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Starting Point

‘Poor me’ scream lets the pain out


I pick up my 5-year-old son, Tello, at the daycare after school. He looks pensive. I ask him how he did at school. Did he get the treasured yellow card that says “excellent” behavior, with the image of a smiling sun imprinted on it, or the not-so-good green card, or even the dreaded blue? He got yellow, and yet we both know his behavior was far from excellent.

I always play music in Spanish on the radio while I drive around, hoping that my son’s subconscious is growing by it, and because I like having him hear what many Latino working-class people listen to while doing repetitive, monotonous jobs. I so enjoy this music. It reminds me of my childhood and somehow brings me close to my father who disappeared many years ago. I surf between Radio Romántica pops and Radio Sol, where “El Cucuy de la Mañana” makes fun of everybody who calls in all morning long to the endless talk shows. In the early afternoon and evening, the radio plays music I call “getting drunk” music. Through this music, while waiting at red lights, I have been able to take out my daily frustrations at the most mundane incidents, without being intoxicated, by belching out a “grito,” a Mexican scream that traditionally accompanies the music. Screaming in the morning at red lights won’t do. That’s when I put on my makeup.

As a group, most Latinos of all generations enjoy a truly eclectic taste in music, and I need it all: Javier Solis, Chaquira, José José, Camilo Sesto, Carlos Vives, Carlos Gardel, La Prieta Linda, Lorenzo de Monteclaro, Las Jilguerillas, Los Tucanes de Tijuana, Alejandro Fernandez, and all the rest.

All of a sudden I see my son gulp down his favorite snack and then join in “Esa herida si duele, Ay como me duele corazón … ” at the top of his lungs, his 5-year-old body shaking with emotion, resonating like an experienced mariachi, vibrating with deep feelings, singing and even screaming to the music. I think to myself: “His 6-year-old girlfriend, Tisa, must not have wanted to do a puzzle with him once again.” We get home, he’s as good as new after the voice tremor -- and I realize that we all need to insert those spiritual moments of complaint, those subconscious, gypsy screams, those mantric outcries, between correcting papers, making dinner, loving children, formulating a written report, composing e-mails and filling lunch boxes.

Television, “The Sopranos,” poetry, psychotherapy, classical music, Cartoon Network, Sunday sermons or parks are just not enough. There is a crack where a “grito” -- a “poor me” wail, aligning itself with someone else’s suffering heart -- allows the pain to escape. Then we can start over again.

Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, a Latina poet and academic, is assistant professor of foreign languages at Seattle University.

National Catholic Reporter, October 19, 2001