By Alicia Margarita Olivo
Content warnings: description of violence, implication of depression, mention of hurricane, flood
Being at Wellesley makes me feel like I’m wading through flood waters (I remember when Tropical Storm Allison hit home and my dad took my hand and helped me walk through the water to see the cars stuck on the street; I thought they were sharks in the deep), or that I’m carrying a weight on my chest. Now that I’m 1,806 miles away from home (if I were to walk home—sometimes I imagine society collapsing and everything going to complete shit [more than it already has] and, stuck without the availability to drive, I would walk those 1,806 miles back home) and family, bringing up any topic that might be considered Heavy seems rude. It just doesn’t seem right to sit down at dinner and respond with, “Well, since you asked, here’s exactly how my family is directly impacted by drug cartels and the corruption of the Mexican government. Would you also like to hear how I have nightmares of being shot and bleeding out alone without being able to see my family one last time? I could also talk about how annoying it is when people complain about having “bad” food in the dining halls, when I spent days during Harvey looking at the pantry, worrying about when we would run out of goods and wondering when grocery stores would have food and water again. But I wouldn’t want to impose my pain, fear, and suffering and anger on your “poor innocent soul,” and hear your, “Oh, wow. I’m sorry. I don’t know what to say.”
Of course, it isn’t your fault that I have to bottle up my feelings and thoughts until I feel like I’m choking on them (like how I would choke on the taste of the unpurified water from the water pump under my grandmother's land near the Rio Grande, where the maquiladoras would dump their waste), on my own guilt for being one of the lucky ones, one of the privileged ones. Even walking to class, I sometimes feel it all flooding my path, sloshing around my legs like las aguas negras in that river. What’s the point of being at Wellesley if I can’t even bring up my worries or be myself without having to explain to others or even, dare I say, make them uncomfortable? I can’t look at you without wanting to punch your gut, the way my gut gets punched every time I read a headline about the Mexican earthquakes, Puerto Rico underwater, the fires in California—I can’t be the only one who has these thoughts poking at the back of their eyes every time they have to speak up in class, whether it be to voice their opinion on Elena Poniatowska’s La noche de Tlatelolco from an Objective, Literary Point of View, or talk about the effects of gentrification on communities of color in a Calm and Civilized manner (When did my family become your personal anthropology project?). I can’t be the only one carrying fury and sorrow even when they laugh at a joke their friend makes, right? Right?
God, I feel so alone sometimes.
It’s October 3rd, 2017. Even as we waited in line outside the House of Blues, I noticed the sheer number of Latinx people attending the concert. I don’t think I’ve seen so many brown Latinx people in one place since going to church back home, or attending my old high school, or going to the supermarket—being home, in general, I guess. Hearing the blips of Spanish soothed me, throwing me back to the first time I heard Spanish in Boston (two older brown women sitting across from me on the subway car, too far away for me to understand what they were saying, they could’ve been talking shit about my outfit and I wouldn’t have cared, I was so goddamn happy—)
Behind my friend Andrea and I, two Wellesley alums of color arrive. After hearing bits and pieces of our conversation, one of them asks us if we’re Wellesley students. We connect and start chatting. After a while, they ask us, “How do you like Wellesley so far?” I pause before I answer, “I love it, but I’m still very critical of it.” They nod. “That’s a pretty healthy amount to like Wellesley,” they respond.
After we go through security (hands sweaty like whenever my family travels back from Mexico, the border patrol guard making us squirm under his severe gaze to make sure we aren’t lying about our citizenship status), we’re lucky enough to snag spots at the very front of the venue, right in front of where Café Tacvba would be performing in a couple of hours. We squeal and giggle like children (I remember my little sister and I jumping in a Whataburger parking lot after our parents agreed to let us go to the movie theater that evening, squealing and giggling). A Mexican person’s white partner beside us remarks, “I can’t wait to see how all these Mexican people are going to be dancing.” (Boy, did they learn.) Two hours later, the Tacvbos soon come on stage, in their outfits from their tongue-in-cheek music video lampooning major figures in the Mexican political sphere. We scream, a happy scream (like getting to go to San Antonio, a two-hour drive from Houston, for the first time in our lives—my gift for handling my mental health to the point where I was comfortable guiding my Spanish-speaking parents). The audience screams with us.
Song after song after song, beat in my ears and my heart, making me jump and dance and jump again. People around us make jokes about what is said onstage and what is heard, talking in doble sentido, throwing around slang I only hear when I’m walking in the plaza of Matamoros. The songs being played range from rock en español to straight up banda music (I wish I could share with you the moment when the extravagant trumpets of “El fin de la infancia” started blasting and Rubén, the leading man of the group, short and slim and sporting two space buns at the top of his head, started his rapid-fire delivery and danced on stage—no fucking way, I thought, it’s like every wedding I had ever gone to, with my family—), everyone singing along and jumping and dancing with me.
At one point, Rubén pretends that the band set has reached its end and they need to leave. The crowds protests. He asks us to chant that “pre-Hispanic chant that is deep inside of all us,” confusing the crowd. Some people get to sing the iconic beginning to their song, “El baile y el salón”—paparupapa euuuu eoooo—and the band laughs and shake their heads. Then, from the back of the House of Blues, comes that ancient chant within us: “¡CULERO! ¡CULERO!” Everyone joins in and we chant and sing “¡CULEEEEEEERO! ¡CULEEEEEEERO! ¡CULEEEEEEERO!” Even though we’re calling him not just an asshole, but a coward! I think of my dad shouting profanities at the TV when las Chivas fuck up while playing against another Mexican soccer team. Rubén stretches his arms out, lifts his chin up to the sky and soaks it all in, as if our vulgar insult, delivered with love, were sunshine. The concert rages on after that. It was the most Mexican event I’ve ever gone to, the happiest I’ve ever been since I came to Massachusetts from Texas.
It’s almost a religious experience, I think, until I imagine my mom playfully slapping my head for comparing a rock band to the Catholic Church. Their closing song “1-2-3” sings about love in the face of the destruction of Mexico through the government’s corruption and mass murders of their youth, and the War on Drugs decimating us all. They smile as they sing to us, but no one in the crowd (except maybe the white person beside us, who has adopted a thoughtful, quiet stance as the concert became more and more alive) doubts that they aren’t carrying their own guilt and shame and worry and anger wherever they go, sloshing around their legs like aguas negras.
We’re always aware, we embrace the good and the bad, we can both feel deeply sad and happy at the same time. Rubén asks us to send our good thoughts and our hearts to the indigenous peoples, to our siblings who need strength in Mexico Puerto Rico Las Vegas Rio de Janeiro Texas, to our LGBTQ siblings, to the Earth itself. The band doesn’t shy away from saying what they think, they say what’s been on my mind, on all of our minds all along. Rubén speaks into his microphone, but it’s like I could hear him speaking in our minds, saying, “You’re not alone, and it’s okay to carry your burdens, we all have a burdens that we must dance with.”
(La vida es un gran baile
Y el mundo es un salón)
And for the first time, I felt like I didn’t have to carve a place of my own in Massachusetts with my fingernails. I felt I had walked into my home, shaking the mud off my boots.
Alicia Margarita Olivo ’19 alcanzo las estrellas y entre ellas se perdió.
From October 2017 issue