By Fabiola Flores
Why would I say “I remember her”, if in reality, through a strategem of mental machinations, we can go wherever our memory dictates merely by closing our eyes? I cannot say that I “remember” her; I am looking at her right now. I am walking amidst a sea of people under the gentle but persistent sun of Mexico City. We are walking, once again, from the Zócalo to the Plaza de las Tres Culturas. We know the instructions only too well: all in order, careful with the placards and the mothers with children, don’t fall into the trick of provocation as this “is just what the government wants”. Not even a pretext, nor even a hint of violence. As it’s 1988, the question doesn’t concern me much, perhaps because the so-called “agents provacateurs” that I know seem to me like caricatures out of a B-grade movie, like one of the films of Juan Orol; but today, there is something different in the air, something that challenges us to define it. The difference lies in a surreptitious optimism, something latent, concealed in the soul of each person. It is a joy to see how we Mexicans, once and for all, are taking back our streets to cry out with our own voice. It is an appropriation that was interrupted by the student massacre of ’68, which we recall today. We walk on at an easy pace, shouting until our throats are hoarse, occasionally running and leaping in the air.
“And who are they?” I ask as I direct my gaze towards a considerable group of people dressed in white, wearing coloured scarves, right in the midst of the pre-Hispanic ruins of the Plaza of Tlatelolco.
“They’re followers of Regina…” My companion replies. “I’ll explain some other time.”
We reach the square and slip forward to the front, to where the shrine to the fallen stands.
“We’ve got a good spot here,” he tells me, “This is going to get interesting.”
The usual program of speakers follows, an interminable litany of testimonies, comisserations, condolences, etc. Suddenly, a few benign clouds move in overhead, bringing us a cool respite.
And there she is. I am watching as she appears amidst the lively applause of the crowd. A few women, housewives a little out of touch, ask:
“Who is she?”
Their children can be heard saying:
“Mama, who is it? I can’t see…”
And a man with the look of a worker jokes:
“Is it the leader of a charro band?”
From the stage there is a call for silence and we, those of us who are waiting for her, feel our souls escape our bodies like an imperceptible steam through our pores. And then I see her, walking with a gait that only someone of her stature can pull off. She displays a surprising agility, something I didn’t expect. No complications, just guitar, bass and drums; with a dark poncho and a drum in her hand, she sits down, takes a breath, says a few words of solidarity that sound no less sincere for all the times they’ve been repeated and then… she sings. She sings, and I open my eyes and mouth at once; this is how I hear her, I see her, I feel Mercedes for the first time. And we willingly give ourselves up to the magic of her voice and her message, the songs that she gave so generously us, which were added to the many others that revealed to me the truth of the possible. It is possible to make music something comunally sacred. Mercedes does it.
And I see her again, a short while after that first meeting. The difference is that now she is on a stage in full style (at a concert I can afford thanks to my savings), with lights, curtains, more musicians and that dry ice smoke that I suppose is technically indispensable but for me serves as a psychological crutch to feel that Mercedes is singing to me from a cloud. A forceful and resonant agel, her dance has the same characteristics; nothing can be ethereal when you sing about the realities of Latin America. We all walk out with our hearts soaring in the heavens, pure and clean. And we leave singing in our solitude, intoning the verses that we know best. In those days, nobody censured the people who came out of a concert and boarded a subway singing.
I never saw her live again after that. The years took me away from my homeland and the actual distances cannot be made to fit in the word “kilometres”. About two years ago, they announced a concert of hers here, which never took place. What good is the disappointment of a reimbursement for cancelled tickets? The incident left an imprint in my brain, convincing me of the truth of the myth that Mercedes didn’t like flying. Or who knows? Perhaps she didn’t have the strength to go on with the tour at that time.
And now I see her, not directly, but in the face of two men from Tucumán emerging from the Cathedral of Buenos Aires on August 23, 2005. One of those coincidences for which we give thanks to life (the kind that come to us while travelling as tourists) brought us to the doors of the cathedral just at the end of the mass held by this Tucumán community in honour of San Martín. We talk to them, they tell us that their group is fighting to make Argentina recognize the date of birth of the saint as the day of the father of the nation and that they hold a mass in the Argentine capital each year. They come all the way from their home in the country’s northwest just for that, and to proudly display their boots, hats and leather gear. They ask me if I know something of Tucumán. The inevitable answer is that it is the home of Mercedes and her voice, so that in a sense all Latin America is “Tucumano”. We happily exchange words and embraces and, in conclusion, for the habitual photo they put a poncho on me. For a few minutes I feel Tucumana by adoption. One of them even has the same profile as the singer, and my mind plays tricks on me (it could be her cousin)… And why not, if I have so many brothers and sisters that I can’t count them all? They say goodbye with the words: “that’s how we Tucumanos are.”
And now I see her right here, sitting next to me although her voice comes to me from a speaker. Beloved Mercedes, you are right, who could go back to seventeen to regain that optimism that I lose so often and that your song, like a trick of magic, returns to me.