I’ve been absent from my blog for the past few weeks as I said my final goodbye to my paternal grandmother as she made her transition. As I feel the grief, it also brings back the poignant loss of my father several years ago. I have been reflecting on the treasures they passed on in the form of musical and poetic passion. In their native country of Honduras, my family was very poor but rich in spirit, curiosity, intelligence and passion. A love of literature, poetry, and music was the fuel that fed their inspiration and ambition to create a life beyond the cruel and crushing poverty they endured before they came to the United States.
Honduras circa 1960 ~ photos by S.M. Barnett
As I was born and raised here in the US, as was my mom (with roots in New Mexico and Mexico), I cannot even comprehend the profundity of their Honduran experience (Honduras literally translates to “depths”), but through the poetry and music they loved, I catch a glimpse of what it means.
I often heard recited the works of Pablo Neruda, Rubén Darío, Juan Ramon Molina, Walt Whitman, and countless other poets both Latin and American. Grandma loved romantic music and would continuously play Julio Iglesias and Luis Miguel. She had a passion for tango and would often dance very dramatically at our family Christmas parties in Los Angeles. While my father loved anything from Nina Simone to the romantic boleros/ballads of Latin America, he was a revolutionary in his soul. He loved the Nueva Canción singer Mercedes Sosa, who passed on just a few weeks ago, as well as songs of the Cuban revolution and Spanish Civil War.
I’ll first start with a favorite poem of both my grandmother and my father. She recited the first few stanzas less than week before her death. This is “A Roosevelt” by Nicaraguan Poet Rubén Darío, recited by Jorge Cafrune. The English translation is “To Roosevelt”:
My grandmother loved the soundtrack to the Pedro Almodovar movie, Talk To Her. Here is a video from the film of Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso singing “Cucurrucucu Paloma”:
Melancholic music I know, but as the Bible says there is time to mourn so here I am. Mercedes Sosa sadly passed away several weeks ago, right before she was to perform at the Latin Grammys where she won for her newest album, Cantora. The Argentine folk singer sang about the political and economic injustice in Latin America, as well as themes about the simple things in life. Here is her most famous performance, “Gracias A La Vida:”
The song that reminds me most of my father, aside from “Gracias A La Vida” is “Hasta Siempre” written by Cuban trovador Carlos Puebla. This song has been covered hundreds of times, but here is the original, an ode to Che Guevara:
One of the first poets that I ever remember my dad and grandma teaching me was Pablo Neruda. My grandma would recite and urge me to memorize one of his most beautiful love poems “Me Gustas Cuando Callas,” or as it’s often translated “I Like For You To Be Still.” The Neruda poem that I first recall learning from my father was “Las Alturas de Machu Picchu/The Heights of Machu Picchu”. As a student, I was very concerned with human rights and the indignities suffered by the vulnerable at the hand of the powerful. My father fed that concern for social justice by sharing with me this poem, here recited by Joan Baez before she sings her classic protest song, “We Shall Not Be Moved:”
A lengthy epic poem with many chapters, The Heights of Macchu Picchu speaks of solidarity with the poor, those forced to build the palaces of the rich. Here is a translated verse from www.poemhunter.com.
That’s it for this post and I will be back soon with more roots music. In the meantime, let us all spend quality time with our loved ones and families. Let us hear their stories and appreciate their journeys. Let us learn the history of the land where we are and the land where we came from. Let us mourn for those who have left. Let us celebrate their lives as they live on in us. And as I have learned, let us have compassion and speak out for those who suffer.