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Posts Tagged ‘Chicano identity’

Jésucristo, retablo of Jesus Christ by Tesuque artist Juanito
Jimenez
, photo © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.



Where to begin? There are so many authoritative sources on the origins of the retablo that I dread trying to give a historical overview. Truth is, I don’t want to. I’ll make a deal, though. At the end of this post, I’ll provide a list of the books that will do exactly that — give anyone who’s interested everything there is to know about retablos.


I’d rather talk about the power of the retablo for Hispanic Catholics in New Mexico. Oh, and here I should clarify — retablos are not unique to my state. They came with the Spaniards during the conquest of the “New World,” then flourished during the colonization of indigenous peoples throughout what was then known as “New Spain.” But the making of devotional art in general — and the retablo, in particular — has thrived for centuries in New Mexico, passed on from generation to generation.

Well, there I go. I guess I can’t get away from at least giving a layperson’s understanding of the retablo. Devout Catholics (and devout believers in saints) in this part of the world use them both as art and for altars in our homes. We pray to them for anything and everything. The retablos depict Jesus, Mary, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, and many saints.

Through the centuries certain attributes persist in each depiction of a particular saint. For example, Santa Verónica. According to legend, she was so moved by the sight of Jesus on his way to Calvary that she pushed her way through the crowds to wipe the sweat and blood from his face. The towel she used was imprinted with his image, and so any time Saint Veronica is painted, she is shown with a cloth bearing Christ’s face.

Certain saints are intermediaries for certain needs. San Yisidro is the saint of the crops; he figures prominently in the Rio Grande Valley. Santo Niño de Atocha is the patron for freeing prisoners. He is believed to have power to perform miraculous rescues for any person in danger, especially from violent acts and for travelers. Mater Dolorosa is invoked for pain and sorrow.

There are patrons for most ailments — Santa Lucía for blindness and clarity; Santa Librata for help with burdensome husbands or unwanted suitors; Santa Ana for the old and mothers, both (it just dawned on me, she’d be ideal for old mothers like myself); San Antonio de Padua to find lost objects, including husbands for unmarried women. The list is endless.



   



For Valentine’s Day in 1998, when I was seven months pregnant with my youngest daughter, Jim came home from running errands. He had for me a retablo he’d bought from a folk artist who’d set up shop on a vacant lot in our then-neighborhood of Albuquerque’s barrio Griegos. The retablo was new but made to look old.

“That’s why I bought it,” Jim said. He told me the artist had lots of pieces to choose from but that this was the only one that looked ancient. The saint was male, holding a staff in one hand and a three-crowned object in the other and wearing a red robe and golden cape.

The name of the saint wasn’t written on the back of the wooden board, as on most of our retablos, but we found in barely discernable lettering near the figure’s robe this notation: San Ramón Nonatus.

Neither of us had heard of San Ramón Nonatus, so I went to my bookshelves and pulled down a book on saints. (Jim had gotten into the habit of giving me for most birthdays or holidays a new book on saints.) On page 131 of Mexican Folk Retablos by Gloria Fraser Giffords, I found the entry (this saint is also known as San Ramón Nonato). Here is what I read out loud to Jim:

His last name Nonatus — “not born” — commemorates his caesarean birth at the time of his mother’s death. For this reason, he is the patron of midwives and women giving birth.

I looked up from the book. Jim’s mouth was open. Being the types to faint at the sight of blood and the smell of hospitals, we had already decided to birth our baby at home, attended by a midwife. This wasn’t our first home birth, but because I’d been thinking about the challenges of labor with my first child (especially the pain) I had become anxious about this upcoming birth.

As it turns out, when the due date arrived, the umbilical cord was wrapped tightly around my babe’s neck. Our midwife guided me through pushing such that she could gently lift the cord around Em’s head between contractions. Em came out more purple than most newborns, but she was big and healthy and so very alive. She was perfect.



                     



I have over the years given up my faith in the institution of the Catholic Church, much like one finds that a particularly strong yearning has over time finally and quietly faded to nothing. I don’t mean to offend practicing Catholics; my father, some of my siblings, several nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends all attend mass each Sunday. Being who I am — pragmatic and at times challenging of authority — I simply reject the notion that celibate men can understand my particular troubles.

But I have faith in the personajes — Mary, Jesus, and the saints — of my Catholic upbringing. Perhaps that is why I surround myself with these images. So that every day when I wake up, I am reminded of the miracles and protections they provide in this world. And that I know, always, that everything will be OK.



Garden of Eden, retablo by Juanito Jimenez, photo © 2008
by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

 




Books I’d Recommend if You Want to Learn More:

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Alberto Gonzalofishe, former Attorney General (appointed by George W. Bush) depicted as a fish on a plaque, doodle © 2007 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.



-Inspired by PRACTICE: Fish Out Of Water – 15mins

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Alberto Gonzales, I see his round face, some vato I might see at El Camino Restaurant on Fourth Street, eating huevos rancheros. There he might be happy, light, maybe even Democrat, but up on stage, the television reporters talking over each other to ask him questions, poor señor Gonzales was like the proverbial deer. I saw his fear.

I don’t like Alberto, was happy when he resigned, but I do recognize one thing. A fish out of water.

Now that he’s gone I can wonder what it was like working with the Bushes and Cheneys. The privileged white people who know names like “Alberto” and “José” and “Juan” from their gardening help. I can imagine how Bush might have pronounced Alberto’s name. The long Al, the Bear, and the Toe. Al-Bear-Toe.

Or maybe Bush was used to his share of Albertos from the ranch in Crawford. Maybe his best laborers were brothers named Jesús and Miguel, and their cousin Alberto, and maybe Bush could get by with broken Spanish. Hell, his brother married a brown girl, for God’s sake, we love ‘em like family.

But this isn’t Alberto or Dubya or Jeb. Although I do like saying “Jeb.” This is me, I’m a fish, flopping around on the ground. Do I grow feet, do I flounder, what are my experiences?

I married a white guy, we call them “Anglos,” and his politics are good. Strong democratic family, a good family. Kind and compassionate. My husband says when he grew up he wanted to be American Indian. He catches fish with his hands. He’s a fish out of water, too, my husband, and one of the ornaments we have for our Christmas tree is a black sheep his mother knitted for him.

I went to the Albuquerque Country Club for lunch last week. It was an event my mother-in-law invited me to, something she wanted me to do. It’s complicated. I love her, really love this woman. I wanted to be there, to put on my best face. I’m beyond high school resentments, those Cleff brothers who called it Vato High. I’m grown up, a grown woman with children, for God’s sake. Nothing is as glib as when seen through the broken heart of an 18-year-old.

There, in the white linen tablecloth world of brown people taking care of white people, the club members with names like Baca and Gonzales, they’re mainstreamed now. Do they look in the eye of the thin brown vato walking past on his way to pull weeds so the sidewalk is free of debris?

Fish out of water, I grow lungs and legs and my scales get light. I attended a Hispanic Leadership Conference hosted by my company. I told a VP that I appreciated his embracing his “chicanismo,” and the guy looked at me and said he embraces his “puertoricanismo.” Take that, brown chica grown up in a white world, at least I have my own people, we eat our eses and reject all of it, especially your stale Reyes Tijerina revolution.

So adaptable. Like Alberto. We conform. Speak with zero accent. Use big words. Go to banquets, my God, I can straighten my hair in the name of a banquet. Too bad he is a Republican, and a nasty one at that. I might have felt sorrier than I did the morning I heard the news, the fish finally died.


-from Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – FISH OUT OF WATER

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what if merv were chicano?
Merv García, pen and ink and pencil on graph paper, doodle © 2007 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.



Merv Griffin: OK, my little pajaritos, do we have any requests?

Someone in audience: Y volver, volver, volver…

Someone else in audience: …a mis brazos otra vez…

MG: Coños, babies, come on, I’m not Al Hurricane…let me play you una cancioncita about my lovely bunch of coco-nuts…

Someone in audience: Al Hurricane? I thought you were Tony Bennett, oyé!

Someone else in audience: ¿Qué cosa Tony Bennett? ¡Oralé, he’s Engulburk Humperdink!


what if merv were chicano?what if merv were chicano?what if merv were chicano?what if merv were chicano?what if merv were chicano?


-Related to posts What If The Southwest Guy Were Chicano? and What If Madge Were Chicana?

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what if the southwest guy were chicano?

Southwest Guy: Oyé, ven aquí por tu regalo gratís…

Traveler: ¿Qué cosa gratís?

Southwest Guy: Es un t-shirt *muy* bonita…que te doy después de que you fill out esté application de tarjeta crédito…

Traveler: ¡No quiero un feo t-shirt de Southwest, hombre!

Southwest Guy: Espera, hombre, you can die it black, man, and wear it camping!


-Related to post What If Madge Were Chicana

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Musings of a Barrio Sack Boy, book by L. Luis LopezI first heard L. Luis López read his poetry a year ago at the Ghost Ranch “Coffee House.” Coffee House is an open-mic event held Thursday nights to highlight the diverse talents of that week’s participants. I remember Luis standing at the front of the large hall where Coffee House is held, clearing his throat before reading. The room got quiet, even the kids. As he read his voice rolled up-and-down in the sing-songy way los Chicanos de Nuevo México talk, especially when they’re back home with family.

When I went to Ghost Ranch this past week, I arrived at the open-air studio where my Hebrew Scripture Retablo workshop was taught and there at a table in the center of the room was Luis López. It turns out he not only writes poetry — he teaches a class on mythology and the night sky at Ghost Ranch, he’s taken traditional Spanish Colonial tinware for the past five years, and he was enrolled in the same retablo painting class that I was taking.

A year ago Luis read from his book Musings of a Barrio Sack Boy, which recalls his childhood, ages 6 to 16, in Albuquerque’s South Broadway neighborhood. This past week he read two new poems from a book yet to be published. He gave me permission to publish both poems on red Ravine. What strikes me about his words is their poignancy, their all-at-once sadness and humor.

The cadence in this first poem summons a certain sense of heaviness I imagine one might carry after years of seeing a family member live day-in-day-out with schizophrenia.



          Salvador Quintana
          (for Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra)
           by L. Luis López

          When on his meds, Salvador Quintana
          leaves Rosy his Chevy
          in the garage, walks to, sits
          at McDonalds,
          drinks coffee, eats apple pie, smokes
          a cigarette,
          drinks coffee, eats cherry pie, smokes
          a cigarette,
          drinks coffee, eats apple pie, smokes
          a cigarette.
          Salvador Quintana when on his meds.

          When off his meds, Salvador Quintana
          takes Rosy his Chevy
          out of the garage, drives to, sits
          at Joe’s Bar,
          drinks wine, eats chips, smokes
          a cigarette,
          drinks beer, eats peanuts, smokes
          a cigarette,
          drinks whiskey, eats sausage, smokes
          a cigarette.
          Salvador Quintana when off his meds.

          But this was not always Salvador Quintana.
          Before he was twenty
          he played center field for the Gold Sox,
          drew cartoons,
          made people laugh and laugh when
          he mimicked
          Cantinflas, Jerry Lewis, sang
          like Dean Martin or Little Richard,
          loved to dance,
          had his Dulcinea deep in his heart, had
          marriage in mind.
          This before twenty was Salvador Quintana.

          But his Dulcinea chose another,
          Dulcinea chose another,
          she chose another,
          chose another.

          Purity of love began to decay deep in his
          heart, anger festered deep
          in his brain,
          voice upon voice upon voice arose,
          unleashing word upon word,
          talking all at once, all at once, until

          something snapped, snapped
          in his head. He saw giants whirling
          on the horizon,
          saw fearsome knights
          riding out of the dark, dark woods,
          saw giants whirling on the horizon,
          heard from the voices
          that acid licked from the back of stamps
          would make the giants
          friendly,
          heard that sips
          of red liquid from the bottle
          would make fearsome knights
          riding out of the dark, dark woods kindly.

          I have known this Salvador Quintana
          forty years,
          I knew the other Salvador Quintana
          before he was twenty.
          I saw the change from that Salvador Quintana
          to the present Salvador Quintana.

          Today Salvador Quintana and I will
          leave Rosy his Chevy
          in the garage, we will walk to, then sit
          at McDonalds,
          drink coffee, eat apple pie, smoke
          a cigarette,
          drink coffee, eat cherry pie, smoke
          a cigarette,
          drink coffee, eat apple pie, smoke
          a cigarette.
          It’s Salvador Quintana’s birthday.
          I will celebrate with my brother on his sixtieth.



Luis prefaced this second poem by saying it was about his very critical father. Later, when Luis talked about his poetry during a break in our retablo class, he said writers often write about their parents as a way to deal with issues carried from childhood. This wasn’t that poem for Luis, although he has written a lot of poetry about his father. The following poem is light-hearted and captures, I think, a sense of acceptance.



          so I left him fuming
          by L. Luis López

          why do you come here from that South
          saying y’all
          and not hardly speaking no Spanish
          my Dad says

          you went away speaking good Engllish
          and good Spanish
          and
          now you come here with y’all and
          down the holler instead of alla
          or over there
          and I say Dad I just like
          to talk like where I am

          so now I will say ese and alla
          and to get more on his nerves said como esta usted y’all
          mon pere because I spent part
          of my South in Louisiana
          among the cajuns

          and he said I mean he really
          said nada and lit a Chesterfield
          and that meant he said nada
          even more
          so I left him fuming



I asked Luis about his path to becoming a poet. He told me he started writing at age 30 because he liked to describe the people around him. His first pieces were plays. He also wrote short stories before finally landing on poetry.

Luis told me he gets he gets up every morning at 4:30 and writes 2-3 hours. Every poem he writes by hand first then inputs it into the computer, and as he does so he begins the revision process. He said he loves revising his poems and knows when he’s done once the poem “clicks.”

Luis was born in Albuquerque in 1938. He currently lives in Grand Junction, CO, where he teaches English and Classical Languages at Mesa State College. He hosts a poetry writing and reading group that meets monthly at the downtown library. You can catch him at Ghost Ranch most summers, where you can watch the night sky with him or listen to him read his poems at Coffee House. Oh, and if you see Luis, make sure to ask him to show you his retablos. It turns out, he is a wonderful folk artist in addition to everything else.

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ese vato dude
Ese, vato, pen and ink on graph paper, doodle © 2007 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.


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