Thursday, September 16, 2010

Le Echo de Menos, Abuelita

  My Mom and Grandma (Abuelita)
September 2004

In the Spring of my freshman year of college, I was given an assignment to choose a subject of importance to me that related somehow to the areas of Humanities we had learned about in my English class.  I chose to write about my Grandmother (on my mother's side) and was granted a rare opportunity to spend the weekend with her, listening to her tell stories, share memories, and reference books, articles, and other personal momentos she had placed on shelves or in drawers years ago.  It was a fantastic weekend.  One that I will never forget.  From that weekend, I wrote the following report for my college class.  In memory of my wonderful Abuelita, on this, what would have been her 93rd birthday, I share this story and the history I learned that memorable weekend...

Everyone has something that is dear to them. Whether a movie, a person, a song, an event, they each have their own individual significance to our lives. And each of these things relates to other aspects of a person's life in one way or another. It just so happens that my grandmother relates to my English class in college. The entire semester we have learned about several different areas of the Humanities. These areas consist of art, music, literature, poetry, and theater. My grandmother is of strong Spanish and Mexican backgrounds. These two heritages hold a respected reputation for their abilities in the humanities. My grandmother had an extremely rich upbringing and was constantly surrounded by several areas of Spanish and Mexican art forms.

To me, my grandmother is very important. I love her very much, and she has taught me quite a bit over the years. Her life has been one well-lived thus far. Throughout the years, she has fully experienced and thoroughly loved life. She has stories to tell and I love to listen to her tell them.

Flavia Amanda Naranjo was born in a small ranch in Escobares, a small town on the border of Texas and the Rio Grand River, in Starr County on September 16, 1917.
(a little tidbit I learned looking up Escobares, according to the 2000 census, Hispanic & Latino people made up 98.72% of the population - talk about a rich culture!) She was the seventh child of ten born to Flavia Garza and Emilio Naranjo.

Flavia is what is referred to as a "mestisso", a person with part Indian and part Spanish heritage. Emilio Naranjo was of Indian decent and was a "jack of all trades." He served as the post master, a teacher (who taught Flavia's first four brothers and sisters in school), and an immigration officer in the small town of Escobares. Flavia Garza was from Mexico and her ancestors traveled from Laredo, Spain on a grant from the King to serve as representatives of Spain in the New World. It was these ancestors that founded Laredo, Texas.

Growing up in the Naranjo household was a very exciting time. The entire family, minus the father, Emilio (who stayed home to work), commuted back and forth to San Antonio so the children could attend school at Brackenridge High School. They would stay in San Antonio while school was in session and return to Escobares when school recessed. They were a bilingual family, as well, speaking only Spanish at home and speaking English while at school. Flavia returned home to attend high school at Rio Grande High School for her senior year, and went on to San Antonio Junior College for her teaching certificate.

My grandmother has spent her entire life surrounded by all the humanities of the Spanish and Mexican traditions and cultures. She spent quite a bit of time while she was growing up learning the traditional songs and dances of the Mexican culture and many more years teaching them to others. Texas has very prominent influences of these cultures, as well. The art, music, dances, and literature of Spanish and Mexican cultures are all a part of Texas and a part of my grandmother's history. I couldn't wait to find out as much as I could about this culture and heritage.

Right up the street from where my grandmother went to school, there is a historical national park renowned for its beautiful architecture and art. As my grandmother told me, she spent a great deal of time in this part playing with her brothers and sisters, nearly every day. This park is the San Antonio Mission National Park in San Antonio, Texas. This series of magnificent buildings depicts days of the 18th century Spanish Missions. In those days, Franciscan "padres" rode-up from Mexico to Christianize the Indians and place claims on North American land. This park displays four missions along a seven-mile stretch of the San Antonio river. There are more than 40 original and reconstructed structures in the park itself. Having so many makes this one of the richest sources of Spanish colonial architecture and culture in the entire United States.

The first mission in San Antonio Mission Park is Mission San Jose, which was established in 1724. This is the largest and most restored of all the missions, with a striking and absolutely beautiful church complete with an ornate sculpted facade and a "rose" window. This particular site also has several restored Indian quarters with typical furniture of the time and displayed pottery, house wares, and farming equipment. The other three missions, Mission Concepcion, Mission San Juan, and Mission Espada were built in 1731 and each develops their own concepts of the missions. Mission Concepcion projects the concept of the mission being a religious center through the churches and priest quarters. Mission San Juan shows farming, trading, and ranching to give the aura of an economic center. Finally, Mission Espada contains the original irrigation dam and aqueduct, the only remaining Spanish colonial stone aqueduct in the United States. All are beautiful displays of architecture and art. These missions also serve as the hosting grounds for frequent music festivals.

It would be at these festivals, for example, that many forms of Spanish and Mexican music would be heard. A popular type of music in Mexico is the mariachi. The early use of this music at weddings explains the derivation of the name. Mariachi is basically Mexico's equivalent to our country music. The difference would be the instruments used. Mariachis are a lot like a string orchestra of sorts. The music is composed by violins, guitars, harps, mandolins, and double bass. Often times mariachi accompanies street performances of folk music. Mariachi is still performed and appreciated widely in
Texas. Annually, there are mariachi conventions held nationwide. People can attend, listen to the music of the culture and enjoy themselves.

Much of the typically well known folk songs that are so historic among the culture of the Spanish and Mexican people, are quite popular in the United States, as well. 

Many know the song "La Cucaracha". Translated, this simply means "The Cockroach". In English, this song is about a bug that runs across a carpet. However, in Mexico, this song was a battle march. The poor, oppressed people of Mexico sang this song while marching on the powerful aristocrats.

In Spanish the words go as follow:

"La Cucaracha, La Cucaracha,
Va no puede caminar.
Porque no tiene, porque Ie falda,
Marijuana que fumar. "

In English, these words translate to read:

'The cockroach, the cockroach,
We can't go on.
Because we don't have any, because we need some,
Marijuana to smoke."

The peasants sang this song because of a desperate need for strength and resistance against their stronger enemies. They felt marijuana was their answer, so they used it to obtain the power they lacked to march against the rich in protest.

Many of the Spanish and Mexican dances, too, are universal. The Mexican jarabes are quite popular among the American knowledge. This particular dance merges adaptations of mazurka, waltz, and European dance steps into its secular couple dance. Practiced primarily in central and Southern Mexico, the jarabes are a folk dance for couples that are derived from the Spanish pop music and such dances as the sequidillas and the fandangas. A jarabe is considered the dance of flirtation where the man is meant to be vigorous and attentive and the woman plays a shy role. The jarabe is more commonly known as the Mexican Hat Dance.

Another aspect of the Mexican and Spanish humanities that is quite prevalent in the United States, is the area of art. The majority of Mexican art has a very strong influence from the Mayan Indians. The artistry of these Indians is very noticeable in the works of many Spanish and Mexican artists. A large amount of this art is a cross between the artistry of the Mayans and the European materials. Artists such as Diego, Picasso, Dali, and many more have brought a great deal of wonderful art and culture to the United States through their work. They are known throughout the world and have been an influence of their own to others.

Doing this research project has taught me so much about so many things. First and foremost, it provided a wonderful opportunity for me to visit my grandparents, which is quite a rare opportunity in itself. In doing a research paper that I chose the topic for, it held my interest, while at the same time, it provided me with information I never knew but always wanted to have. I learned so much about my grandmother that I never knew. Before interviewing my grandmother for this paper, I never knew about her childhood. For example, her family, what she did, where she went to school, her jobs, and how she met my grandfather. These are all questions I never asked before. I learned so much about my grandmother as a person, instead of as a grandmother. I came to find out, that my grandma and her life are not that much different than my life and myself. I really enjoyed being able to sit with her and talk about her life and her experiences. It opened up a whole new world for me. On top of that, it made me feel so much more close to my grandmother than I ever have, because I knew so much more about who she is and how she became that person. It was new to me to learn that the Mexican culture still plays such a huge role in the culture of Texas even to this day. Also, the many influences that go into making the humanities what they are, are remarkable. Choosing this topic brought a ray of light and knowledge to a previously darkened corner of my wisdom. I am glad I chose the topic I did, and I am glad I learned all that I did from researching my wonderful grandmother and her culture. 

Every culture has its own influence on other cultures. As the Mexican and Spanish cultures have had an impacting influence on our culture, so, too, has our culture made an impact on others. This is the whole concept behind having open door policies with cultures other than our own. We can thus open our doors to alternate worlds and learn from them while simultaneously, they learn from us, too.

 December 2006
Mom, Grandma, Nate, Me

I was lucky enough to spend a long weekend with Grandma a couple years later in San Antonio learning first hand about her roots.  I was able to see the very missions she had talked about just a few years prior.  Beautiful place and history!  I will save that story and those photos for another post.  Te Amo, Abuelita!

No comments: