Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Brother Trini, 2006: D.E.P.

by Ralph Garcia, Houston

It was that time before the computer age when I would encounter Trinidad Sanchez, or as I came to call him, Brother Trini. Given his association with the Catholic Church and as a fellow Jesuit, our meeting was more of a divine inevitability--I as the assistant to the pastor at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church; he, advocating on behalf of the less fortunate.

There was a plan in motion to create a Chicano cultural facility, the end product the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center. Enter Trini. Sanchez joined our board of directors and served as its chair. There were countless planning sessions and debates conducted in San Antonio’s bars and cantinas, chief amongst them the Esquire and Tacoland.

One thing Trini taught me was never to admit being wrong in these negotiations. “Say: I regret this happened or that was done. But never apologize.” In the midst of all this, one day Trini up and left, to Chicago I believe.

Three decades later, out of curiosity and with the knowledge I obtained on the use of computers, I googled myself. Amongst the listing appears Trini’s web site. I am hesitant to contact him after so many years. A few weeks pass, and I finally E-mail him; he quickly responds about how long it has been. I often joked with him about how much poetry San Antonio had, telling him about the poetry groups organized around every subculture that existed. We spoke about him coming to Houston and the possibility of teaching at the local college, a real job.

Somewhere here my oldest sister Marie passes away from cancer. I write a piece dedicated to her. It’s about our younger days when we danced as a ballet folklorico team. I send a copy to Trini. He writes back about how it reminds him of going to the school sock hops, describing the polarity of boys on one side of the gym and girls on the other. He continues with the point of how the girls have the power to crush a young man’s heart, by simply saying no to a dance request.

Program monies are available and we ask if he will come to Houston to do a reading. We arrange a reception with local political dignitaries, including three city council members, two U.S. Congressmen, the county treasurer, and others. Scheduling an elite group like this becomes difficult in a town like Houston. The death of one elected official and other logistical problems delay the event. The elections pass and some of the hosts are no longer in office. We agree to bring Trini in anyway, as a presenter in the Latino Book Fair.

[Postcard of the proposed Sept. event, showing the sponsors]

The Book Fair itself is struggling to happen because Hurricane Katrina makes the convention center facility unavailable. Throughout this time Trini is hesitant about coming. Finally at the last minute he calls to let me know he’s coming and driving alone.

Trini arrives, and I offer to house him for the nights he will be here. Cinco de Mayo festivities are in full swing. About 7:00 p.m. I tell him we are going to eat and get some culture. We drive to Houston’s north side, one of the city’s oldest and most stable Mexican communities. I take him to Moody Park, site of the historic Moody Park riots in the late 70’s. We stop and view the original “Vaquero” statue of Luis Jimenez. Then we head to Doneriki’s Mexican Food Restaurant further down Fulton Street. Here the owner always provides entertainment during Cinco de Mayo.

As tradition, the restaurant is full and a line of people wait to be seated. Each year the owner removes tables from the center of the restaurant and sets up a temporary stage. One of the managers spots us and immediately waves to the waiters to place a small table directly in front of the stage area. As we make out way to the table we are greeted by waiters and others in the audience who are looking and pointing, wondering who we are to deserve this attention. I want to describe it as something you see in the movies, but it’s not. This is as real as life gets and something the movies try to replicate. We are so close to the stage, when the girls' skirts brush our faces when they swirl. After a plate of nachos and three rounds of beer we exit.

Outside, I introduce Trini to the manager and others. We offer our thanks and next go to Ray Ray’s (swear: the place has two Rays in it) Ice House. Here again there is a crowd listening and dancing to Tejano music. The owner Ray is introduced to Trini, and we consume two or three more rounds.

It’s getting late, ten or so, and on our way home we stop at the Harrisburg Country Club. It’s more of your neighborhood dive, owned and operated by two Vietnamese brothers. On tonight’s menu is a DJ with loud Tejano music. It is necessary to strategically seat yourself contingent on how much conversation you want to carry on. Again, I introduce Trini to the owners, and we have a couple more drinks.

Since Trini has to read the next day, we leave the Harrisburg, five minutes from my residence. At home I have no alcohol because I believe if one drinks alone that means you're an alcoholic. Trini gets out his backpack. We have this long discussion about recent passings of our friends and fellow artists, including Dr. Ricardo Sanchez, Jose Montalvo, and Rudy “Diamond” Garcia.

I tell him I had conversations with Montalvo, about death. I share with him some of the exchanges we had that I’ve never divulged to anyone else. I tell him I spent two days with Montalvo. He reminds me that when Montalvo rented off of Fredrickburg Road, how the doorbell to the apartment didn't work. Someone had penciled, “Neither does the tenant”. Montalvo had his trademarks: that black hat, his “A mí que?” bumper sticker. I told him Montalvo after many years of being an artist had met a woman, bought a house and life was going fine. His illness came and she left and once again he was alone. Trini said in the end Montalvo was nothing but anger.

I ask Trini what was really going on in his life and he tells me. He then to read from his book of poems--me, the private audience. Again it’s one of those things the movies can't replicate.

Next day Trini is off to the Book Fair and tells me he’s gonna stay at the home of another poet, Later that day I went to the Book Fair and find Trini in the company of Victor Vega and Lorenzo Cano, two other seldom recognized do-gooders. I realize how we as a collective, off and on have helped to change the world.

[A doodle done while on the phone with Trini. He was always at poetry group meetings--Fathers without Children Poets, The Sleeping Giant, Enchilada Vendor Poets, the list seemed endless. San Antonio must be the Mecca for Latino poets.]

I am beginning to understand his poetry. It’s about self and worth. I was just beginning to understand him. After this I hear no more from Trini. In a couple of days, I call and find him in San Antonio. He thanked me for everything. He also tells me how he saw so many people, writers he had not seen in a long time. He tells me, “Write, just write."

Our conversations continue mostly via e-mail. Trini seems to have gotten back to his beeline schedule, seldom home. He talks about pool parties at his residence, about his woman returning from Denver. We talk about another engagement in September.

Then comes the devastating news, the stroke, his death. I received many e-mails and articles. I was asked to write a piece in his memory, but I said no, because I say there are so many others that are much better at writing. Maybe someday Hollywood will replicate him in a movie. I remain doubtful.

Hermano Trini: descanse en paz.

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