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

December 01, 2015
John Wight
From Iraq to Syria: Repeating a Debacle
Conn Hallinan
Portugal: the Left Takes Charge
Mike Whitney
Putin’s Revenge? The Fight for the Boarder
Sami Al-Arian
My Ordeal: One of America’s Many Political Trials Since 9/11
Bilal El-Amine
The Hard Truth About Daesh and How to Fight It
Pete Dolack
Solidarity Instead of Hierarchy as “Common Sense”
Dan Glazebrook
Rhodes Must Fall: Decolonizing Education
Colin Todhunter
Big Oil, TTIP and the Scramble for Europe
Eric Draitser
Terror in Mali: An Attack on China and Russia?
Gilbert Mercier
Will Turkey Be Kicked Out of NATO?
Linn Washington Jr.
Torture and Other Abuses Make Turkey as American as Apple Pie
Randy Shaw
Krugman is Wrong on Gentrification
Raouf Halaby
Time to Speak Out Against Censorship
November 30, 2015
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Embrace of Totalitarianism is America’s Dirty Little Secret
Omur Sahin Keyif
An Assassination in Turkey: the Killing of Tahir Elci
Uri Avnery
There is No Such Thing as International Terrorism
Robert Fisk
70,000 Kalashnikovs: Cameron’s “Moderate” Rebels
Jamie Davidson
Distortion, Revisionism & the Liberal Media
Patrick Cockburn
Nasty Surprises: the Problem With Bombing ISIS
Robert Hunziker
The Looming Transnational Battlefield
Ahmed Gaya
Breaking the Climate Mold: Fighting for the Planet and Justice
Matt Peppe
Alan Gross’s Improbable Tales on 60 Minutes
Norman Pollack
Israel and ISIS: Needed, a Thorough Accounting
Colin Todhunter
India – Procession of the Dead: Shopping Malls and Shit
Roger Annis
Canada’s New Climate-Denying National Government
Binoy Kampmark
Straining the Republic: France’s State of Emergency
Bill Blunden
Glenn Greenwald Stands by the Official Narrative
Jack Rasmus
Japan’s 5th Recession in 7 Years
Karen Lee Wald
Inside the Colombia Peace Deal
Geoff Dutton
War in Our Time
Charles R. Larson
Twofers for Carly Fiorina
John Dear
An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind
Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!