23 October 2009 Chileno-Gringo
On Wednesday, I returned from four days in O’Fallon, Missouri — my hometown — where my youngest brother showed me the video above that he’d recorded on Direct TV from Televisión Nacional, Chile’s government-run PBS-equivalent.
My ear only translates about 35% of the tune, which is titled Candombe de José — my father told my lil’ bro that Chilenos shorten the title to El Negro José — and I haven’t the patience right now to deal with the lyrics sites. Nevertheless, Candombe… is yet another song from the censored cassette tapes my father snuck out from ‘neath Pinochet’s boot in 1985. I know it’s every note, and can hum along with a casual phonetic precision. It is at once a tune I know by heart and a song I’ve never really heard.
A Chilean-Missourian lives in a world of explanations and semi-recognitions. Missourians are quick to note that I “don’t look like a Pablo,” which is to say that I don’t look, sound, or act “like a Pablo”, as any foreignness in my presentation would explain my Chilean name. But it’s hard to attach a label to someone to doesn’t fit the ordinary role. My friends in Missouri don’t refer to me as “that Chilean guy”. They refer to me as “Pablo”. Strangers may inquire. (“What is he Mexican or something?”) Nope…from Chile. (Often followed by: “Where’s that?”)
In Chile, it is apparant to all that I don’t sound Chileno, that my castellano is accented. “He doesn’t sound like a Pablo…” However, they can rarely place my accent until I tell them that my mother es gringita. Then it is suddenly obvious. Several Chileans have remarked that I sound a lot like Sean Connery.
I’ve noticed in the past that Chileans of current generations are used to meeting young Chileans with accents. We are, as it were, Generación Exiliado — Generation Exiled, to France, Sweden, Cuba, Argentina, Germany, England, the United States, etc. United States of Americans too are becoming re-accustomed to accented youth from all parts of the world, and especially from Latin America.
Nevertheless, my experience as one in the vanguard generation of the immigrant wave to the United States, and of Chile’s generation of exiles has overall been advantageous in that I’ve never had to establish my identity apart from anyone else. I’m Pablo — the Missourian from Chile; el Chileno-Gringo. You’ll not meet another.