Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Alejandro Stuart, presente

There are some people who can compress a life changing experience into an afternoon and evening.  You meet them and in the space of a few hours your life is changed.

Alejandro Stuart was one of those folks.  He was larger than life and bolder than some dreams.

James and I were going to the Bay Area: he for a brief conference in Palo Alto and I to do some cultural research in San Francisco.  I was becoming involved with the Latino community in Pasadena and wanted to meet Chicano and Latino community members to learn more about arts & culture in the Mission District.

I took the train to San Francisco, made my way to La Mission.  I was determined to go to Galeria de la Raza,  and hoped to meet Alejandro of La Peña del Sur, and Juan Pedro Gaffney of Coro Hispano.  

I was familiar with Plaza de la Raza in Lincoln Park, so experiencing to the Galeria had a familiar feel to it.  Each their own space, but each clearly valuing the work of the practiced, the apprenticed, and the novice artist.

After the visit  to the Galeria  I phoned Alejandro Stuart.  Because I was making "cold calls" I had no idea whether or not I'd get to meet him.  The gyst of our conversation was you don't know me, I'm on a cultura explore, I would like to learn about what you do.  And I'm hoping what I might learn could be of some value to Pasadena.  

I was invited over to his home, which is also where the Peña took place.  Hmmm...peña - how does one translate that to English?  It is part folk club, part cultural and political exchange, and part circle of friends.  

I may have arrived at Alejandro's house around one or two.  Shortly after my arrival we were in the kitchen, he was feeding me delicious soup with a glass of wine, and we were deep into conversation as the rain drizzled outside.  Our conversation waxed musical and philosophical.  He introduced me to the musicianship of Amparo Ochoa and gifted me with a tape of her work.  

He also gave me Juan Pedro's number.  I went to the hallway to use the phone.  Juan Pedro was most receptive and invited me to have breakfast with him and his wife the next morning.  Back to the kitchen and Alejandro.

I chatted a while longer and then was invited to dinner.  I shared that I was to meet my husband, and discreetly alluded to the fact that we were a happily married couple in San Francisco and we wanted to spend some time "alone" in our hotel.  Alejandro matter of factly told me that I could f... my husband any time, but that this would be a wonderful dinner and that I would meet fascinating people.   

Normally, being a bit of a prude, I would have been offended by both the comment and the word.  But Alejandro had a way of sharing the thought and word in a manner that was profoundly pragmatic.  Somewhere wrapped in his words and in his expression was the idea that if we came to the dinner our life would be made richer.

I left.  When James and I met we talked about this and decided to take this different adventure.  

So back we went, with bottle of wine in hand, and enjoyed a splendid, luscious meal.  Oh, and one of the couples that arrived was Juan Pedro and his wife Joyce.  Given the hubbub of the night I didn't catch their last names and initially didn't make the connection with Coro Hispano.  I wasn't thinking of the next day.  There was so much hearty conversation that demanded attention right then and there.  

After dinner the table was pushed back, chairs were rearranged, and one of the guests - a young man with fair skin, light hair and pale eyes - brought out his violin.  The rest of the evening was blissfully rich with poetry and music.

As we were about to leave, Juan Pedro mentioned that the following morning was a going to be a bit rough.  He had invited this person and her husband to breakfast.  I had to smile as I told him, that "those" folks, were James and me.  We had a great laugh and we all went our separate ways.

On occasion I still find myself thinking of the afternoon and night filled with experiences and insight that has informed my work among those who share cultural experiences and cultural traditions.

Gracias, Alejandro.  Our lives are richer for having spent time with you and your passion for the arts.

Both images are uncredited but come from Alejandro's fb wall.


  1. This may sound strange, but sometimes I feel lonesome for my cultural heritage, whatever it may be. I think this is why I fell so hard in love with Britain. Not all of me comes from there, but part. Other parts-- I know some, not some others. There isn't a single know?

  2. I think I know what you mean. When our family left Ireland, James and I wept when we left.

    My roots, for the very most part are Mexican. But really that's like being the U.S. version of American. Of a government of a country.

    Politically I'm a Chicana, by experience Mexican American. My grandparents come from the states of Aguascalientes, Chihuahua, Coahuila, and San Luis Potosí. I look in the mirror and see the
    reflections of the Otomí and the Tarahumara. There is another branch of my family that claims the Mexica.

    All of this matters, but I enjoy dancing at Obon as much as dancing Scottish Country . We're lucky we get to embrace what resonates with us.

  3. You remind me; I went with friends to a powwow out near one of the casinos east of the Inland Empire. We really had a good time, loved the food and people and crafts to buy.

    The dancing surprised me. I was expecting it to be wilder but it was almost somber. The simplest dances were for men only. The men locked arms and moved together, and I noticed one of them was white. I mean he was so white he looked like he'd arrived from his corporate office, taken off his suit coat and put on some feathers. It didn't matter to him or his brothers, not one bit.

  4. It is great to see Pow Wows. Fine example.

  5. What a great story, and great example of how a well-reasoned, cogent statement can win a debate before it starts.

  6. I suspect Alejandro was full of such statements. I'm sure I wasn't the first person to be swayed by a sentence from him.