Wednesday, August 06, 2008
Freddie Fender, the great Tejano singer, was more than a friend to me. This deep-hearted man was my cousin, or the child of my mother’s cousin, Louise Cuny, whatever that relation is. Louise married a Mexican man, in 1930, long before I was born. She moved down to McAllen, Texas, along the border, to be with his people, because my people no longer knew her. It wasn’t like my grandparents to use names, the common racial epithets, but Louise married out, she married beneath us, and we didn’t hear about her.
I asked my folks, “Who is that little girl in the photo next to Aunt Tessie?” My father would say, “Oh, that’s our cousin Louise. We haven’t seen her in years.”
So they never said anything bad about Louise, it was just a closed subject. When I rebelled against my family in the 1960’s, it was because of these secrets. I needed to know about my cousin Louise among other mysteries. I will say now, to interrupt this story, that it was good of my folks to keep their hearts secret from me, for it was not to give too easily, these truths. No, it was for me to struggle and quest for meaning, even the true story of my own family.
So, it was not until the late 1980s that I found out about Louise and her child Freddy. Freddy Fender! My God, he sings my soul, “Wasted Days and wasted Nights”, “When the Next Teardrop Falls,” -- those hit songs of his. They were too sentimental -- it was Mexico, it was Texas, it was Tejano.
I liked his music too much, because every morning I awoke with a sorrow, a longing for the past which I could not understand. Why was I so old-fashioned to like his music?
So I wrote to him to claim kin, where he lived in San Benito, a little town, just north of McAllen. He didn’t write back, but he was not such a huge Superstar, so I knew I could find him. Freddie hung out in the clubs in the Valley [as they say, the Rio Grande Valley near McAllen] -- he hung out in the clubs when he wasn’t on the road. So it wasn’t too hard to find him, and to say “Primo, Como esta?” -- or “Cousin, how are you?” As any Mexican might greet you. But, I meant it truly, that we were blood, and he looked at me, like Pancho Villa, those deep brown eyes, and he saw something in me. I said, “I’m your family. I know your mother. Here, look at this photo. You will see.”
So it began awkwardly, but he gave me a chair at the club. I sat close by to hear him sing. His life was so different than anything I knew, but I could almost reach him.
This was in 1986, when I lived down there. People wondered why I moved to Texas, and why I have gone back there again and again. It was a family secret -- this mixed blood. I could have spoken a long time ago. It seems like nothing now. They don’t even call it mixed marriage anymore, but I was brought up strictly, by the nuns, so I kept that secret.
I went back to San Benito, in 2006, to visit Freddie Fender’s grave, and I left my own tears.