At first I thought we were in my cousin’s apartment, but it wasn’t my cousin’s apartment. We were in the little apartment my cousin and her mother lived in after uncle kicked them out of the house when my aunt could no longer tolerate my uncle’s cheating and allegedly had an affair of her own. We were sitting in the living room ready to eat something that my aunt was cooking, though my uncle didn’t have any teeth in his mouth.
“In Spanish culture, especially for Andaluzes, you must understand that monogamy is only for women,” Uncle said. He put his cigarette into an ashtray. Its tip offered a small orange glow to the darkness of the apartment. My aunt and cousin clanked around in the background.
“And it’s cheating if you leave the relationship. It’s cheating even if you are with someone else after you break up,” he said. “If you stay in the relationship and are with your women friends too much, well, then you are a lesbian.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
My uncle glared at me.
I continued, I was on a roll. “How is a woman cheating for wanting to move on?”
“You must understand that a man is never wrong for cheating. Cheating is a way for men to keep control. Any woman is wrong if she leaves or cheats. She is even wrong if she moves on after her husband dies. I repeat, in Spanish culture, monogamy and widow’s black are the rules for women. You can not expect to change this. It has been this way and will continue to be this way. It is in our DNA, and thirty-six years of Franco did not help bring it into the twentieth century, much less the twenty-first. This is a history that goes back to our Moorish blood.”
“That is the most ridiculous excuse I have ever heard.”
“Don’t interrupt.” My uncle picked back up his cigarette and stared at it arrogantly before taking a drag, and then returning it to the ashtray. “Also, I grew up with flamenco and I studied music at the University of Seville. You don't know anything about flamenco. Carlos Montoya had more arte than Sabicas. Sabicas was a technician. He played too aggressive. Don’t get me wrong, Sabicas is amazing. He spent most of his life living outside of Spain and popularizing flamenco. If it wasn’t for him we would be stuck at Paco Peña instead of Paco De Lucia as the progression of the Montoya legacy. Do you get what I am saying?”
“Don’t interrupt,” Uncle said, “you don’t know shit.”
It was all so real. Uncle was sweating, his cheeks were slightly sunken. I could see the pours of his face, my father’s face, though the room was dark and it was a dream.
“The best flamenco is never on stage,” he said.
“Can’t it be a virtual culture imagined by people in exile?”
“Don’t quote books to me. This isn’t how flamenco is supposed to be talked about.”
“Ok, ok,” I said. “I don’t know shit.”
“It is not appropriate for women to cuss.”
I could hear my cousin tsk in the background.
“Hypocrite!” I yelled.
“Big mouth!” my cousin yelled back.
“You don’t get it,” my uncle said and took another drag of his cigarette. “Charo never really played guitar. Any time you heard her on the Tonight Show there was really a kid named Myron behind the curtain playing the guitar for her. She should have stayed on the Love Boat. She was always B or C list, and only played on the Tonight Show when Johnny Carson was on vacation. Hollywood doesn’t want to know anything about flamenco or Spanish culture. Point in case- Charo and her soulful faux guitar playing juxtaposed next to cuchi cuchi. If you really want to be sick google search Ottmar Liebart sometime and be prepared to vomit.”
“Hollywood is in itself a virtual reality, and I always liked Charo.”
“Stop with Charo, and stop with the books.” Uncle began to cough into a choking spasm. After he cleared his throat, he took his cigarette from the ashtray and took a long drag.
“Never watch a movie about Spaniards in America that was made in Hollywood. Hollywood will always makes us conquistadors or friars or Charo, as if the working class doesn’t exist.”
“What about Pan’s Labyrinth?” I asked.
“I said a film made in Hollywood about Spaniards in the United States! What the hell does Pan’s Labyrinth, which was made in Mexico, have to do with Hollywood and the stereotypes of popular culture?”
“Well, to some degree hasn’t the Spanish immigrant experience in the United States reflected the ways most of Spanish history is a ghost story of the invisible, of those who were not allowed to leave a trace, women in particular? After all, four hundred years of the Catholic Church and the caste system, on top of thirty six years of Franco, did not help.”
My uncle stopped looking at me, and stared into his lit cigarette. The room was filled with halos upon halos of smoke. Only his face was visible.
My eyes were burning from the smoke, or maybe I was crying. There was a thickness that surrounded my tongue.
“This is my heritage not yours! Don’t talk about the past.”
“Then what is my heritage, if the past is never dead?”
“Have more respect or I will leave this dream!” My uncle’s face turned red but he kept seated and did not stand up. He clutched his pack of cigarettes in his hands. In the light they seemed garish and claw-like. When he and auntie were fighting, he began having fainting spells, stopped eating, and turned yellow. Then he kicked my cousin and my aunt out and moved his mistress into the house. She was a blonde Chicana named Sonya with bangs that reminded me of Charo.
“Be grateful for what you have,” my uncle said. “Be grateful you are in a country where you speak the language. Be grateful you don’t have a God or a family or a culture who says you have to stay married. Be grateful you have a family. Be grateful for your education. Don’t you dare put up with any man’s shit,” my uncle wept.
And then I woke up.