The Economic Adventures of a Transborder Street Musician

Heading down south for the big Pesos.

On rain and a people’s character. November 18, 2007

Filed under: the people,Uncategorized — ramonalvarado @ 12:40 am
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The former is a picture that represents a third of yesterday, in particular the third that covers that awkward part between late morning and early afternoon. And yes, it  does follow that I did not head out to the streets to play this day. I’m not about to complain though, these rainy days are not at all common in this part of the world, so they are most welcomed. And as it turned out it happens that I did think a lot, more so than the usual pre-breakfast  and the over-bread-and-coffee thinking session. The thinking went on and on throughout a most annoyingly elongated part of the day, following me everywhere, from the kitchen to the bathroom, from the bathroom to the living room and so on, there were even certain instances where I could almost perceive some decision-making moments but they never really resolved into anything concrete so I won’t even bother to tell you about that. What I will tell you about though is an old thought that I’ve had about this part of the world, particluarly about Juarez, but I also see it in El Paso. It all has to do with street performers or the lack thereof in this region.

I guess I can speak of this from two simultaneous points of view: as someone who now plays in the streets and has played in the streets of this region before, and as someone who truly enjoys cruising streets with musicians and/or performers on them. As you saw from these past post pictures, only one of them was of an actual street musician, not only was he the only one but he was also a blind one. And for that matter he represents exactly the kind of image that people  in these two cities have of street performing. In the case of this particular old and blind man, people think: “well, what else could he do for money?”It seems as if street performance is perceived as always some-body’s last resource, never as an optional endeavour, or a worthy  one for that manner. I thought about this when while I was playing guitar on day one a lady passed by, slowed down, came back,  approached me and stood next to me as if waiting for me to finish up the song. When she realized that I was still playing and not stoping she bent down to put some money in my hat and softly said: “vende tu guitarra” (Sell your guitar), in a very compasionate, understanding and almost angelically logical tone, she then turned around and left.  She made me realize that she wasn’t the only one thinking thus, and sort of gave an explanation, with her simple suggestion, to the baffled looks directed at the tripod throughout the day. For many if not most people in this area if you have a good guitar, you shouldn’t be playing in the streets; if you carry or even have a tripod to rest your guitar in between sets, you shouldn’t be there; if you carry a backpack with a bottle of water and a digital camera you just don’t belong in the streets.  You belong in your house, everybody belongs in their house, and the only reason they are out of it is because they need to, or because it may be a Sunday, a church Sunday in particular. I am exagerating of course, people do go out for other reasons, mysterious reasons, but reasons nevertheless.  I guess we can further expand on this same character trait of the Juarense sidewalk culture by demostrating a part of the mentality through something my grandmother says: ” I don’t understand why people have to travel anywhere, we have everything here”. For her traveling is reduced to migration. Why else would anyone go anywhere? right? The same applies to something like home. If there is food and warmth and a TV set full of terrible outside news, why would you need to be in the streets? The streets (when I say streets I mean sidewalks) are not really public spaces in this region, they are merely functional paths on which you can walk towards somewhere without getting run over by a car. There is no space for sidewalk artists, unless they are in evident socio-economic distress, and then they cease to be artist and become something else, something like merchants of nothing and anything simultaneously, where suddenly for the mere fact of standing on a street corner everything  the performer has (i.e. the guitar, the hat, the tripod, the amp, etc,etc.) automatically becomes part of a whole merchandisable unit. It is little details like this that say a lot about the way people see other people, specially in the streets. For example, the fact that somebody tried to buy the hat from me can be easily neglected as irrelevant if one does not capture the deep social connotation of the mere assumption that it is for sale. The hat was not being asked into the street market in terms of a random monetary offer, but was rather assumed to already have a price and caused annoyance and disbelief when claimed otherwise. It is like another one of those strange and ironic circumstances of a very contradictory sociocultural environment where you should never be selling anything in the streets but if you have to or are pushed to, then you should be able and willing to sell everything and anything. I believe this could tell us a lot about this society in general, the way they look at themselves, the division of classes, the concept of work, all kinds of things that can even take us as far as the inherent shyness of the northern Mexican culture that may break the myth of the apparent loudness and extroverted character that is usually attached to it. So here’s the deal, I’ll write an extensive paper on the sidewalk concept of the region and then you’ll read it, OK? OK.