It’s always the same conversation.
“How can you be Hispanic?” someone asks. You’re way too white and your name is Nathaniel Miller. Nathaniel Andrew Miller.
It’s not the name I chose for myself, I try to explain. My mom’s mistake was marrying a white guy and taking his name.
“Yeah, but how are you Hispanic?” they always ask.
I then end up explaining my family history. My mother’s maiden name was Rocha. Her middle name is Guadalupe. My grandmother’s maiden name was Ramos. To drive it home, I usually go further on down the family tree.
But none of that matters. My mom married a white Oregon boy stationed in San Antonio while with the Marines. Now I have a light skin tone. Love does strange things to people.
Even after my birth, mom’s family members would ask her why she gave me the name she did.
“What ever happened to good Mexican names like Jose and Pepe?” They asked her upon hearing my new name. It didn’t matter what they thought, she said; she loved my name and said it was her gift to me.
I told her if she wanted to give me a gift, she should have gotten me a bicycle.
Despite my Anglo name, I have always identified myself with my Hispanic side more than I do my father’s family. Growing up, my grandfather (Clemente for those who want to know) always had music playing. In the kitchen, the room in the back or his garage, there was always something playing. And to this day, I don’t remember hearing anything come out of those speakers but Tejano.
Much like all other forms of music, Tejano has various genres and sounds. And while many people don’t know the difference between Conjunto, Orchestra or Modern, almost everyone can pick out the sound of an accordion in the background.
The one thing many people don’t know about Tejano is how waltzes and the omm-pah sounds of polkas. During the Mexican Revolution, the European immigrants living in Mexico fled their homes and started settling around South Texas. Dealing mostly in agriculture and ranching, most of the time the sole form of entertainment could be found through traveling musicians.
Roaming the lands with usually only a drum, flute and guitar, as soon as the musicians got into heavily populated German and Czech areas, they would incorporate the sounds of the Polka into their sound.
If you listen, you can still hear the European influences of the Polkas in modern Tejano music. Back in the day, my father used to ask me, “Do you know what Tejano is? It’s just the Polka played on stolen instruments!”
Yeah, that was his attempt at humor.
I wanted to write this column because of a call I got at the office last week while working a day on the copy desk.
As I picked up the phone, the elderly man on the other line asked me if the Ector County Independent School District had figured out that to raise the English STAAR end of course exam scores, the had to get rid of all the “messicans.”
After politely informing him I was Hispanic, he told me he meant no offense towards me, and then asked why he has to hear everyone speak “messican” everywhere he goes.
Again, I explained that when America was first founded, not everyone spoke English, and that the colonies were mixed with groups who spoke German, Dutch and other languages. This didn’t seem to faze him.
“Well, let me tell you a quick story,” he said before going into great detail how a “messican” woman and her kids cut in front of him at the supermarket and he then proceeded to fart in one of the kid’s face.
“I’m not going to lie,” I responded. “That’s probably the most disturbing thing I’ve ever heard in my life and I used to work the crime beat.”
“Well alright, you go ahead just write more stories about them ‘messicans,’ ” he said before slamming the phone.
So I did. And I regret nothing.