Tuesday, 1 September 2009

My great-grandfather was Palestinian. No one in the family knows what his real name was, but my dad called him “Abuelo Emilio.” No one ever found his documents stating the real name, or no one was able to read them in Arabic. He learned Spanish, and lived and died like an Argentine. I always felt fascinated about that part of my legacy that not a person in our HUGE family knew anything about (there are 25 original cousins, and several little cousins now).  My grandfather, my dad and his four brothers, myself and just a handful of the great-granchildren inherited the dark olive skin, slanted eyes, dark hair, and the boys (thanks Father, oh thanks it was just the boys) the hooked noses. In Rosario there is a Festival of Nations, and most of the immigrant communities set up pavilions where they showcase the culture, food, dances and art of their motherlands. I wanted to learn Arabic dancing so bad when I was little, but I never did. There still is something in the lament of the guitar, or the particular rhythm of Arabic music that calls to my blood. I mentioned guitar, and I get the same feeling when I listen to Flamenco music. It must be the generations of Gypsies calling me from my Spanish genes.
Yesterday my daughter, Swan, had her first Irish Dance lesson. For about two years she has been begging for Irish Dance classes, and since one of the best studios in the state is like three minutes from home, I signed her up. I love seeing her stretch and prance in her little thin legs. Such determination and concentration in her eyes, such desire to learn and do her best. I wonder where she got the notion of Irish dancing. We love everything Irish in this home, but not a drop of Irish blood runs in my veins. In Jeff’s family, I’m sure it does–all mixed up with the Puerto Ricanness of his. His mom said that they have some Irish in her family. After all, she is red-headed and is called Pat. So there you go.
I see my daughter being so drawn to Irish culture, and I wonder what messages we carry in our genes that direct the course of our lives. I’ve embedded two youtube clips, one from The Lord of the Dance, and then another one from Carmen Amaya, one the greatest Flamenco dancers of all times. They’re so different from each other, but at the same time there is so much similarity between them. I think the guitar, and zapateo, and foot work, are all embedded into humankind in one way of another. Call it bulerias, Riverdance, tap dancing… they are all manifestations of men and women’s desire to express their feelings through dance. In sadness or happiness, in war or celebrations.
My daughter is not learning Arabic dancing or Flamenco, but she’s still following the call in her blood. I just hope that one of my boys will inherit the Argentine futbol playing feet and not the Puerto Rican ones. If they inherit a Puerto Rican trait, I hope it’s the baseball arms, or their love of art, of music and good food. Such a mix in my kids’ genes. I hope they got the best of all worlds.


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Yamile Saied Mendez

Yamile (sha-MEE-lay) Saied Méndez is a fútbol-obsessed Argentine-American, Picture Book, Middle Grade, and Young Adult author.

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