the tools to do it with: experience, writing skill, a good memory, and the inherited gift of story-telling passed to me by my ancestors.
The stories in my book tell of a people, a time and place of which only remnants remain. They began as a series of disjointed stories I wrote about my childhood, growing up in a Mexican barrio in Central California in the middle of 20th Century, stories and poems of escapades and the amazing people I grew up around, Mexican immigrants who had so much to teach, to give. After reading my stories to audiences for years, and hearing them react: laugh, cry and applaud in approval, I began to toy with the idea of putting them all into a book.
Above all, it is a story about the beauty of culture, language and tradition. Much of the book tells of my mother, who married at 15 and emigrated to the US with my dad in the early 1920s and her detemination to single-handedly raise a family of 7. It is a story of triumph, my own and of a people estranged from their language and culture, finding their rightful place in an alien world.
If you read and enjoy it, share it with friends and family, and take a precious moment to share comments on this blog. If you read and enjoy it, take a moment to post a short "review" by clicking on my book at Amazon.com.
It is NOW available on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com and Kindle. Teachers: please look at it for a possible reader in your class. I believe the reading level to be 7-college. I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. I have a discount code for orders of 20 or more copies.
Thursday, November 1, 2012
Some years ago my mother-in-law, and brother- in-law visited us here in Stockton from Mexico City. In the midst of the usual small talk, I said something to the effect that I considered myself “Mexican.” “No, tu no eres Mexicano”, she said. “Yes, I am,” I countered. “No, you are not. You are an American,” she insisted. “But both of my parents were Mexican!” “That doesn’t make any difference. To be Mexican, you would have had to be born in Mexico.” Worse, I expected my cuñado to come to my defense, but he just acquiesced. “She’s right, Richard. You were born here, so you are not Mexican.”
I was deeply hurt. Angry. Yes, I was born “ here”, but I had always considered myself Mexican. The idea that an arbitrary line in the sand, nay a cyclone fence, could designate my ethnicity infuriated me! In my day, we had no designations like Mexican-American, Latino, Hispanic. The word Chicano was bantered about, but it was a cautionary term, loaded with a enchilada-full of negative connotations: “Don’t you know that Chicano means "Chingádo?” Mexicans would ask incredulously. Having learned my lesson, I wouldn’t dare use it to call myself around my suegrita, and cuñado, or any Mexican. Later on, of course, the label took on some measure of respect.
I mean, what did these people want from me? My parents were both from Mexico. I speak Spanish (though minced), I eat tortillas and frijoles, I love chíle, and Menudo; I listen to Pedro Infánte, Jorge Negréte, and laugh at the caustic lines of Cantínflas. I too go bananas when I hear a Mariachi strike up, and savor a shot of tequila con limon y sal. I can play a guitar, sing corridos and rancheras, and even a bolero or two? I listen to Ignacio Lopez Tárzo and totally get him. One time, I even peed alongside Cuco Sanchez in the men’s room during a concert in Mexico City, for Pete’s sake! So what if I happen to speak English, too, through no fault of my own? Don’t hold that against me.
To me, being Mexican ought to be a thing of the heart, El Corazón. Or something in one’s blood, sangre. Strangely, Americans had no problem calling me “Mexican”, including some of my teachers when I was a kid. During the 40s, when some of us were ashamed or too embarrassed to call ourselves Mexican, we opted for being “Spanish”, a word we deemed had more class.
Oddly, I wound up becoming a Chicano/Mexican Studies teacher in college and my job was to teach about culture, in our case, Mexican culture and history and how it impacted who and what we immigrants of that culture have become, and how that fits into our amazing Melting Pot. Luckily, I knew about it first hand, not just from a book. Even students from Mexico or Latin America were amazed with what they learned about “their culture” in my classes.
As if in a final, sweet twist of irony, Marina, one of my Mexican students, an immigrant, raised her hand in class one day saying, “You know, Mr. Rios, I find it ironic that I was born and raised in Mexico and had to come to the United States to learn about my culture!” Asi es.