Saturday, December 20, 2014

Different Chicano stocking stuffers

If you forgot stuff to stuff stockings with, try cutting up and using these memorias:
Not mine, but maybe...
"Traíste mis Kreesmas?" My abuela would say those words, pronouncing the last one like I spelled it, with a very long E sound. It was the closest that an old india-mexicana could do to melt into the pot of conquered south Texas. She was asking if I'd brought her a Christmas present, maybe wondering whether I'd forgotten her.

Her chemistry and electricity passed into the ether long before I was old enough to gift her anything of value, and I only wish I'd spent more time chatting at length with her, like I did towards the end, hers, not mine. I still think it's one of the cutest things--an old person asking about "mis Kreesmas," a heavy Spanish-laden accent that goes back even further in history to the time before the Olmecs. Before there was a Xmas.
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The most memorable Kreesmases when I was young were those held at my abuela's house. All the tíos would come and the primos and, sometimes, relatives that we didn't even know we had. The abuelo died early, from cirrhosis and spending months or years away from abuela, that she always forgave him for, and took him back. In between his stopovers, abuela filled in her life with El Otro, whatever current man had moved in that she's hooked up with. El Otro's name changed, but there was usually one there. Especially on Kreesmas mornings when cabrón Tío Jesse would wake us all up at 5 or some unnatural hour. To open presents that we'd already opened. His family lived in Colorado, so they rarely came, but it was a treat to see the out-of-state cousins. I don't remember El Otro ever getting one, though abuela probably gave him late night treats.
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Tamales. Every Chicano family always makes tamales for the holiday, right? (Actually, not if they're cheap enough to buy, which they no longer are in Denver.) Over the years, our families had also cooked other things. Argentinian empanadas, fried or baked, buffalo burger or of cualquier cosa. Or albóndigas soup or tons of burritos, on occasion. The type of food didn't matter. It was the communal, tribal means of production that made the cooking enjoyable.
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Not one of mine.
Gingerbread houses. I loved making those, once upon a time. Not gringo gingerbread houses, but adobes or Zuni pueblos or barrio dioramas with Homie figurines. When I was a teacher, I'd make one for my class and let them play with it, destroy it (not always just the boys) and eat their hearts out, diabetically. I'm thinking of trying a new type, less diabetic-inducing and healthier, out of corn meal. Maybe with some Homies and other knickknacks I have around. I'll post a pic, if it happens.
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Possibly my best Krismas as a teacher was when a first-grade class got a visit from Greg Allen-Pickett, a teacher-friend who'd guided my wife and I through Yucatan on a previous Krismas. My class of mostly immigrant students knew Santa would visit the room because I'd arranged it with Greg who had his own outfit. When this near-seven-foot man of broad shoulders and build entered the room, in costume, the kids were delighted. When they tugged on his huge white beard, they were surprised to learn it was real! But, when he spoke Spanish to them better even than their regular teacher, they were astounded. Greg left the state, and I left teaching. However, I doubt the memory of the most realistic, bilingual Santa ever left them.
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Definitely not gentry
My gentrified barrio has dark corners revealing who's a gentry just living here temporarily, as an investment, who's the Chicanos with families, and who are those in transition. No Xmas decorations? A transient investor or a Chicano widower whose kids rarely visit. A few decorations? A really poor Chicano family or gentry who might be identifying their neighborhood as a home. Chingos of decorations? A hipster-rich gentry or abuelos with lots of kids and grandkids who do visit them. I'm stereotyping, but it gives you an idea of why I'm not overjoyed by the 7 out of 10 bare-front houses on my block.
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Most of you might know that author Reyna Grande is spending the holidays in Iguala, Guerrero, where the 43 students were disappeared. It was her hometown that she trekked north from, as described in her books. She recently raised more than $5k for toys and food to present to the people of the village she left decades ago. It's like she's playing Santa, among some of the poorest people in the world, with some of the most minimal facilities, and walking around every corner wondering who might lurk to disappear you. Hopefully, she'll provide La Bloga with an extended report after she returns. I imagine that the only thing better than reading it will have been accompanying her. I'm sure that waiting list is longer than Santa's.
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Now that my two siblings are in their 30s, and wife Carmen has mellowed, neither bunch pays much attention to this father's ideas. But once upon a time, I'd come up with different gift-giving ideas. "No gift over $20," when I knew they had no money. "Everybody make gifts to give instead of buying any," when they were all young enough to have fun doing that. "Save newspaper comics to use as wrapping paper instead of buying any" was one of my better ones I still try to practice. There were other ideas, but I've forgotten them. Not sure how many more Krismases there will be, for me, but I won't run out of ideas, even if I run out of believers.
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Ya son muchos años that I had this asshole boss. One Xmas night, he took his young kids and his 38 Special outside. Shot into the sky. Told them he'd killed Santa Claus. He said they cried but they stopped believing, which was his intention. Go figure. He wasn't a Chicano guy. Chicanos shoot their 38s on New Year's Eve night.
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I'm completing work with dramatist Jose Mercado, on my first stage play, Los Doce Días de Mis Krismas. (I needed help since my two CU-Denver college classes mostly taught me professors were superior to any student's work or thoughts.) Some of you have read the story on La Bloga, as a radio script, but Mercado formatted it for a play and says it's funny now. I thought it was before. After it's officially copyrighted, I'll get it out in the world, however that's done. And maybe you'll get to see it one Krismas. It's even funnier than Jose thinks.
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The "American" gift-giving around Krismas makes less sense the longer I live. Stuff to fill an assumed obligation is no gift; it's some type of duty that lacks the spirit of. This ironically reminds me of the year I made umpteen individualized, riding horse sticks for  nephews and nieces. The kind that's like a horse head on a pole, and you ride it around using your leg-power, dragging the bare end of the stick over the polished wood floor or carpet. The kind my generation had when we were kids. They were cool. The ones I made went over like Obama's Cuban announcement at Rubio's Xmas party. A couple of kids tried riding them, looking for the gas pedal or the electronic display, but most of my creations soon found themselves in the attic or garage or Goodwill pile. I should have been crushed; they'd taken weeks of cutting wood, sanding, painting and decorating. Which turned out to be the most fun they provided anyone.
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Whenever I go to Mexico or even a poor neighborhood in the U.S., I inevitably see little kids playing with a lot less than electric Hummers they can ride or remote drones they can spy with. Instead, I've seen little girls in raggedy clothes stirring the ground with a twig, making designs, drawing scenes or imagining future paths. Or a couple of boys sorting rocks of different sizes, maybe preparing their teams or armies for a slaughter. Kids don't need stuff; they need opportunity for their imaginations, time to explore and discover the world's wonders.
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In that spirit, below are the opening paragraphs to my first children's story in English, that three bilingual publishers have already decided should be put where the wooden horses are gathering dust. I made copies of the tale for people who helped me with it and for relatives who have small kids. It may not have happened on a day that would become our Krismas, but it's my attempt to capture the wonderment that children find in the world, instead of in stuff. I hope it provides you with a touch of the same. Es todo, hasta que recibes tus Kreesmas. - RudyG

* * *
The legend of Sleeping Love begins in the most ancient times on the Central Continent. For the hundred members of a tribe of First People, a day of marching and foraging seemed like it would end as countless others had.
Instead, dozens of the boys and girls suddenly sprinted far ahead. On the mountaintop, they stopped. Only a little of the cold penetrated their animal-skin clothes, and their run had warmed them. They shaded their eyes against the low sun, and what they saw, steamed them up. Hopping around like crickets, they screamed, "Grand Ta, Grand Ta, come look at it all!"
As Grand Ta shuffled faster, his chest filled and he sensed it glowing. He thought, Almost makes me cry whenever they want to share their discoveries with an old man. Smiling, he patted his wrinkled cheek. Ah, nothing smooths out this turtle skin, anymore. Sweeping back his rabbit hair cloak, he accidently passed it directly through his nagual. The mountain lion-spirit growled a friendly warning at him. Too bad no one else can see or hear you, huh, my faithful companion. Its growl turned to a purr.
When he reached the youngsters, he let himself hope. Maybe we finally found it. They let him through and dozens of fingers pointed. At gigantic ahuehuetl cypress trees holding up the sky. Over an endless, deep-green valley full of wonders. He was so amazed, he couldn't hear every child.
"See, Ta, see?" He saw armadillos escaping into the underbrush. Children saw the hunter, a spotted ozelotl jaguar. They heard it cough-grunt, and they got the giggles from trying to imitate it.
"Look at them!" The youngsters saw dancing pieces of rainbow, which they playfully mimed. Grand Ta saw red-green-blue-feathered parrots and quetzals crossing the rainforest
"Just listen to those!" Scores of ozomatli monkeys swung from branch to branch. They chattered in funny tongues, making the children giggle louder. Grand Ta also caught the giggles.
He thought, This land is so bewitching, they could forget our Ancestors and their teachings. I will be remembered as a worthy Elder only if I use this moment to strengthen their minds and hearts. When they were out of wind, he signaled for the children to gather where he had started a sacred circle. Adults moved aside and stayed back.
The young people sat and squeezed one another's hands. They hoped there would be time to play before night fell, but they could wait a little longer. The tribe had been traveling for thousands of years and even more miles. Searching for a prophet's vision….

[I'll give you a hint: it wasn't a shining star.]


Sandra Ramos O'Briant said...

Feliz Navidad, Rudy. There's a golden nugget of stories w/your abuela's lovers. A chapter for each guy. Of course, you'd have to fictionalize it, but that's the great thing about memories and writing. Sometimes we manage to make the fantasy better than what really happened.

Anonymous said...

I tried to get things like that from her towards the end of her time here, but no fue suficiente.
I wouldn't try, at least romantically or erotically, to make it as good fictionally as she led her mysterious life. - RudyG

Sylvia Riojas said...

Congrats on completing the play! There's nothing more thrilling than seeing your work come to life on stage; I hope it happens for you. Try entering it in contests.

Also, the story about children playing with what they have struck home. My favorite toys included acorns and daisies as well as as bits of colored wire. I had Barbie, too, but that was more about the clothes than about making up stories for her!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Sylvia. You might want to try out for a role in the play. :) - RudyG

Rebecca Grace said...


I am way behind in going through my email so I just saw you blog post, but it really took me back to my own family. In my case it was my grandfather (he spent his last years living with us) who used to ask about Kreesmas. But I also remember those great old days before my grandmother died when all the relatives (and plenty of primos) gathered at her house. My grandfather played the violin and my dad played the guitar and we would all dance.

We didn't make tamales, but we always made empanadas. We still have the meat grinder my dad used.
Thanks for sharing your memories. I hope you and your family had a great Christmas.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Rebecca Grace, many memories, many suave. Be warm, fed and content this winter. Come spring, roar back. Feliz, RudyG