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Writing Austin's Lives: More than 800 residents tell their stories in Humanities Institute community project

How Gulisi got her groove back in Austin’s Mexican Club Scene

By Monica “Gulisi” Beckford, MD, M.Ed.

I know exactly where I was standing when I heard about the planes hitting the towers. I was standing in a clinic in Austin frequented mainly by Mexicans. I felt so proud that I, a black woman born in Honduras, knew what the word for building was in Spanish. “Edificio,” I said to the woman searching for the word. What happened on September 1, 2001, frightened me to the point that I wanted to leave the United States. It scared me so much that I decided then that when they came to kill me, they would find me dancing.

Monica 'Gulisi' Beckford outside of the Club Carnaval

Monica “Gulisi” Beckford

Why dancing? The previous summer I had volunteered with the Austin Police Department’s Victim Services. I went to Austin clubs and distributed flyers warning about the date rape phenomenon. Club Carnaval on Riverside Drive, a Mexican club, was one of my assignments. Now mind you I am a Black woman who had come to terms with my African, African/American and Caribbean roots in the past. What I had not come to terms with were my Hispanic roots, despite living in New York for years around Puerto Ricans. So, I walk into Club Carnaval with my flyer-distributing partner. When my partner saw the crowd, she wanted to leave immediately. I on the other hand, got drawn to the music and the people. The music, a Cumbia, hit my soul as if I had been thirsting for it all my life. I stopped and stared at the people moving in unison to the rhythm. I looked at their smiling faces and watched their bodies move with energy. In that moment I decided I wanted what they had. I wanted to divertir the way Mexicans were doing it at this club. I wanted joy and to belong to this crowd in a way I had not anticipated. My soul was touched. I have not been the same since. My Hispanic roots spoke to me.

Honduras, where I’m from, is one country away from Mexico. My first language was Spanish. And, if you are a Black person who was born in one of the Spanish-speaking Central American countries, you are considered Hispanic. Now that I “discovered” the Austin Mexican club scene, my weekends begin on Thursdays. I go to Desperados on Lamar Boulevard on Thursdays. For live Mexican music on Fridays at 5 p.m., I frequent Desperados again for the free Mexican food buffet and happy hour. Then I wander over to Club Carnaval on Riverside to get in before 10 p.m. while it is free for women. On Saturdays I stay close to home and go to Club Rodeo on Lamar Boulevard where they play a mix of American Mexican and Central American music. To top off the weekend I go to Club Rodeo on Sundays to watch the “El Chico Mas Sexy” show where men get to titillate women by disrobing to music. By Monday at 2 a.m. when the club closes, I’m exhausted but exhilarated. I frequent clubs like a groupie following a favorite band. Going to Austin Mexican clubs allows me to have the illusion of being out of the United States without having to present my passport. The clubs are a world to themselves, another country, and different from anything you will ever experience. There is sensuousness in Mexican clubs that I have not experienced elsewhere. The smell of beer on someone’s breath; the feel of someone’s hair draping me; the taste of sweat that runs down my face from all the dancing; the sight of “overweight” women in sexy garments dancing provocatively with tall buff men. As a single woman I like going to Mexican clubs in Austin because, if you haven’t been ‘bothered” by a man in a good while, these clubs are the ideal place to get a testosterone fix. The ratio of men to women is usually 2-3:1.

The Mexican people made this Black woman, with a multicultural background, feel very welcome. They seem to know how to just be. Dance for the sake of dancing. Talk for the sake of talking. They allowed me to feel alive and safe. My spirit is soaring. I now tend to smile more and the colors I see are more vibrant. My body seems to be in sync with all other rhythms. Stasis no longer exists in my life. The Mexican music, Cumbia and Norteno alike, was like the catalyst I needed to stop being afraid of being in the U.S. In retrospect, by accepting the finality of life that came with 9/11 events, I found vibrancy of life in the Austin Mexican music scene. The day I walked into Austin’s Club Carnaval on Riverside Drive was the best day of my Austin life.

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Photo: Marsha Miller

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  Updated 2014 October 13
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