FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Alejandro Escovedo’s By the Hand of the Father

by SUSAN MARTINEZ Click Here For A Spanish Translation By Oscar Sarquíz.

Click Here for a Spanish Translation by Oscar Sarqu?z.

I was the first baby delivered in spanish in Bakersfield, California, by Dr. Ramirez at Greater Bakersfield Memorial Hospital. My father recorded the event on reel to reel tape, and he played it for me once. Actually, he played it for me several times, but I could only bear to listen to it once, the sound of my first song followed by his sobs of happiness, then he and Dr. Ramirez congratulating each other as if they’d done all the work.

Dr. Ramirez was Venezuelan but had been raised in Massachusetts, in english, with his mother’s family. He wanted to find his hispanic heritage and therefore started with language, by taking a night school course. My father, chicano, taught him to speak, read, and write spanish, and Dr. Ramirez in turn coached my white mother through pregnancy with such revolutionary ideas as preparing juice and instant milk with fluoridated water from the drug store, so that I would have strong teeth. My birth was his first step in providing health care to spanish-speaking people in Bakersfield.

I told my mom, when we talked about the details of this, that he’d delivered the right kid. She hadn’t thought of it that way, but that has always been the struggle between us: she sees my hispanic heritage as novelty, not central to my soul. Our struggle crosses the bounds of generation, race, and geography.

My parents divorced 5 years after my birth and I was raised in New Jersey, in english, with my mom’s side of the family — not unlike Dr. Ramirez. Thousands of miles from me, my father was a champion of bilingual education, but at my school no one could pronounce my last name, not even my high school spanish teacher.

This is the Cliff Notes of my life, and there is a longer version but the soundtrack to my story is already composed and arrived in the mail on a CD last week. “By the Hand of the Father” is the music and selected stories from the theatre-work created by Alejandro Escovedo in collaboration with playwrights Theresa Chavez, Eric Gutierrez and Rose Portillo. The play and music explore the relationships between immigrant fathers and their children, but the CD could also be the sonic companion to my journey as a woman staking a claim where race and culture are defined — and undefined — by the migration of time, boundaries, and blood.

“By The Hand of the Father” is not just about the border, and I don’t mean any disservice by saying that, because the lyrics and imagery are tangible and fragrant, among the most exquisite poetry I have ever heard. “On the border of a new age, I have a foot in each century. But when time was measured differently and borders had another meaning, my father had a foot in each country, where the mud on each boot caked the same and the dirt sifted the same through each hand and the earth had but one scent.” This is the music of contradiction and resolve, of carrying twice the story instead of clutching a history half-lost. It is a landscape populated by guitars and fathers who bury their sons; by violins and lovers swept up in Italian waltzes at the Aragon ballroom; by the mourning of a cello as a daughter wonders what makes her father’s hand suddenly strike… it is the man who cries after a lifetime of marriage that he wasn’t a saint but he stayed. These are the songs of defending your identity, even to your own parents. I am not the first child in my father’s family brought into the world in spanish, more likely I was the last; nor am I the first of a wave of Mexican-Americans: my father’s family has lived in the same area of the west where it is the nation’s border that has migrated, not just the people. Mom bristles when I remind her that though her side of the family settled New England, dad’s side was here first. When my great-great-grandfather traveled west to find gold, he cut through my other great-great-grandfather’s sheep pasture and silver mine to get there.

“We met at a point in space and passed off a genetic code, a hand to hand return to earth. Two separate bodies, two separate minds under one roof. And when you leave this earth we will return to that point for just a moment, our two bodies becoming one continuous line til we float away from each other, two bright signals across a bright universe transmitting a message in pure silence.”

My father died 15 years ago and it is too late to ask him questions I did not know to ask when I was young. He cannot tell me his stories one more time; it is up to me to remember them as best I can and pass them to the next generation in all of their pain and beauty, his cries of “my heaven, my blue-eyed heaven” when I took my first breath just part of a continuous line with whatever I say next.

Susan Martinez lives in Berkeley. This essay originally appeared in Rock and Rap Confidential.

She can be reached at: sebm9@earthlink.net

February 09, 2016
Andrew Levine
Hillary Says the Darndest Things
Paul Street
Kill King Capital
Ben Burgis
Lesser Evil Voting and Hillary Clinton’s War on the Poor
Paul Craig Roberts
Are the Payroll Jobs Reports Merely Propaganda Statements?
Fran Quigley
How Corporations Killed Medicine
Ted Rall
How Bernie Can Pay for His Agenda: Slash the Military
Neve Gordon
Israeli Labor Party Adopts the Apartheid Mantra
Kristin Kolb
The Greatest Bear Rainforest Agreement? A Love Affair, Deferred
Joseph Natoli
Politics and Techno-Consciousness
Hrishikesh Joshi
Selective Attention to Diversity: the Case of Cruz and Rubio
Stavros Mavroudeas
Why Syriza is Sinking in Greece
David Macaray
Attention Peyton Manning: Leave Football and Concentrate on Pizza
Arvin Paranjpe
Opening Your Heart
Kathleen Wallace
Boys, Hell, and the Politics of Vagina Voting
Brian Foley
Interview With a Bernie Broad: We Need to Start Focusing on Positions and Stop Relying on Sexism
February 08, 2016
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Privatization: the Atlanticist Tactic to Attack Russia
Mumia Abu-Jamal
Water War Against the Poor: Flint and the Crimes of Capital
John V. Walsh
Did Hillary’s Machine Rig Iowa? The Highly Improbable Iowa Coin Tosses
Vincent Emanuele
The Curse and Failure of Identity Politics
Eliza A. Webb
Hillary Clinton’s Populist Charade
Uri Avnery
Optimism of the Will
Roy Eidelson Trudy Bond, Stephen Soldz, Steven Reisner, Jean Maria Arrigo, Brad Olson, and Bryant Welch
Preserve Do-No-Harm for Military Psychologists: Coalition Responds to Department of Defense Letter to the APA
Patrick Cockburn
Oil Prices and ISIS Ruin Kurdish Dreams of Riches
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, the UN and Meanings of Arbitrary Detention
Shamus Cooke
The Labor Movement’s Pearl Harbor Moment
W. T. Whitney
Cuba, War and Ana Belen Montes
Jim Goodman
Congress Must Kill the Trans Pacific Partnership
Peter White
Meeting John Ross
Colin Todhunter
Organic Agriculture, Capitalism and the Parallel World of the Pro-GMO Evangelist
Ralph Nader
They’re Just Not Answering!
Cesar Chelala
Beware of the Harm on Eyes Digital Devices Can Cause
Weekend Edition
February 5-7, 2016
Jeffrey St. Clair
When Chivalry Fails: St. Bernard and the Machine
Leonard Peltier
My 40 Years in Prison
John Pilger
Freeing Julian Assange: the Final Chapter
Garry Leech
Terrifying Ted and His Ultra-Conservative Vision for America
Andrew Levine
Smash Clintonism: Why Democrats, Not Republicans, are the Problem
William Blum
Is Bernie Sanders a “Socialist”?
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
We Can’t Afford These Billionaires
Enrique C. Ochoa
Super Bowl 50: American Inequality on Display
Jonathan Cook
The Liberal Hounding of Julian Assange: From Alex Gibney to The Guardian
George Wuerthner
How the Bundy Gang Won
Mike Whitney
Peace Talks “Paused” After Putin’s Triumph in Aleppo 
Ted Rall
Hillary Clinton: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Gary Leupp
Is a “Socialist” Really Unelectable? The Potential Significance of the Sanders Campaign
Vijay Prashad
The Fault Line of Race in America
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail