Greta + Jill
Greta + Jill
Tomás + Dudley, 2010 Image courtesy of Al Rendon | Imagen cortesía de Al Rendon Digital image | Imagen digital In the collection of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery | En la colección del Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery
Otro Corazón: The Geographies of Love
Tomás Ybarra Frausto
Buenas tardes, I feel “muy apachado” and encircled in a collective abrazo of friendship and solidarity. I return that “cariño” and thank everyone who made it possible for me be here today. “Estoy muy agradecido.”
Meditating on the people, places, and things that have inspired, nurtured, and sustained my life and career, I recognize that love in its multiple varieties and variations in different locales is at the heart of all my attachments and enthusiasms.
Across time, a vast and complex terminology of words, idioms, and concepts attempt to describe and convey the manifold emotional and psychological states of a person entangled in the maelstrom of feelings during the course of love in its varied guises. A few examples convey the variations: amar, querer, apapachar, encariñar, enamorar, affection, attachment, yearning, passion, infatuation, and many more. Apart from romantic, passionate, and erotic heterosexual, homo-sexual, lesbian, bi-sexual, and trans-gender love, other forms of love include the caring of paternal and maternal love, brotherly and sisterly love, and the “querencia” of place, the “compañerismo” of affinity groups, and group friendships. The enamoramiento of art, music, and literature, and spiritual, saintly love.
Love is a disorderly, de-stabilizing experience, and in the spirit of its chaotic and meandering process I testify about my passions, the geographies of love recalled by an elder of the Chicano Generation. A “ruquito” living in the bitter-sweet autumn of life. Donde tengo más ayeres que mañanas (where I have more yesterdays than tomorrows). My recollection may parallel other chronicles by members of the “Movimiento” Period. Yet each of our stories is unique, reminding us of the vast heterogeneity of our communities where “Cada cabeza es un mundo.”
Homecoming: Pueblo Querido
I paraphrase a popular Mexican song:
San Antonio lindo y querido
Si Muero Lejos de Tí
Que digan que estoy dormido
Y que me traigan a tí…
Love of a home ground, “la querencia al lugar natal” is a lasting passion, only satisfied when you return to the natural and cultural scapes that molded you. San Antonio, mi “Pueblo Querido,” is the place where I grew up, socializing into a bi-cultural working-class universe. My “patria chica” was a liminal space integrating Mexican culture and U.S. lived experiences. While I grew up in the city, my “tierra natal” was my grandfather’s “rancho de algodon” outside the German-speaking town of New Braunfels, Texas. I was five when my parents moved to San Antonio. My father Nicolás Yberra was a descendent of agrarian rancheros and my mother Libertad Frausto came from a family of borregeros (sheep herders) from the Texas Panhandle. When I asked my paternal grandfather when the family had arrived in Texas, he always responded: “Somos de aquí desde siempre” (We are from here since forever).
I grew up in the optimistic, prosperous period immediately following the Second World War. In San Antonio, returning Mexican American GIs bought homes and attended college with the help of the GI Bill. Five military bases provided steady employment to a small emerging middle class. Civil Rights organizations like LULAC and the American GI Forum continued historical patterns of civic and political mobilization.
Long-established barrios and a vibrant Mexican downtown defined a complete socio-cultural universe. We had churches of many denominations to satisfy spiritual needs, and plenty of cantinas, salones de baile, and burdeles for sinners. A thriving economy fuelled by small and mid-sized family owned businesses stabilized security and well-being. A vibrant cultural “ambiente” was sustained by several Spanish language bookstores and publishing houses, Spanish radio, live theater, musical venues, many Mexican restaurants, and grand movie palaces.
My teens coincided with the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema and films played an important educational function in fomenting notions of “Mexicanidad” in our “México de afuera.” Movies represented ancestral heritage and contemporary culture. We could escape into the sophisticated, glamorous world of cosmopolitan Mexico City and the affluent bourgeoisie in tuxedos, evening gowns, and furs. Other films indoctrinated us into the ideals of the Mexican Revolution or documented “El México Profundo“: chronicles of poor and indigenous peasants abandoning the ranchos and haciendas as Mexico changed from an agrarian past to an urban present. Mexican films fortified our cultural pride and identity.
Outside the barrio, there was social strife, Jim Crow segregation, and menosprecio focused on our poverty, low educational attainment, and lawlessness. Inside our comunidad was a literal spiritual zone of comfort, a safe haven of resilience and security. Behavior was guided by moral precepts expressed in dichos like: “Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres,” or “Cuando una puerta se cierra, otra se abre” and many others. Each dicho or refrain was a guideline for becoming a “Bien Criado” or “Bien Educado” and a member of “Gente Decente“. Little parables re-enforced the dire consequences of being “Malcriados” especially toward your parents and the elderly. There was also —of course— approval and tolerance for acts of resistance, for those who stood up for their beliefs, the bandidos, renegados, y revolucionarios— los que hablan sin pelos en la lengua y luchan por lo que es justo y necesario.
Later in life as activists in the Chicano Civil Rights Movement, many of us unbound ourselves from many of the repressive social strictures of being Gente Decente and became malcriados, mitoteros, and revoltosos in our quest for self-determination and social justice.
Querencia is a profound affection for the locale that formed our convictions and worldview. The power of place is tangible and evident in the way we speak, how we identify ourselves, and the values we profess.
En mi Pueblo Querido, people, place, and personal memories interweave, forming a deep “Querencia”, an encompassing love that continues to educate, enchant, and seduce me. If I were a tagger, I would inscribe: San Antonio, Pueblo Querido… Por Vida y Con Safo.
Love of Language and Literature
Beyond loving people, places, and things, my greatest passion has been for learning and teaching with a devotion to literature and the arts. The power of language and stories was first manifested during my early childhood in our Spanish language dominant household. My mother holding me in her lap would intone: “Este era un gato, con los pies de trapo y los ojos al revés… Quieres que te lo cuente otro vez?”
“Si”, I would reply, making her repeat the ditty many more times until she got exhausted and quit. Like all children, I responded to the repetition, alliteration, and rhyme of the ditty. Each repetition enlarged the image of the silly cat (con las pies de trapo y los ojos al revés) in my consciousness. I relished children’s lore, not realizing how language was indoctrinating me into the cultural and social norm of my Mexican American community. For example, how accepted gender roles were inculcated at a young age as boys lustily sang: “Me gusta la leche, me gusto el cafe, pero mas me gustan los ojos de Ud (pointing to a girl)”. My world was saturated with Spanish on the radio, the plática of neighbors, and in our family conversations around the kitchen table.
The weekend before I entered first grade at Ivanhoe Elementary School in San Antonio, Texas, in the fall of 1944, by father took me aside to offer some “consejos”. He told me that I was starting on a great life-long adventure. That he and my mother were very proud that I was beginning my education “para no quedarme ignorante, como los pobrecitos burros de carga” (not to remain dumb like the poor beasts of burden). I was counseled that education was a great treasure that no one could take away… that the more educated I became, the richer I would be.
As we sat down on the living room couch, Father opened up a big atlas to North and South America. “Esta es Nuestra América” he intoned gravely, naming each country and pointing to it on the map. “Mira, hijo, aquí está Argentina (allá se habla español), Mira, aquí está Perú (allá tambien hablan español)” and so on through each country in South America, Central America, and the Caribbean… always with the refrain (allá hablan español).
Then he hugged me close, saying— “Tú eres Americano, por eso hablas español”. “Of course,” he added, “your mother and I want you to learn English as well, because una persona que habla dos idiomas vale por dos, y si hablas tres idiomas vales por tres. Learn as many languages as you can, pero nunca, olivides nuestro maravilloso español“.
Flash forward to the first day of school. My first grade classroom was composed one hundred percent of Mexican American children (some monolingual English or Spanish speakers, but mostly bi-lingual). We were all well behaved because our parents had admonished us to be very respectful of our teachers.
With a bright, cheerful smile, our teacher introduced herself: “Good morning, boys and girls. My name is Miss Moran. We are going to learn many things and have a lot of fun. But first we must all speak English all the time. You are all American and must speak only English always”.
As if on cue, I raised my hand, and when acknowledged, said loudly and proudly: “Teacher, my father told me that I am an American and that’s why I speak Spanish… que nunca debo olvidar mi español”.
I was scolded and asked to stand in the corner with my face to the wall until recess. That was my first encounter with the darker side of linguistic intolerance in elementary school.
Pragmatically, the school accepted our cultural reality, but ideologically it sustained an authoritative “English Only” stance. Like many elementary schools throughout Texas at the time, our school had the custom of “language monitors.” At the start of the school year, during an all-school assembly, one student from each grade was selected as “language monitor.” It was considered an honor to be selected, and you got to wear a distinctive bandolier with a badge inscribed “language monitor.” Their task was to circulate around the playground, the cafetería, and in the hallways, essentially spying on classmates and reporting anyone speaking Spanish to the teacher for disciplinary measures.
For some Mexican Americans of the time, English was seen as a key to upward mobility and full incorporation into U.S. society. Others promoted bilingualism with a stress on cultural maintenance.
Language, culture, and identity issues were debated in radio programs, newspaper editorials, and in the “tandas de variedad” (vaudeville variety shows) presented between movies in local theatres. In my early teens, I was an avid “aficionado” of the “tandas” and their gutsy, humorous portrayals of human foibles. Current events were incorporated into the forceful skits, which mirrored local social realities.
Immigration and the plight of “los recién llegados” newly arrived Mexican immigrants were recurrent themes of tanda skits. An example:
A Cup of Coffee and Cake
(Two compadres meet on the street)
- Actor 1: Ay compadre, qué gusto en verlo.
- Quiero Speak English… Enséñame, por favor.
- Actor 2: Ay, gracias, compadre (repeats two times)… A cup of coffee and cake… A cup of coffee and cake.
En el restaurante:
- Waitress: Good morning, may I help you?
- Actor 1: Buenos dias señora, Quiero… A cup of coffee and cake. (When served—! Ay, qué sabroso! Me gusta mucho… este cup of coffee and cake.
Two weeks later:
- Actor 1: Ay, compadre, que gusto en verlo … Mire, ya estoy cansando de ese…Cup of coffee and cake para el desayuno, cup of coffee and cake para el almuerzo, y cup of coffee and cake para la cena…
- Actor 2: Bueno, bueno … Ahora ud. entre al restaurante y diga … A ham sandwich, please…
- Actor 1: Ay, gracias, compadre (repeat two times) A ham sandwich, please… A ham sandwich, please…
En el restaurante:
- Waitress: Good morning, may I help you?
- Actor 1. Buenos dias, señorita… Quiero… a ham sandwich please …
- Waitress: Yes, a ham sandwich … you want that on wheat or rye? Mayonnaise or mustard?
- Actor 1: Ah … um …um … A cup of coffee and cake!
The knowing laughter from the audience was complicit for having shared similar social experiences. In all immigrant communities to this day, there is a gulf to be crossed between “los recién llegados” (the new immigrants) and “los acomodados” (the U.S. diaspora community).
Flashing forward to the global present, I sense that our language options are decreasing. In “Nuestra América,” indigenous languages are in a fragile state, or they are becoming extinct. English is supplanting Spanish in the metropolitan business sectors of many Latin American countries.
Today, with Latinos as the largest ethnic group, in the country, there is anxiety and a generalized fear that Spanish speaking and bi-lingual citizens share a divided loyalty and a double allegiance, marking them as suspected “un-Americans.” The thrust towards a mono-culture and a mono-language is made clear in English-only legislation and a generalized unspoken belief that Spanish should be spoken only in the private sphere, and not openly in public.
In the cultural sector, less Chicano literature is written in Spanish, with a diminishing field of academic and cultural journals. Apart from Spanish language courses, most classes in Chicano Studies are taught in English. An so it goes, even with the re-generation of bilingual education, often in wealthy Anglo enclaves.
Without a doubt, maintenance of Spanish and its cultural legacy will be an urgent and consequential issue in our future civil rights struggles. Que así sea.
Las Cosas Que Son de Todos y No Son de Nadie
In his autobiography Barrio Boy, Ernesto Galarza explores the collective mores of a Mexicano community, reminding us of the close alliance between ethics and aesthetics. When he speaks of las cosas que son de todos y no son de nadie (things which belong to everyone but are owned by no one), he is referring to a capstone vocabulary of concepts, which encode the ethical principles of the community. Words like respeto, dignidad, confianza, and cariño spell out the mutual rights and responsibilities of individuals and groups in their relationships with each other, with nature, and with art.
As a community elder, I recognize that knowledge systems rooted in working class life link information to social meaning. The dichos y decires del pueblo mean more than what they say. For example, the dicho “Uno trabaja para vivir, No vive para trabajar (one works in order to live, one does not live in order to work) helps us to make a clear distinction between making a living and making a life, a significant admonition in a consumer-based, throw-away society.
The shared values that compose the “ethos,” the deep structures of feeling, the sentimiento and the character and social values attributed to objects, natural landscapes, and sites of human convivencia —las cosas que son de todos y no son de nadie— embody the intangible heritage of our communities and need to be collected, interpreted, and safeguarded.
During one of my periodic visits to my hometown of San Antonio, Texas, while my mother was still alive, we I visited a local panadería. As we entered the bakery, I greeted the attendant and when she asked, “¿En qué puedo ayudar?” I responded, “Por favor, deme cinco pesos de pan dulce, surtido, por favor”.
As we walked to the car, my mother smiled at me and somewhat archly asked, “Hijo? Te has olvidado los nombres de los panes? ¿Por qué pediste pan surtido? Ya bien sabes que una concha no es igual que una compechana, y un polvorón difiere mucho de un marranito, o de una cemita. Recuerda que cada pieza de pan dulce tiene su propria forma, su especial textura y su nombre particular. Ay hijo, yo pienso que “cuando se olvidan los nombres de los panes, se olvida la cultura”.
Now, years later, I can decipher the cultural lesson my mother was teaching me. She was instructing me about both the resilience and fragility of cultural tradition. Schools, books, and cultural institutions indoctrinate us to the “classical arts” (literature, music, visual culture). Cultural practices that are closer to the ground (los nombres de los panes) depend on embodied transmission across generations. Once you forget or discontinue ephemeral and intangible customs (los nombres de los panes) they are gone and lost forever.
Similar to concerns about non-renewable natural resources, we must confront the notion of non-renewable cultural resources. Knowledge systems that are passed on through performative repetition such as rituals, social practices, and oral traditions depend upon peer-to-peer or intergenerational transmission.
The Chicano generation of scholars have maintained a significant archive of print culture and a media image bank that document, interpret, and preserve much tangible evidence of our cultural heritage: printed manuscripts of the songs we sing, museums for the art we create, and books of the literature we write.
What remains to be done is research and interpretation of our abundant intangible cultural heritage, often guarded in the bodies and memories of our elders and people who do not come to culture through the printed word.
An adage reminds us— when an elder dies, a whole library vanishes. Latino elders are a diminishing segment in a population that is primarily young, with a median age of 27*. The wisdom and experience of our elders is rapidly disappearing. Similar to concerns about our non-renewable natural resources, we must confront the notion of non-renewable cultural resources.
My private identity and public social life are not totally defined by my sexual orientation. Being homosexual has always been a natural state causing me little anguish and needing no proclamation. Being sexually unconventional since early manhood, I had fleeting same-sex alliances and friendships until a fateful encounter on the night of July 22, 1968.
I was a graduate student going home to San Antonio during Spring break from the University of Washington in Seattle. I was traveling by Greyhound bus and had a four-hour layover in Los Angeles, a city, that I had never visited. With time on my hands on a hot, sultry night, I decided to enter a cool, air-conditioned bar to have a beer. Several seedy bars were clustered around the Greyhound bus station, and not knowing the territory, I walked into the first bar I spotted, Harold’s Club at 555 Main Street. I later learned it was a notorious gay pick-up bar.
Walking into the dimly lit interior, l noted the rasquache décor with garlands of empty beer cans interspersed with twinkling Christmas lights artistically draped around the room. Dominating the end of the bar, a fake plastic banana tree —like a Carmen Miranda movie— stood in stood in drooping glory. The whole ambiente was seedy and somewhat sinister. I sat at the bar and as my eyes grew accustomed to the smoky, tawdry interior, I noticed the clientele: a snarky combination of tattooed, low-life “machos”, wizened old drunks, and preening, heavily made-up transvestites… a noir Hollywood scene.
I ordered a beer and looked around. At the far end of the bar, a youngish man with a shy smile lifted up his beer in a welcome toast, and, as I acknowledged his gesture, he walked over and struck up a conversation. Instantaneously, as our eyes locked together, Cupid sent an arrow that pierced my heart and love possessed me. Simultaneously, I felt a serene calmness as the stranger shook my hand, introducing himself as Dudley Brooks. I registered a gentle, soft-spoken guy with a Southern tilt in his voice, and a manly, diffident charm. We fell into a comfortable conversation, and hours later, having already missed my bus connection home, with no other till the next morning, Dudley gallantly invited me to spend the night.
Leaving the bar past midnight, we walked to his car, a baby blue Dodge convertible. When I opened the door, a blond cocker spaniel jumped into my lap and snuggled to my chest. Dudley later confided that the dog, named Topper, was his gate-keeper who intuited who was or was not suitable for an encounter or tryst. Luckily, I was approved by Topper, and Dudley welcomed me into his Iife.
Days later, I finally caught a bus home, giddy with the knowledge that I had met my soul mate. I vowed to introduce Dudley to my family as soon as possible, for I knew in my heart of hearts that we were destined to become partners, comrades, and best friends, and thus it came to pass.
After our unforgettable encounter, I returned to finish my doctoral degree in Seattle. In this giddy moment of courtship and unfettered romantic love, Dudley renounced his job, sold his house and possessions, and, in a rented trailer —together with his faithful dog Topper— came to join me in Seattle. This spontaneous, courageous and bold act of love sealed our union.
Our instant infatuation is now a long-term commitment in its 48th year. Our serendipitous partnership has allowed us to experience and savor multiple facets and forms of love, from a youthful passion of romantic love to love of friends, and the empathy and compassion of community. For us, the arc of life and love was nurtured in the distinct locales of Seattle, San Francisco, Manhattan, and now San Antonio. Whether living in a house, apartment, loft, or condominium, our homes have always been an oasis of convivencia, linking hospitality and social engagement.
For me, the Pacific Northwest as “un viaje de la semillas” a re-encounter with my Tejano roots. In the labour camps and small towns populated by former migrants, many from the Rio Grande Valley, the Tejano-Mexicano language, customs and world-views remained vital, producing cohesion and cultural identity. The resourcefulness and creativity of campesino culture is evident in their daily practice of “making do with what you have” —a key strategy for resilience and cultural survival.
As Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta extended La Causa to the Pacific Northwest, grass-roots community activists, campesinos, and students helped me form El Teatro del Piojo to promote campesino social and cultural goals. As in the rest of Aztlán, Chicano visual artists, musicians, and writers in the Pacific Norhtwest were part of national mobilizations using the principles of resistance and affirmation as goals in their creative efforts.
During the Seattle years, Dudley and I consolidated our relationship. We established mutual respect, loyalty and open communications as bedrock values of our evolving relationship.
My parents continued to visit us and by now Dudley was a beloved member of the family and totally accepted as my mate and domestic partner. Acknowledgement of our bi-racial, same-sex partnership was never explicit. We have always been an open secret, neither of us proclaiming nor hiding our union.
In our maturing inter-dependency, we realized that each of us complemented a lack in the other. I am a nester, Dudley is an adventurer. Dudley takes care of big things (budgets, major purchases, renovations and repairs). I take care of the little things (the social calendar and household chores).
Feelings are always fragile. When tiffs and misunderstandings occur, it is usually the result of miscommunication. In the cooling off period after a quarrel, we have learned to forgive and forget. In personal terms, the Seattle years were our opportunity in fomenting a stable domestic partnership.
After finishing my doctoral degree in Chicano literature at the University of Washington, I was offered a job at Stanford University and moved to San Francisco.
During my academic career at Stanford, I lived in San Francisco’s Mission District, a Latino enclave of Mexicans, Central Americans and South Americans. My social and intellectual concerns broadened beyond my Chicano kith and kin, to encompass a cosmopolitan Latino universe. “Nuestra América” went beyond an intellectual construct as it defined a common language and elements of a shared common culture. In the social cultural sphere, negotiations of difference and common ground between the diverse Latino groups traced the contours for an emergent “Latino Cultural Project” still in progress nationwide.
During this period in the mid-1970s, while I taught at Stanford, Dudley was working at REI in Seattle. He was soon promoted to a new position that had him scout for new sites and oversee the design and construction of new stores in locales from Alaska to Atlanta, and from San Diego to Austin, Texas, and beyond. For a total of 43 new stores, he stayed on an individual site for three months, which gave us time for Iong week-end adventures: to visit museums, antique and bookstores, and to sample regional cuisine in restaurants. The Pacific Northwest was still base, and we spent summer vacations together in Seattle.
This pattern of being together and being apart created a continued sense of adventure and calm discovery of each other’s peculiarities of character, mindset, and world-view. A lesson we learned is that our living quarters must always have communally shared space, as well as private, individual space. There is always a library/study for Tomás and a tinkering space for Dudley.
After seven years of a peripatetic life, I was awarded tenure at Stanford, yet I gave up the security and recognition of tenure and accepted a year-to-year appointment as the Director of Creativity and Culture at the Rockefeller Foundation in New York. I worked at the foundation from 1989 until my retirement in 2005.
Life in New York in the 80s and 90s was a dream come true. Apart from the glitz and the glamour, I found deep satisfaction in working for a respected and legendary institution whose motto was “For The Well-Being of Humankind.”
Dudley and I found a charming and cozy apartment in a family brownstone at 90 St. Mark’s Place in the West Village, the epicentre and storied neighborhood of bohemian New York. Our fourth floor walk-up had a terrace overlooking a well-planted garden, an oasis in the middle of Manhattan. By this time, Dudley had retired from REI and we commenced our mature chapter of bliss and devoted comradeship.
My job provided a personal sense of purpose in funding artist and humanists with grants in support of cutting-edge projects that made new knowledge and activated social transformation throughout the hemisphere and in U.S. Latino communities.
Privately, we plunged into the stellar cultural life of the city, from fringe to mainstream. We expanded our knowledge and friendship with Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central American and Carribean artists and activists. It was like a sophisticated Woody Allen movie, with us joyfully enjoying opening nights at the theatre, modern dance and ballet performances, jazz, cabaret, and opera. New movie releases weekly, and, of course, museum openings at “the Met”, “MoMA”, “The Whitney”, “The Frick”, “El Museo del Barrio” “The New Museum,” etc., and gallery shows throughout the city. Seeing Central Park change with the seasons and the constant lure of new shops and restaurants was intoxicating. As we say: Tiramos las canas al viento”.
Throughout the years, we welcomed many friends to intimate seated dinners that I choregraphed like a performance. There was always marvelous food, wine flowed, and special ambientes were created by music, candles, flowers, and stimulating conversation. Friens still fondly remember those “convivios” that remain hallmarks of compañerismo.
After forty-eight years of making a living and making a life together, Dudley and I continue to savor, explore, and re-balance the multiple dimensions of domestic partnership, now in that bitter sweet phase of love named agape by the ancient Greeks. Agape is the supreme plateau of a life-time of inter-dependent companionship, a time when love is permanently secure, retaining the shared alliance of sustained devotion. Agape is a state of grace, a spiritual total bonding. The transition from the heartaches of eros, to the exquisite tenderness of agape brings joy and solace; heralding a stable and enduring love.
Apart from Dudley, who continues to be my North Star, protecting and guiding me to our safe harbor called home, it is my extended family and the constellation of friends throughout the country —Mis compañeros del Alma— (many of you are here today) who continue to inspire me and remain my moral compass and safety net. There is no greater love than our shared creation of a “Comunidad de Sentimiento y Resistencia,” an inter-generational network of social and cultural activists with the enduring quest to envision a more inclusive, caring, and equitable society.
In the protean reality of “Nuestra América,” artists in all disciplines consistently remind us of the resonance and wonder in the mutable world we all shape and share. A place of hope, love, and a re-generation where nothing is too wonderful to be true… Que así sea!… Gracias