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Have You Hugged Your Latino Now?

2003-09-30 - 9:02 a.m.

Ooooh, before I begin, be sure to check out today for a great column about feminism. Sars, as always, rocks out with her . . . well, you get the idea. Moving on. Last night I had dinner with my favorite PseudoSlovak, who had just returned from the homskilletland and had many wonderful stories about drinkin', soup-lovin', and hedgehog jokes. We had BROCCOLI BITES . . . with RANCH DRESSING . . . I'm not sure how to write the Homer Simpson drooling noise, but that's the sound I mean to convey by the ellipses.

As she was talking about how she began to understand what parts of her body and soul could be traced all the way back to Eastern Europe, she asked me how I felt I manifested my Latino heritage.

At the point, a group of mariachis showed up and started up a rollicking tune, causing me to jump up on the table and begin a huge, bilingual musical number featuring everyone in the bar, who happened to all be Hispanics in assorted national costumes.

Not really, but it got me thinking that I should finish up my Hispanic Heritage Month notes, so here you go.

3. Go See Once Upon a Time in Mexico

I've never liked Westerns. I think it has to do with being one of the people that the characters in Westerns were deeply concerned with stealing land from, but then again it might just have been because I didn't like dust. This movie, however, is a Western that stars Mexicans, or at least Spaniards, assorted Latinos, and an Italian (Marco Leonardi, who, granted, has done almost all his film work in Mexico) playing Mexicans. Oh, and Willem Dafoe playing a Mexican very, very badly. He can play a vampire better than anyone has ever played a vampire ever, but he can't play a Latino to save his life.

Best of all, the director is a Mexican-American, who was born and raised in my home town. I've had mixed feelings about Richard Rodriguez's work, although I do think that his segment of Four Rooms was by far the best part of an otherwise crappy movie. I am particularly concerned about anyone who would let Quentin Tarantino act in a movie, because while he is a great director, he can't act for shit. This work, however, is a fun, cartoonish, guns blazing thrill ride. Rock on, Rodriguez!

Also, Johnny Depp? Hotter and funnier than he's ever been. If he doesn't get at least one best supporting actor nomination this year, preferably for this movie, then, well, then the Oscars have once again proven themselves completely out of touch with quality filmmaking. What can you do? Well, maybe you can do this . . .

4. Go Out Dancing

One of my favorite things about the Indian film Monsoon Wedding is the depiction of everyone in the film dancing to all of the music at the wedding. There are teenagers dancing to classic songs and grandmothers dancing to techno. The same thing holds true at Mexican weddings, or at least at my cousin's wedding in Mexico City. Everyone danced to everything. No one was self-conscious or felt that music was "uncool old crap" or "noisy kids' music." It made for a very fun time, particularly for those of us who didn't know many people and were forced to dance with relatives, many of whom were older. And when I say us, I mean me.

You don't have to know how to tango, mambo, or meringue to go to a Latin dance club. Just go and dance as you would in any club. If you look like an idiot, then maybe a hot Latino/a will come show you how to move properly. There are few things sexier than a sensual teacher instructing you on proper salsa techniques. If you want, you can also run to the record store and buy a CD to practice with. I recommend Celia Cruz' Regalo del Alma, or, if you'd like to understand the words you're dancing to, go with Kirsty MacColl's Tropical Brainstorm, which blends British wit and Latin rhythm for one of the best summer albums for your money.

Also, while you're at the music store, check out a band called Aterciopelados. They are a latin alt-rock band, and their latest CD, Gozo Poderoso, rocks the casbah. It's not that danceable, but there's definitely a latin rhythm underscoring all the songs. If you can learn the lyrics and translate them, so much the better.

Of course, if you're going out dancing, you might as well . . .

5. Go Get Trashed and Then Sing Badly

Granted, Latinos don't need alcohol in order to sing, and some Latinos sing very well. However, many Latinos sing very badly, and those who sing badly do not sing softly to themselves. I'm not sure if any piece of Spanish music is meant to sung softly to yourself. So much of it is "You broke my heart!" and "I miss my home!" and "Oh, my aching soul!" There are exclamation points in these songs, twice as many as in any English equivalent, and they are meant to be sung at top volume, by large groups of people, in a manner that borders on the competitive. Key and pitch are for gringos.

The drinking comes in to ease the auditory pain caused by a number of drunk Latinos all singing 6 melodies to one song at a volume that could make a volcano erupt, which is just what happened at my cousin's wedding (I have no idea if the eruption and the bad singing were linked, but they could have been).

If you don't know any Spanish songs, this may be difficult for you. A compromise would be to get drunk at a karaoke bar on Latin liquor. Raise a mojito to your Cuban friends! Chug a margarita while thinking of your favorite Mexicans. Hell, do a shot of Cuervo and shot of Malibu to get your courage up. Then go up on stage and belt out something like "All by Myself." People running for the door or throwing things at you means you're doing it right. If a bunch of you are onstage at once with your arms around each other, you'll do any Latino proud.

And on the subject of doing it . . .

6. Go Get Yourself Laid

You know, I could deliver a diatribe against the portrayal of Latinos in Anglo cinema as being evil, stupid sluts, something particularly true in the gay media. I could talk about the problems of machismo, how many Latino men have a problem with fidelity and using a condom. I could complain, because there's a lot to complain about.

But the truth is this: Sandra Cisneros wrote a brilliant poem entitled "You Bring Out the Mexican in Me," a poem addressed to her lover that described how that lover made Sandra feel the Aztec goddess inside her, the volcano inside her, the cocinera and the bailadora and all the other parts of herself that were in the blood and bone. And I feel the exact same way. Having been raised to hug and kiss everyone I love without reservation, I feel my heritage when I love somebody, and when I make love. I am inspired by the poetry of Neruda and the prose of Allende, by the smell of chocolate and the taste of chiles, by the sound of the guitar and the rhythm of the drums. I remember all these things when I am with a lover, and I feel an obligation to make sure that the reputation of the Latin lover is upheld to the fullest extent possible.

So I invite you, in the second half of Hispanic Heritage month, to have a good meal and to find a great way to burn it off. And if you are a cute boy in the Austin area, nerdy for preference, who needs some help in this project, I am certain I can find some way of assisting you.

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