Texas dust swallowing me up, little diablo tornados entreat me to dance. In these swampy Florida flatlands, I long for Aztlán, that primordial womb which birthed my ancestors. I merge with the tierra tejana, and then I remember. Memories from abuelo José, tío Miguel, tía Rosa, gran abuelos Jesús y Elena that screech out. All dead familia I never met, yet ones who remain alive in me beyond the hours of el día de los muertos. These antepasados stir a yearning in my soul that seeks to recordar y reparar damages in our familial history. While I embrace my Austrianness, the German language, and meine Oma’s memories, it is the mexicano in me that demands justicia, that summons la revolución.
1. Estático. Tía turns the car radio on. Spanish voices sing mariachi music de Jalisco. Everything sounds like white noise, pero like, this is why I went to San Antonio. To adjust my ears to the contours. Spanish on the radio, Spanish over el teléfono, viejitos mumbling Spanish through aging teeth, niños forming Spanish with their tongues. Collecting blemished memories and cultural fragments to quench my pocho thirst to be Mexican…
My grandpa José immigrated to the United States from Jacona, Michoacán shortly before World War II. He and five of his siblings built their families throughout Houston, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Chicago, and even as far west as Fresno, California. Only one, Tía Rosa, returned to Jacona to raise her children. And through the ignorance of Anglo immigration agents, the Ynosencios from Michoacán split into the Inocencios, Inosencios, and Ynosencios.
Although everyone in my family has retained degrees of chicanísmo, my dad’s generation that has grown up in Texas has indulged the quest to assimilate and appear “more white.” The Houston Ynosencios and Inocencios no longer speak Spanish, and many of them have never ventured to Michoacán. It’s too dangerous, they say.
However, Tía Agapita Mendoza, my grandpa’s youngest sister, raised her family in Chicago, which nourished a distinct cultural environment for Latinos and white people of various European ethnicities, including the Irish, the Polish, and the Germans. Tía Mary-Helen, Agapita’s eldest daughter, was born in Jacona, raised in Chicago, moved to San Antonio, and she told me her first years in Texas were starkly disparate to her adolescence. In my experience, she said, I didn’t really see racism until I came to Texas.
After two years of studying Latina/o theatre and culture as a Master’s student at The Florida State University, I traveled to San Antonio to get to know this side of the family better and learn more about our specifc history as Mexicans in the United States.
2. Ritmos. Mi primo Chuy y yo lounge on his back porch covered with Mexican license plates and veteran tequila bottles. We mix lemonade with Herradura, he cranks up Spotify, and I recognize Vicente Fernández, Pedro Infante, the classic voces de México. I share the Chilean artist Ana Tijoux and the Spaniard Mala Rodríguez. Chuy tells me that with his primos en Guadalajara, todas las noches end with “Volver, Volver”, and I tell him that, for me, todas las mañanas begin with “Somos Sur.”
I grew up in the suburbs of Houston eating the Mexican fajitas and quesadillas my dad cooked, but the San Anto familia taught me recipes for chilaquiles and enchiladas I’d never seen—and thank goodness, because I never liked that tejano gravy. And after a few days in the Alamo City, I was already chomping into raspas con chamoy and hibiscus tea with a shot of Jimador (tia’s got to have her nightcap!).
From Tía Mary-Helen (in Mexican families, your parents’ cousins are your tías y tíos), I discovered that my grandpa José had an older sister named Nicolasa that the Inocencios in Houston never knew. Apparently, her conversion from Catholicism to her husband’s Pentecostal denomination was too much for her father to accept (or for her brothers—nobody agrees on who ostracized her first). This is secondhand knowledge to the Mendozas, yet my dad, his twin, and their younger brother were shocked to learn about Nicolasa, thinking their dad was the oldest child in his family.
Like the Spanish my dad and his siblings didn’t learn, the memories of my grandpa José’s father, Jesús, descends to us in pieces, barely recognizable through steely Houstonian eyes. He was a strawberry farmer, he drank coffee into the evenings, he made a pilgrimage to la Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. But during the two months in San Antonio, I pieced this man together through Agapita’s stories, a rare photograph, and a long-lost uncle in Austin I had never met—Manuel Ynosencio.
Manuel is the eldest son of Tío Mike, my grandpa’s younger brother, and he’s a man deeply in touch with our P’urhépecha origins and other Native American customs. I only spent an evening with him, but through sharing stories we re-established a connection between the Y’s and I’s. You see, my grandpa and his brother kindled a grudge during their early years in Houston, which has poisoned both sides of the family, and no one remembers why they ruptured relations.
But by a happy chance and a cyclic cosmos, Uncle Manuel owns a hat from Jesús Ynosencio. This sombrero now resides on his wall in Austin, and Uncle Manuel gave me the sacred opportunity to wear it. The ancient P'urhépecha grudges from generations ago are fading, and the Ynosencios and Inocéncios are conjuring bridges again.
3. Acentos. Working in a San Anto breakfast joint, I hear the cadences of Chicanos, Tejanos, Mexicanos as they rush in and out to ingest gringo versions of chile rellenos. They all speak Spanish to me, and I distinguish between the chilango who lives part time in Mexico City and the yoga teacher from Monterrey.
The seedlings for my play Purple Eyes emerged in a graduate seminar where Dr. Nia Witherspoon deftly blended theory and practical work. Our second assignment was to craft a performance response to John Leguizamo’s Freak where we explored ethnicity in our families in relation to stand-up and autobiographic genres.
Originally, I wrote a scene where I performed my dad telling a story about his undercover days as a narc cop who worked XXX video stores and nightclubs. I performed as myself and then transitioned into my father’s memory where he relived an experience next to a glory-hole, followed by an evening where he dressed in drag to infiltrate the Numbers club in Montrose, a predominantly LGBTQ neighborhood in Houston.
While my father’s police work placed him in a precarious position among queer communities in Harris County, his love for drag and his willingness to take these jobs functioned as a way to contest machismo and perform a greater range of gender freedom. At least, this is my queer reading of my dad’s actions, which has transformed into a full-length solo play that explores joto passages through four generations of Inocéncios, including myself.
I churned many ideas through my mind, and while Leguizamo’s work has inspired my process, I also looked to Quiara Alegría Hudes’ Elliot, a Soldier’s Fugue, which follows three generations of Puerto Rican veterans who have fought in U.S. American-led wars. Before I gained any concrete knowledge on my great-grandpa Jesús, my play only focused on three generations. Over the summer, my grandma told me how Jesús had made a pilgrimmage to La Virgen’s Basilica in order to pray that his sons wouldn’t need to fight in World War II. I knew I would include this journey somehow, even if it was just in the prologue, but through Tía Agapita’s and her husband’s memories, I gathered enough to craft a chapter on him in the play. And I could see how entrenched his life was in the Mexican Revolution, which includes a direct run-in with Pancho Villa’s army!
I sketched trajectories over this last summer and during my stint in San Antonio, I wrote the play. During brief trips to Houston, I also sustained conversations with my dad, his twin brother Joe, my dad's oldest sister Lola, and my Austrian grandmother who carry stories about my grandpa as a father, husband, and U.S. soldier.
In the photo on the About page of this website, you'll see all that was left of the pinche purple eyes. When I went to Houston a month ago, I asked my dad if he still owned the notorious purple sunglasses he wore when I was a kid. In his typical cop fashion, he organized a search and rescue with me where we investigated the house and interrogated my mom for their location. Finally, we found them in a drawer, broken lens, snapped earpiece, and flecks of white paint all over. After fifteen years, I'm surprised they've survived. Pero like, that's the story of my play: (queer) Latino survival.
It's going to take a lot of joto magic to repair them. So let the enchanting begin, cabrones.