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San Antonio is the cultural and political epicenter of Latino lifeand El Hueso is the mother l! Entiendes, mendes? the commercial heart of the Westside, encompassed two theaters, gas stations, icehouses, a plaza, an elegant dance salon, family corner stores we call tienditas, and the glorious las carpas, Mexican tent shows. Imagine revivalist fever with no prayingonly drinking, laughing, singing, family. It was a city-within-a-city that was the truest, authentic San Antonio. There is something a jonosewle beating underneath the rundown streets that seems like poverty and graffiti only to anyone who can’t or won’t see more than the skin. San Antonio and its Westside are the Mecca for Mexican-Chicano-Tejano-Mexican-American Latinos throughout Texas. From Radio Jalapefio to Flaco Jimenez, to voting-rights pioneer Willie Velasquez, to Vicki Carr, to the dozens of murals, to the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, to the origins of MALDEF and the Edgewood ISD’s lawsuit challenging the public financing of schools, San Antonio is the cultural and political epicenter of Latino lifeand El Hueso is the mother lode. Entiendes, mendes? No more late-night carpas, but la mUsica weaves through El Hueso around my streetsMorales, Ruiz, the 6-footer with a knife and a little help from Bud Light. Chopped the snake’s head off but its body kept going, threading its way through the hurricane fence we’re talking over, la head going in another direction. Just to show what it’s made of, he says. Viste the woman who goes by on the bike at night? She was taken by a million martians, Batman says. Por eso no ‘sta pretty no more. Swears her body got taken by them, exchanged for the fat one she’s got now, believe me, era some’n before. A long time ago, Batman dated her. Promises to tell me the rest of the story next time. He rides his bicycle to the Alamodome several times a week. He’s on the assembly and clean-up crew after games and concerts. Sometimes he works 12-hour days. He was a single father, and one son has a good job at the Toyota plant, and the younger one, I’ll call him Mario, dropped out of high school and lives with Batman and his own 2-year old, Robina Batman fanatic, too. I suspect Mario has trouble reading because he rubs his eyes a lot, asks me to read the dog chow package for his pitbull puppy. He makes confessions about his past when he drinks, says he’s despised Sabinas, Colorado, Monclovalike the syncopated rumbling of skateboarders in the evening. The accordion, a favorite and conjunto music fundamental, spices the air with a new kind of wind. At night I swear the clouds are feathered and fluffed by the chords that drift from open windows and porches and ascend through old oaks, huisache and pecan trees to the sky. My neighbor Batman apologizes for all the latenight music. He’s not the only one. I tell him he’s got competition from his son’s old-school rap. Firecrackery cumbias are popping down the block, while the oldies-but-goodies, made right here, we call the Westside sound float through the air. You remember those summers dancing barefoot in the street until midnight? Here it’s Garibay, Flaco, Motown, Joe Jama, Eminem, Kenny Rogers. Batman’s not his real name, just his favorite television show. He tells me about the snake that was getting bigger and bigger in my yard. It was the time before my house’s renovation, when nobody lived in my shotgun house except the snakes in the waisthigh grass, and for a time 11 Mexicanos. He stabbed SEPTEMBER 3, 2010 for being who he is and has almost given up. A neighbor I miss a lot is Rachel, who killed herself last year on Mother’s Day. I think her husband did it, though she’s the one who drank and drugged herself. Rachel was bipolar and walked around in a medicated daze sizzled by cheap wine. She told me her story in bits and pieces, like being forced to dance for her father’s friends when she was 7. Rachel loved listening to the Westside music in the afternoons before her refrigerator-sized husband got home, liked to sit outside on her secondhand swing set with her three boys and all the cats purring, Esteban Jordan’s jazzified polkas cooking just right. How come I didn’t hear the punching before she told me? Wish she hadn’t taken so long to confess how he flattened her bird bones by sitting on her. On New Year’s Day, the policeman I talked her into calling guessed at first that her jaw was crooked ’cause that King Kong broke it and wouldn’t take her to the doctor, just like he broke her nose. Nobody talks about Rachel. When that King Kong husband came to tell me his side of the story, I saw the fear in his face. He knows SEE photos taken by children who live on the Westside at THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21