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In the soothing darkness of her local theater, thirty-something teacher's aide and divorcée Teresina "Tere" Ávila looks straight into the smoldering eyes of Pedro Infante and wonders where her life has gone. The impossibly handsome Mexican singer and movie icon died in 1957, but to Tere -- secretary of the Pedro Infante fan club chapter 256 -- he remains an everlasting symbol of the possibility of passion beyond her New Mexico town.
Tere's passions are wasted on Lucio, the married lover who plies her with sweet kisses and false promises. Comfort comes in her adoration for Infante and in the companionship of her best friend, Irma "La Wirma" Granados. Then, one night at the Border Cowboy Truck Stop, Tere is forced to confront reality -- and the choices she must make to reclaim her life.
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Denise Chavez is the author of The Last of the Menu Girls and Face of an Angel, for which she won the American Book Award. She is a founder of the Border Book Festival in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where she lives.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Chapter One: ¡Híjole! In the Darkness
In the darkness of El Colón movie theater, larger than life and superimposed on a giant screen, Pedro Infante, the Mexican movie star, stares straight at me with his dark, smoldering eyes.
It is here in the sensuous shadows that I forget all about my life as Teresina "La Tere" Ávila, teacher's aide at Cabritoville Elementary School. Maybe that's why I like Pedro's movies so much. They make me think to stop thinking or stop thinking to really think.
It is here that I prefer to dream, seated in the middle of the people I call family. To my right is my comadre, Irma "La Wirma" Granados, and next to her is her mother, Nyvia Ester Granados.
It's dinnertime on a hot July night. I should be at home, and yet I find myself lost in the timeless transparency of El Colón watching Pedro Infante in the movie La Vida No Vale Nada. Pedro plays a melancholic loner named Pablo who keeps leaving any number of possible lives behind, and all sorts of women who might have loved him. He's a good-hearted vato who goes on these incredible life-changing borracheras whenever he feels overwhelmed, which is pretty much most of the time.
Ay, Dios mío.
Pedro's lips part slightly with that naughty nene -- little boy -- grin of his as he breaks into a song.
¡Ay, ay, ay!
Pedro knows me. He knows I crave his arms. His touch. His deep voice in my ear, his knowing hands on my trembling body.
The great flames of my dreams billow up to meet the flickering screen, as a wave of intense light consumes the sweet, painful and familiar song of my untold longing.
¡Uuuuuey! The man has me going. Revved up like a swirling red, green, yellow and blue top, I can barely sit still in my seat. I sit up straight, then shiver, then melt down to hot plastic, trying to find a comfortable position. My legs are itchy, a sure sign of the troubled state of my mind, my restless body. There is no relief. I admit, years after he died tragically in a plane crash, I'm in love with Pedro.
In the movie, Pedro-as-Pablo meets Cruz, the widowed owner of an antique shop in the market and he carries her groceries home for her. He offers to stay on to help and that is exactly what he does, cleaning up, fixing things, getting the shop back on its feet. And he can't help but notice how voluptuous Cruz is, despite her black widow's dress.
After exchanging glances that would have worked on any other woman, Cruz still can't admit she loves Pedro-as-Pablo. But she's thrilled to know he wants her -- his lust naked, unadorned. Only when she's behind closed doors in her room can she admit the terrible truth.
What can I tell you about Pedro Infante? If you're a Mejicana or Mejicano and don't know who he is, you should be tied to a hot stove with yucca rope and beaten with sharp dry corn husks as you stand in a vat of soggy fideos. If your racial and cultural ethnicity is Other, then it's about time you learned about the most famous of Mexican singers and actors.
Pedro was born November 18, 1917, in Mazatlán, Sinaloa, and died in 1957 in a horrible plane crash in Mérida, Yucatán, when he was forty years old and at the height of his popularity. He was the biggest movie star in the Mexican cinema of the forties and fifties, what is called La Epoca de Oro del Cine Mejicano. Many know him as "El ídolo del Pueblo." Some people even call him the Dean Martin of Méjico, but he's more, much more than that. He was bigger than Bing Crosby or even Elvis Presley.
Pedro's real life was just as passionate as the one he played on the screen. There was his first girlfriend, Lupita Marqués, who bore him a little girl. And then there was his long-suffering wife, María Luisa. Then came Lupe Torrentera, the young dancer he met when she was fourteen and who bore him a daughter, Graciela Margarita, at age fifteen. Lupe was the mother of two of his other children. And, of course, there was Irma Dorantes, the young actress who starred in many of his movies and became the mother of his daughter, Irmita. The marriage to her was annulled the week before his death.
In between these women were many other women, some whose names we remember, many we don't. And one can never forget his mother, Doña Refugia, or Doña Cuquita, as she was known. She was really the first woman who truly loved Pedro. Pedro was the type of man who took care of the women in his life, from Doña Refugio to María Luisa to all of his mistresses. Either he had a fantastically rich and good life or a hell of a complicated one.
If I'd had a chance and been born earlier and in a different place, I might have tried to take up with Pedro as well. But I was born in Cabritoville, U.S.A., on the Tejas/Méjico border near El Paso. The closest I'll ever come to Pedro Infante is in El Colón on a Thursday night. In here time is suspended. In here I want to imagine the impossible, to leave, for an hour or two, my life behind.
Nyvia Ester sits behind a woman who keeps talking when Pedro-as-Pablo does something cute on-screen, or makes ojitos with his beautiful eyes -- which makes us all sticky and hot like the popcorn with butter that we're holding even though we know he's been dead for years.
All I need is a little quiet and a lot of darkness. And for the man across the aisle from me to stop smacking his dry lips and murmuring under his hot breath.
When Pedro-as-Pablo suddenly takes Cruz in his arms there is a profound and sacred silence.
Then I hear a sharp intake of breath from Nyvia Ester. Irma sighs, a barely perceptible sound of pure pleasure. I slide down in my seat, my head momentarily resting on the plastic chair back, then nervously rise with dreaded anticipation of what is to come. This is the scene where Cruz gives Pablo her father's gold watch. I can't take it. I know what's going to happen.
It breaks my heart every time Pedro-as-Pablo leaves Cruz in the middle of the night after she's given him her father's watch. Later, she wakes up to find him gone and she runs down a set of dark stairs calling out his name. But he will never come back.
Pedro-as-Pablo is the type of man who will never be faithful to one woman. It's not that he doesn't want to be, he just can't. He can't stay with Silvia, the prostitute he befriends. Eventually he earns enough money as a baker to free her from the brothel owner she's indebted to, but when she finally finds him to thank him and hopefully spend the rest of her life with him, to her surprise he doesn't want her.
More adventures, more women, a life out of control. Pedro can't stop loving and leaving women.
Now raucous with laughter, the man across from me applauds as Pedro-as-Pablo awakes to find himself in bed again, now with Silvia.
Not even Cruz could stop Pedro-as-Pablo, make him stand still, find a life of peace. He loved her, but it wasn't meant to be. There is no rest for someone as rootless as him. Only drinking will ease his pain. Silvia is someone he pities. Marta? Ay, she's a minor distraction. How can Pedro-as-Pablo love anyone when he doesn't even like himself?
The temperature inside El Colón is ninety degrees. The main floor and the balcony are packed with people of all ages, families hovering close to each other, young lovers, older couples resting like torpid flies near the water cooler. Outside, it's hotter.
The married men wander down to the concession stand to get a Coke and stare hard at the young girls, chiflando in that soft appreciative way with their breath, a small outtake of air releasing the sexual tension, while their wives slink down in their seats, grateful for a little peace as they pull down their bunched-up panties. Someone takes out a much-used plastic bag full of tortas, someone else a crinkly paper bag full of ripe mangos. The floor is testimony to the fierce hunger that the darkness arouses. Candy wrappers stick to it along with chewed-up stalks of sugarcane with mashed fibers that nobody wants to look at too closely. Crumpled soft drink cups and popcorn boxes are tucked between seats, wads of tired gum are glued underneath.
Voices call out incessantly to the actors on the screen, without any hesitation or embarrassment, as if the audience knows them, are friends, even family.
"Te quiero, Pablo," Cruz tells Pedro-as-Pablo.
The woman behind us tells him as well. "Y yo te quiero a tí, Pedro."
She's getting on my nerves. She knows all the lines to the movie and she repeats them to herself.
I know all the lines, too, but don't say them out loud.
In the darkness of El Colón, Pedro Infante could do it all, and he did. He sang, he rode horses, motorcycles, cars, buses, and he walked away from tragedy unlike anyone else. No one strode away from all these women, those men, their selfish attachments, all those inappropriate and terrible situations as Pedro did in La Vida No Vale Nada.
"Popcorn?" I whisper to Irma, who motions that the tub is with Nyvia Ester. Both of us know we may not see it for a long time. Someone is going to have to go back for the free refill pretty soon and it's not going to be me.
The popcorn at El Colón is greasy and salty, as it should be. Irma says it smells of hot oil, of maíz, of sweaty hands turning tortillas in small obscure villages, of present lives lived in a past tense, of ancestral struggles, of the humid breath of small children, of old, dying animals resting near crumbling adobes, of too many lives struggling for a modicum of hope. Leave it to La Wirms to try to understand the sociological and cultural meanings of different kinds of popcorn.
I say it's the way they do the butter. Gobs of it without regard to cholesterol.
Please don't ever give me a bag of day-old popcorn that isn't warm enough to melt butter. There is nothing I love more than something greasy and salty unless, of course, it's something hot and greasy and salty. Or fruity and crystallized and so sweet your teeth curl in.
I've got simple tastes, ordinary needs that become extraordinary in the dark. What do I know about ancestral yearnings?
And yet this is why Irma says we're here, years after Pedro's death. "We're fulfilling the destiny set out for us, Tere, by those who came before us, the multitudes whose black-and-white dreams have allowed us to dream in color, whose misery and grief, longing and hopes have fueled our tomorrows."
"Whatever you say, comadre," I whisper to her in the dark. "I'm okay with that theory. But, mujer, just look at the man! I don't care how many years he's been dead. I still want to taste him."
"¡Ay, tú!" Irma says.
But I know she knows what I mean.
And she knows I know what she means.
When I watch Pedro's movies I'm watching the lives of my people, past, present and future, parade in front of me. Pedro Infante could have been my father; he was my father's age when I was born. He's the man we want our men to be. And he's the man we imagine ourselves to be if we are men. The man we want our daughters to have loved. Pedro's the beautiful part of our dreaming. And his looks still have the power to make my woman's blood heat up like sizzling manteca on an old but faithful sartén. Just watching him on the screen makes my little sopaipilla start throbbing underneath all the folds and tucks of cloth on the old and creaky theater seat, just give me some honey.
He had a beautiful body. He lifted weights, which most Mejicanos didn't do at the time. When I think of the Mejicanos I know, I hardly think of them with barbells. They're not the exercising type. They're too busy working outdoors fixing the techo or cleaning or working en los files or running after their own or someone else's children or planting vegetables in their backyards.
When you saw Pedro boxing or riding a motorcycle, you knew he was a man ahead of his sluggish time. Physically robust, he did all his own stunts, whether it was fighting with Wolf Ruvinskis, the hunky Mexican actor who showed a lot of his chest during that era of moviemaking, or hanging on for dear life on the top of the old bus that took him down the dusty and interminable road to La Capital and into Cruz's waiting arms. Pedro loved more women than you can count, which is about the best exercise you can ever get.
He was incredibly handsome in that way only Mejicanos can be. I can't explain this to you, only a Mejicana or an intuitive gringa knows what I mean. The handsomeness and sexiness come on you slowly and then hit you between the eyes. The more you contemplate a man like Pedro, observe his mannerisms, stare into his eyes, delight in his unique smile and strong arms, trim waist and good legs, and watch how gentle and yet self-assured he is with people of all ages, and see how much they love him, you will begin to understand a little of what Pedro Infante means to me, and the other members of the Pedro Infante Club de Admiradores Norteamericano #256.
There was only one Pedro Infante, and he was a real man, and I'm very picky about men. It's a good thing. Not like Graciela Vallejos, Irma's walleyed cousin, who looks at men like driftwood she can just pick up whenever she wants. Nor am I like Irma, who's a little too finicky and rarely goes out on a date.
Irma never likes anyone, they're too this, too that. Too desde. That's the word my comadre uses for too you know what. For example, "Our President, Tere, he's just too desde. And what about his wife, she's just too, too desde. And not only that, but the press, why it's just been too desde about desde, if you ask me."
To Irma, most men either smell like Lavoris or pollo frito, or they're only interested in a woman's nalgas or her legs or her chichis and they can't spell worth a damn, which really bothers her. She also hates a man who writes like a third grader. She rejected a CPA she met at La Tempestad Lounge, our weekend "stomping ground," after he gave her his business card, having scribbled his home phone number as a child would, his fingers clawed around the pen while his other hand held a cold can of Coors.
"You can imagine what he'd be like in bed," Irma said. "All fingers and none of them coordinating. And not only that, he was a Coors drinker. Hasn't he heard about the boycott?"
I never seem to think of things like that, things that can make or break a romance, like if the guy has a nervous tic that will eventually become irritating, or if he smells too much of aftershave that masks sour body odor. Irma notices the way men smoke or what they say about people who smoke, or cross or don't cross their legs, the way they comb their hair, if they have hair, and if they don't have hair, what they think of themselves without hair, how they tie their shoelaces, if they have shoelaces, or if they wear sandals, and what their toes look like in the sandals, and the way they drink their beer. She won't tolerate a smoker or a serious drinker, just like me. I can understand that, what with the alcoholism in her family.
There have been a few people I know who have been drinkers, too. Tío Santos, my mother's brother, for one. He always had a cold beer in his sweaty hands. And then there's Ubaldo Miranda, my best friend in the fan club, besides Irma. He shouldn't drink, but he does. He's been seeing a therapist in El Paso for years at Catholic Family Social Services on the sliding scale, pay as you can, and I think he's finally beginning to understand why he drinks. If you were molested during a Quinceañera when everyone was in the big sala having fun and you were in a dirty rest room with your older cousin Mamerto Miranda's churro apestoso forced into your mouth, you'd drink, too. Because yo...
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Book Description Washington Square Press 2002-01-01, 2002. Paperback. Condition: New. Paperback. Publisher overstock, may contain remainder mark on edge. Seller Inventory # 9780743445733B
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Book Description Simon and Schuster, 2002. PAP. Condition: New. New Book. Shipped from US within 10 to 14 business days. THIS BOOK IS PRINTED ON DEMAND. Established seller since 2000. Seller Inventory # IQ-9780743445733
Book Description SIMON SCHUSTER, United States, 2002. Paperback. Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****. In the soothing darkness of her local theater, thirty-something teacher s aide and divorcee Teresina Tere Avila looks straight into the smoldering eyes of Pedro Infante and wonders where her life has gone. The impossibly handsome Mexican singer and movie icon died in 1957, but to Tere -- secretary of the Pedro Infante fan club chapter 256 -- he remains an everlasting symbol of the possibility of passion beyond her New Mexico town. Tere s passions are wasted on Lucio, the married lover who plies her with sweet kisses and false promises. Comfort comes in her adoration for Infante and in the companionship of her best friend, Irma La Wirma Granados. Then, one night at the Border Cowboy Truck Stop, Tere is forced to confront reality -- and the choices she must make to reclaim her life. Seller Inventory # AAV9780743445733
Book Description Washington Square Press 3/19/2002, 2002. Paperback or Softback. Condition: New. Loving Pedro Infante. Book. Seller Inventory # BBS-9780743445733
Book Description SIMON SCHUSTER, United States, 2002. Paperback. Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****.In the soothing darkness of her local theater, thirty-something teacher s aide and divorcee Teresina Tere Avila looks straight into the smoldering eyes of Pedro Infante and wonders where her life has gone. The impossibly handsome Mexican singer and movie icon died in 1957, but to Tere -- secretary of the Pedro Infante fan club chapter 256 -- he remains an everlasting symbol of the possibility of passion beyond her New Mexico town. Tere s passions are wasted on Lucio, the married lover who plies her with sweet kisses and false promises. Comfort comes in her adoration for Infante and in the companionship of her best friend, Irma La Wirma Granados. Then, one night at the Border Cowboy Truck Stop, Tere is forced to confront reality -- and the choices she must make to reclaim her life. Seller Inventory # AAV9780743445733
Book Description Washington Square Press, 2018. Paperback. Condition: New. Never used! This item is printed on demand. Seller Inventory # 0743445732
Book Description Washington Square Press, 2002. Paperback. Condition: New. Seller Inventory # DADAX0743445732
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Book Description Washington Square Press. Paperback. Condition: New. 352 pages. Dimensions: 8.4in. x 5.5in. x 0.9in.In the soothing darkness of her local theater, thirty-something teachers aide and divorce Teresina Tere vila looks straight into the smoldering eyes of Pedro Infante and wonders where her life has gone. The impossibly handsome Mexican singer and movie icon died in 1957, but to Tere -- secretary of the Pedro Infante fan club chapter 256 -- he remains an everlasting symbol of the possibility of passion beyond her New Mexico town. Teres passions are wasted on Lucio, the married lover who plies her with sweet kisses and false promises. Comfort comes in her adoration for Infante and in the companionship of her best friend, Irma La Wirma Granados. Then, one night at the Border Cowboy Truck Stop, Tere is forced to confront reality -- and the choices she must make to reclaim her life. This item ships from multiple locations. Your book may arrive from Roseburg,OR, La Vergne,TN. Paperback. Seller Inventory # 9780743445733