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Mediums Hot and Cold The Music of Tish Hinojosa and James McMurtry. BY LOUIS DUBOSE WO YEARS AGO, on a June afternoon in Zaragosa Park in Austin, Tish Hinojosa stood in the 90-degree shade listening to Rebecca Flores Harrington explain the United Farm Workers boycott of table grapes. Cesar Chavez had led a march through East Austin, spoken to the crowd as the march concluded outside an HEB grocery store, and departed. Hinojosa, a singer-songwriter from San Antonio, had performed for the UFW gathering and was also leaving when she asked Flores the question that even on a hot day is good for a 20-minute answer. Flores explained that agricultural chemicals used on table grapes are destroying the health of the workers and the children of the workers who grow the grapes, and that the boycott is an attempt to convince consumers that the same chemicals remain on the grapes even after they are washed. “It had been a part of my background,” Hinojosa said of the ‘farmworkers’ life. “My mother’s sister went to work as a migrant farmworker in California when she left Mexico. And other members of my family have worked as migrants. But it wasn’t an issue I ever was involved with.” Six months later, on a night so cold that only some 30 people braved the ice and made it to Las Manitas, Cynthia and Lydia Perez’s West Side San Antonio caf, on Congress Avenue in Austin, Hinojosa introduced a song. “This is one I wrote for la causa,” she said. The song, “Something in the Rain,” tells a story in several vivid images: a young boy working in the fields, a mother holding a sick child, a grandmother speculating about collective sin. Yet it has the power of a fragment of Tomas Rivera’s novel of fragments, Y no se los trago la tierra. Like Rivera’s novel, “Something in the Rain” is a child’s narrative. In the song, the child tells of the illness and death of his little sister, and his suspicion that the child’s death was caused by something in the rain. The cinematic manipulation of only a few images makes the song work, giving it the emotional force of Woodie Guthrie’s “Deportee,” an essay on a similar theme. A freelance media company in Austin has made a video of the story, featuring Hinojosa. In an interview at Las Manitas, Hinojosa said that after talking with Flores she wanted to write the song, but couldn’t envision a song “about child labor, about the environment, about workers’ rights.” Then she read a story by New Mexico Chicano writer Robert Granat. In Granat’s story, a young boy tells how his younger sister died in the back of a pickup truck. The detached quality of the child’s narrative provided Hinojosa with a voice for “Something in the Rain.” The song is now owned by A&M records, which released Hinojosa’s first major-label album. A second album, Culture Swing, was scheduled to be released several months ago when A&M cancelled its release. Hinojosa is uncertain about what will become of the project and is now talking with three other companies about another album. She doesn’t think A&M backed away from the album because “Something in the Rain” is something of an indictment of the growers who own the rain and who “rape the land.” Politics didn’t scare A&M away the first time around, when they released Homeland, a collection that includes two songs with themes as old as Guthrie’s “Deportee.” The border ballad “Joaquin” tells the story of a young man who leaves Mexico for the same reason most young leave Mexico: “a good life, a job … and dreams that come true.” It’s told from the point of view of a narrator who, while traveling in Mexico met Joaquin who “learned to speak English from tourists.” “Joaquin” approaches the Border Patrol indirectly, observing that at the border, “politics get in the way.” A reviewer who saw it performed in Massachusetts wrote that one of the better qualities of the song is that Joaquin makes it, he doesn’t die “stacked like cordwood in the back of a van” a commentary both on the song and how the border is perceived from afar. Another crossover piece is “Donde Voy” crossing from the other side and in the other language. It begins with a prayer for deliverance from “la fuerza de la migracion,” the Border Patrol, then tells of the pain of separation, how a money order mailed to Mexico replaces an embrace. In content, there’s nothing here we haven’t heard Mexican demographer Jorge Bustamante tell Ted Koppel on “Nightline.” But listening to “Homeland” would probably move even Koppel. This is not music given over to didactics. It is, rather, a series of bosquejos sketches of what life on the border and in our home land has come to be. ISH HINOJOSA’S personal bosquejo begins on the West Side of San Antonio 34 years ago. At 15 she was singing at Providence, an all-girls Catholic high school, and when she finished high school she signed with a San Antonio-based Spanish pop record label. She then moved in the direction of folk music, and won the Kerrville New Folk Songwriters competition in 1979. Hinojosa also spent seven years in Taos, New Mexico, a place she and her husband Craig Barker finally “had to leave.” She quotes Supernatural Family Band father “When New Mexico is ready for you to leave, it just kind of spits you out.” From Taos she went to Nashville, and discovered she didn’t want to sing standard country covers, though for a while she was under contract with the recording studio owned by Mel Tillis. She returned for a while to San Antonio, where Barker, who worked as her bass player after they met in New Mexico, “got his first straight job, as an insurance adjuster.” The job only lasted three months and Barker is now an attorney in Austin, where he and Hinojosa live with their two children, Adam, 6, and Nina, 3 During the past four years in Austin, Tish Hinojosa seems to have been cultivating her Mexicanidad, becoming involved in farmworker issues, writing songs in Spanish, and recently, immersing herself in the work of and writing about Frida Kahlo, the Mexican artist who was once married to muralist Diego Rivera. Hinojosa also has become more political, playing benefits for just about anyone who’s asked her: Jim Hightower, Ann Richards, Jim Harrington’s Texas Civil Rights Project, and The Texas Observer. On the cold December day after the U.S. last invaded Panama, she was standing in protest in front of the federal building in Austin, along with the late John Henry Faulk. On the shelf at A&M is “Noche sin Estrellas” \(“Night about war in Central America. On the demo album Hinojosa is currently is shopping around is “Bandera del Sol,” the “Flag of the Sun,” Hinojosa’s response to the war against Iraq. “I was too pissed off to write a protest song, so I wrote a song about how we are all under the same flag,” she said. There is another side to Tish Hinojosa, though. She mixes music dealing with serious themes with Patsy Cline derivative country shuffles and western ballads. If you’ve ever driven from Marathon to Marfa without “The Real West” or “The Voice of the Big Guitar” playing on your car stereo, you’ve missed half the trip. And if hearing this woman sing “Malaguena Salerosa” won’t break your heart, you don’t have one. Hinojosa’s real obramaestra is the autobiographical “West Side of Town” for THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5