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exile on the riverwalk
alienation in aztlan
by dan gonzalez
4.3.05
news

The denizens of the Riverwalk, some tourists, some sightseers, file by on the narrow stone walkways that snake around the river. Stairs lead up the facades of buildings adorned with umbrella-strewn verandas and patio bars. Because of the water, it's something of an oasis, palmettos and ferns line the corridors of the stone and stucco labyrinth.

There is a noticeable Chicano presence - it is, after all, Aztlan, the old northern kingdom of half of my ancestral bloodline. Nonetheless, I am a conspicuous foreigner, unable to blend in with them or the others whose skin is more akin to mine.

River boats putter by, carrying two dozen tourists a piece who gawk about their environs. I take a snapshot of them as they meander through the waterways, providing some irony to their excursion: a sudden stop in front of an unexpected mirror in a carnival fun house.

Amidst the throng of passersby, a delivery man pushes through with a hand-truck loaded with Bacardi, Cuervo, and beers. But the atmosphere is so pleasant that the contrivances of tourist-based commerce - like the CVS that has a riverfront entrance - are overshadowed by the obviously intentional historic preservation of the Spanish-flavored architecture.

Improbably there is an entire mall wrapped around the end of the river, as if it were the very source. A Dillard's, a Sam Goody, and a Victoria's Secret offer their wares to any that have the sudden urge to randomly shop. Up a brisk flight stairs, the sign to an AMC theater beckons the weary sojourners with the classic American comforts of popcorn, soda, and Hollywood's finest.

Despite the convenience of familiar franchises, the singular pleasures of little places like Jim Cullen's Landing - where a jazz trio capably plays good swing as if in willing spite against the strip-mall trappings of the chain stores - are more alluring. Alone I am as unfit for the confines of a hotel room as I am for a shopping mall packed with vacationing couples and families, so the sense of exile grows rifer still. Such a place as Jim's offers needed respite, and when I pull out my notebook to write this, only half the patrons stare. A bag-piper at the nearby Mad Dog British Pub breaks the revelry, both mine and the Jazz cats, with the wailing, dirge-like notes of Amazing Grace. Helplessly, but with ironic grins, the jazz cats join in and back him up. They still improvise, jamming about the melody-line in quiet rebellion against the forced conformity, while pithy truisms arise to comfort the alienated: There is nothing more refreshing than a Dos Equis with a lime; Some women shouldn't wear mini-skirts and halters; and Tank tops with tattooed arms and giant beer bellies don't help a man look cool.

A mariachi in full regalia walks by carrying his guitar. Unaware that he is being observed, the stops, opens the lapel of his waistcoat, and abruptly sneezes into it, stopping the Goth couple who walked unseen behind him. More truisms - Fine clothing does not always conceal human frailty and No amount of facial piercing can beautify the unfortunate-looking - announce themselves in uninvited spurts.

I walk up to survey the street level. A block or two from the river lies the Alamo, humbly but comfortably nestled between the taller buildings of downtown San Antonio. Across the street, a Ripley's Believe-It-Or-Not museum competes with the Guiness Museum of World Records for excess tourist funds. I wonder what Davy Crockett and the two-hundred would think if they saw what has grown around the little missionary they so bravely and futilely try to defend against the legions of Santa Ana.

Chicanos and Gabachos file through, and I wonder what side they would have been on. As I enter, my presumption of neutrality (having both Mexican and Gringo blood) grapples with my loyalty to America. Multi-culturalsts steadfastly avow that America is not a melting-pot, but if that is so, than what am I? Normally, I'd skin out by claiming to be Plain American, but here, at the Alamo, phrases like "Mongrel Outcast" and "Cultural Exile" come more quickly to mind. Deny the dish, if the ingredients don't mix, the way the PC gourmet wished.

I notice three skateboarders - two Gabachos and one Chicano - thrashing about in front of the street-level entrance to Dillards. I silently applaud them, and the young teenager walking around in the coonskin cap. It's on you now, little brothers!

* * *

Later, I retire to the hotel bar - which always offer safe passage to displaced travellers who seek to avoid the overwhelming prison feel of the hotel room - and strike up a conversation with a Chicano seated at the bar. Jorge Lopez - call him George - is an electrical contractor in my general age range, and since I am a network engineer for a contractor, we have much in common. He remarks on my last name while looking at my face, as all Hispanics do with a consistency that is somehow as vaguely comforting as it is noticeably disturbing.

I explain my heritage and he says "My wife is white. We're mixing it all up. Soon we'll all be one thing."

"That'll be a good day," I say, as we clink beer bottles to salute a future that our would-be governors - both conservative and liberal - seem dedicated to preventing.


ABOUT DAN GONZALEZ

Maybe it's you, maybe it's Dan. Things aren't quite the way they should be. And now it seems Dan's peace of mind has come up for the bidding, and those that he respects and trusts must all have been just kidding. Dan's little world has lost control, but still it keeps on spinnin'...

more about dan gonzalez

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COMMENTS

tracey kelley
4.7.05 @ 10:38p

Amen.

My understanding is the proper PC term for America is a "tossed salad." But, you know, whatever.

mike julianelle
4.8.05 @ 11:35a

I prefer syrup.

brian anderson
4.8.05 @ 11:50a

More cultural mixing: the "Mad Dog British Pub" menu lists Guinness as being "From the UK."

dan gonzalez
4.8.05 @ 12:13p

I prefer syrup.

I thought you were big on pie.

dathan wood
4.8.05 @ 1:12p

Did you try jelly, Mike?

russ carr
4.8.05 @ 3:35p

The Riverwalk needs a "Carlos O'Kelly's" to make Gonzo feel at home.



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