How Gulisi got her groove back in Austin’s Mexican Club
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.
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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Read Writing Austin’s Lives introduction