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La vecindad/the neighborhood.

AS A TEENAGER, I always dreamed of staying up late, no interfering parents to bother me as I greeted the dawn, doing as I pleased and then sleeping until noon. I was never allowed to stay up late, and if I attempted to do so, I could hear my mother rattling about in her room, yelling to me: "Please, go to bed! What are you doing, anyway?"

What I was doing was watching television, or reading a book, or writing in my journal, or just hanging out, with any excuse to stave off an unwanted sleep that I hoped was hours away. I was most alive at night, but my mother didn't understand! What I craved more than anything was my alone time, to be just that, alone. But my mother insisted that I go to sleep AND NOW, and so, against my will, I dragged myself to bed.

But still, my contrary nature persisted, as under the sheets I hugged my small transistor radio to my chest, muffling the sound in the interminable darkness as I searched out KOMA, the all-night rock-and-roll station in Oklahoma City that catered to my restless spirit, bringing me the Beatles, the Dave Clark Five, Herman's Hermits, the Rolling Stones--any number of groups and singers that fueled my inchoate dreams, my intangible longing, music my mother mistakenly called mere "noise."

My sense of geography was poor. Still, I knew Oklahoma City was far enough away to be a mysterious "city." What I wanted in those years was to move away, and as quickly as I could, to become someone else, somewhere else. That muffled late-night music allowed me to dream myself different. When I listened to it late at night, I could hear other worlds beckoning me. In the expectant darkness, I wasn't merely the small-town girl I knew I was, I was the adult who stayed up all night, who did what she wanted, when she wanted, and in her own space, without a mother's shrill voice calling from her dark bedroom, "And turn off that radio! It's late!"

IN 2000 I SPENT A WEEK as a visiting professor at the University of Oklahoma, closer to KOMA than I had ever been. Once there, I couldn't help wishing I could go back to one of those horribly long and boring nights back then when I ranged the house looking for what, I can't remember. I'd spend time looking around the old house, seeing it as if for the first time, and then I'd visit my mother, in her familiar but, to me, sacred and off-limits room, asking her those many questions that have stayed with me these years she's been gone. My mother died in 1983, and the music of those nights comes back to haunt me. KOMA. Oklahoma City.

Since I visited Oklahoma, all I've done is look back. When I arrived, a letter from my Tio Beto's ex-fiancee was waiting for me. Nellie Espinosa was the one who broke my uncle's heart. They'd gotten engaged during World War II, but much to everyone's surprise, she suddenly married a Mexican pilot. On purple stationery, she told me how after her husband died, she became a nun. But after thirty-two years she left the order behind. It got too modern, she says. And now she lives here. Can we meet, I wonder? I remember so well the dramatic story of lost love. I have pictures of Nellie in old photo albums and a cache of my uncle's letters detailing his years in the service.

I also received a call from Jim and Joyce Allman, former Las Crucens inviting me to dinner. Jim's dad was my vecino. A wonderful man, he took great pride in his garden and lovely home, often meeting near the fence to discuss the tomatoes with my husband, Daniel. The Allman's and I met for red enchiladas, beans, and coleslaw, "La Posta style," as prepared in a favorite and well-known restaurant back home. We talked about the old neighborhood. Their daughter, Grey, was in my literature class.

I can't help but feel that Oklahoma is now part of me. It's in my blood. Like New Mexico, Oklahoma is full of friendly people, people who go out of their way to help you out. I am also struck by the many cultures here, with their mixture/mezcla, a parallel to my own New Mexican roots. We are a conglomeration of races and people, and our blood runs deep in our beloved states. Oklahoma and New Mexico are connected and in so many ways.

It's not surprising that the great dinosaurs called our two states home. At the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History in Norman, I was awed by the wonderful presentation of this timeless legacy. I fell in love with the pentaceratops. I was so in awe of his majesty that I returned to see him many times during my stay. The land was home to our ancestral brothers and sisters, human, animal, mineral. I feel the power of our shared roots.

I'd like to think that the airwaves brought me here, to listen again, to the old music, to the dear stories of our vecinos and loved ones, who remind us that we all carry home deep within us, no matter where we are or where we go.

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Copyright [c] 2000 by Denise Chavez, from the unpublished collection "Stories from My Third World Backyard." Reprinted by permission of the author. First published in The Ink, a monthly publication celebrating the arts, entertainment, and special events in the southern New Mexico area.

WLT AUTHOR FACTS

AUTHOR Denise Chavez (b. 1948)

COUNTRY United States

PRINCIPAL GENRES Fiction

DENISE CHAVEZ was Visiting Professor of Chicano Literature at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, for two weeks in October 2000. She will be returning to OU in the fall of 2005 to teach a class called "Border Literature." Currently, she is working on a novel, "The King and Queen of Comezon," set on the U.S.-Mexico border.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Essays
Author:Chavez, Denise
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Excerpt
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2005
Words:1009
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