Zapateado Sonorense

Asi Se Baila Zapateado en Hermosillo, Sonora

A charming video documenting a localized style of zapateado dancing from Hermosillo, Sonora in Northern Mexico. The homeland of my maternal ancestors. Interstingly, I dance a lot like this and I had no idea that I probably learned this style from my family.

Also from Sonora, a mesmerizing video showing the skill required to make perfectly round and paper-thin flour tortillas. Crossing my fingers traditions like these continue in our bulldozer of cultures world.

Rio Grande


Through the efforts of helpful genealogists and far removed cousins on the Tellez side of my family, I’ve come to discover some of the geographic roots of my family. I’ve known for awhile my family had a long history in the Southwest, mostly in southern New Mexico and Arizona but I didn’t know my family was one of the first to move to the northern territories, then known as New Mexico. There are records that show early relatives living in El Paso del Norte as early as the 1700s. At one time, El Paso was part of New Mexico but eventually was annexed by Texas. I became curious about the history of the area and came across a book called Rio Grande, a very subjective historical look at the regions surrounding the Rio Grande (Rio Bravo). There’s lots of references to “peasants” “savages” and other language that is now unacceptable in the book’s many anecdotal passages. Despite the writer’s old school perspectives, he is quite honest when describing historical vignettes, such as this short excerpt on the story of Socorro, New Mexico.


After the war with Mexico, Texas claimed the Rio Grande as it’s eastern boundary, Socorro was just over the river, safely on New Mexican soil, but it was a focal point for westward-drifting Texans. These early Texans were hard men, fighting men, and they hated Mexicans. A few brave words about the Alamo and Davy Crockett would work any Texan into a Mexican killing-mood. The Texans came with came armed with “head rights” which were bits of paper issued by the government of Texas to veterans of its wars and other settlers, entitling the holder to any quarter section of Texas land not already occupied. Head rights were brought and sold and were practically currency.

…They [Mexicans] had a certain skill with knives but they were helpless before these men with six shooters on their hips. It was a part of the Texan tradition that all Mexicans were cowards but in fact the westering Texans were an armed invasion of an unarmed community. It was one of those gradual and unrecorded movements that work more change than formal wars and often spill more blood.

The Texans were not empowered to take occupied lands but Mexicans did not count with them as occupants. They took lands that had been supporting families in undisputed possession for a century. Murder and bluff were their methods and the short and deadly six shooter was their only attorney. The Texans were all cattlemen. They came driving their herds of longhorns before them. The Mexicans were shepherds and sheep were driven off the range wherever the cattle went. Whole herds were stampeded over cliffs and killed. Sheep-herders were terrorized or killed. It was a favorite device to surround a sheep camp at night and shoot into its cooking fire as a gentle intimation to move on.

…Many Mexicans gave up their homes and migrated. The town of Dona Ana was spotted with Texas head rights and filled with belligerent Texans. Sixty of the inhabitants packed up their goods and led by Don Rafael Ruelas, their ruling rico, departed to find new homes in Old Mexico.

—excerpt from the book Rio Grande by Harvey Fergusson, William Morrow and Company, New York, 1955.



The Berlin Wall

The Ex – State of Shock (90s song by Anarcho-Dutch group)

Two days ago marked the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

I just happened to have a few pen pals in Berlin when the Wall came down. They sent me bits of the broken wall as mementos. Pieces with graffiti were more desirable so some entrepreneurs decided to start spray painting parts of clean walls and then breaking off chunks so that they could be sold internationally for a higher price. Strange. I bet Eduardo Galeano could re-write this paragraph and make it profound.

I have photos somewhere of the Wall being torn down sent to me by a pen pal.  I should find and post them.

East Berlin is now gentrified. The modern architecture lovers were turned on by all that boxy Soviet construction. Funny world we live in.

In Los Angeles, we don’t need walls. We have freeways, bridges and a big concrete river to keep us apart.


Found the photos! Please click to see a much larger image.






My Berliner pen pal who I met once when he visited Los Angeles. I don’t remember his name.

Yaqui Deer Dance

As mentioned in a previous post, a few weeks ago someone asked me if I was Native American and I answered as I often do,  most people of Mexican heritage have some indigenous heritage. I think they meant Indian from north of the US border but like lots of indigenous folks, I don’t recognize these borders when it comes to culture. I was told my maternal great-grandmother was Yaqui Indian and my mother says she remembers hearing Yaqui words as a child. So in honor of my indigenous heritage, I present this video.

Yaqui Deer Dancer Yes, that is a deer head on his.

The clip is of an important ritual tradition called the Deer Dance. The festival where this dance took place was intended to bring Yaqui tribes from both sides of the borders together to celebrate their culture. There is some debate as to whether it was appropriate to film the ceremony and post the clip on Youtube. As the dance was a demonstration and not a ceremony, it seems approriate as a method to educate others in Yaqui culture.

Yaqui: Danza del Venado en Sonora, Mexico

Yaqui prefer to call themselves “Yoeme” and their homeland is “Hiakim.” It is their homeland name that most likely gave rise to the term Yaqui.

De que parte?

My grandfather’s letter to his carnal, 1946

When I was in elementary school (Hillcrest Elementary in Monterey Park) I was often asked the question: “What are you?” Sometimes I would act coy and answer “What do you mean?” but I knew what they meant. Then they’d ask “What’s your nationality?” and I’d say “American” but I knew that wasn’t the answer they wanted. Then they said “No, your parents.” And I’d say “They’re American too.” After being surprised by that answer they would finally ask “Aren’t you Mexican?” And I’d answer “Yes” but thinking to myself : Of course, I’m Mexican. The whole school is filled with Mexican and Chicano kids with the odd Cuban or Central American kid thrown in. The rest of the students were Asian and I’m sure they weren’t asked such questions.

Then I would get asked the question that I’d been really trying to avoid in the first place “What state of Mexico is your family from?” There is no Mexican that has not been asked this question, I even ask it to other Mexicans myself. I’ve always felt awkward answering though because my family has been here for a few generations and I have no real ties to any state in Mexico. I have no grandparents to visit, no Mexican cousins, no houses to visit during the holidays and yet I had to give an answer. I would reply “My mother’s family from Sonora and my father’s family from Michoacan.” Then there’d be this “Oh” as if my response said everything they could possibly want to know about me. In Mexican culture the state you are from is a big deal and there are enough cultural variations in each state for this assessment to be real.

For instance, I’ve always had a slight prejudice against people from Guadalajara, Mexico. Perhaps it’s been because most of the folks I’ve met from Guadalajara here in Los Angeles tend to have more money and also more European heritage which I think makes them slightly snobby. Lately too, as I’ve been doing research on my family genealogy and history, I’ve really come to identify with the states of my maternal great grandparents: Sonora, Durango and Chihuahua. So perhaps, that’s influenced my preference for the northern states.

My paternal grandfather’s family has always been a bit of a black hole. The story passed down to me was my paternal grandfather was deported soon after my father was born and not allowed back into the US. My grandmother told me she was in love with my grandfather but her parents objected to their relationship and kept them apart. They weren’t married when my father was born. She told me my paternal grandfather would send letters but my grandmother’s father threw them away and eventually the tenuous lines of communication faded away.

After asking my dad a million times for info about his father, I finally got it out of him that he had some of these letters. I was thrilled! What secrets would I uncover? Would the mysteries and the countless fictional narratives I’ve created around this man finally be resolved? I’m still working my way through the letters and there’s quite a bit to analyze and decipher. I’ve been impressed by my grandfather’s writing skills, for a laborer/farm worker (perhaps he’d been more) he’s very articulate.  It’s also interesting to notice the language variation between when he writes to my grandmother in a flowery and romantic way and the letter to his “carnal” (above) which is infused with border lingo.

The most shocking discovery about my grandfather’s past and one I would never have dreamed of, is that he and his family are from Guadalajara! My prejudices come back to haunt me. I knew he was from Jalisco but because he has always been so mysterious to me, I just assumed it might not be totally true. Guadalajara is where he finally returned after his unsuccessful attempts to make it to the US. There are few letters from a prison in Texas where he was kept after being caught trying to cross. Many sore spots surrounding his non-existence in my family’s life still persist, things better left unsaid on a public blog. My mother and father did try and look for him once in Guadalajara but their attempts were as unsuccessful as my grandfather’s border crossing skills.

According to the letters my grandfather and great-grandmother lived at this address:
Familia Ybarra-Ramos
Calle Independencia 110
Guadalajara, JAL, 44100, Mexico

Perhaps one day I will make a pilgrimage to Guadalajara and search the city for familiar faces.

excerpt from letter:

Pues yo cria que te avain castigado duro la migracion. Pero veo que eres invunerable y no hay frontera que se te cierre.

The border that isn’t

San Francisco trash can. Caution, items may escape.

This weekend in San Francisco I was asked a couple of questions that sort of surprised me and for one reason or another have lingered in my thoughts.

Someone asked me if I was Native American but they meant north of the US border native. It’s a common enough question but still interesting that the border still somehow defines a “regular” Native American person from an indigenous person in Mexico. I recognize no borders when it comes to my pre-European heritage.

Another person after hearing me speak for a few minutes asked me if I was from New Mexico. To this person’s ears my heavy vowel and soft consonant accent reminded them of their family from the region. Do Chicanos in the Bay Area not have accents? Anyways, I explained the accents are similar because they are derived from border languages of Spanish and indigenous dialects that moved west with folks from New Mexico, Arizona, Sonora and Chihuahua. But the accent here in Los Angeles is changing. It’s only the old-timers that speak like George Lopez nowadays. Glad to hear it’s alive and well in the ranchos of New Mexico.

Interesting that both of these simple questions brought up many more issues of identity than I was prepared to deal with at the time. Don’t ask me these kinds of things while I’m enjoying a beer, unless you’re prepared for a brutally honest response or a long, rambling answer.