Sandra returns to Chicago to receive the city's Fifth Star Award for the arts.
“I think most of my family attended for the same secret reason I did: to see Rita Moreno, the celebrity flown in to present my award!”
September 21, 2015
My father often said I was born under “un buen estrella,” a lucky star, and he would've been pleased to hear I was awarded Chicago's Fifth Star award last Wednesday, on Mexican Independence Day!
I was one of five awardees who had lunch with the mayor, but the real award for me was going home to spend time with my family, who are scattered throughout the city and outlying suburbs like shrapnel after a Molotov. Since my mother's death in 2007, we've been unable to sit down at the same place at the same time.
So it was a historic moment when we gathered in our old Taylor Street neighborhood for lunch at the Rosebud Restaurant. Twenty-nine of my kin attended, and as far as I could tell, everyone went home happy.
The Belle of the Ball was my Aunt Margaret López, the last surviving member of my mother's siblings and the eldest elder in the room. She was as fizzy as a Peñafiel, talking as fast as always, sharing stories only she can remember, making sure we wouldn't forget them, and then laughing at her own wit.
We introduced our second cousin Kathy Anguiano Orozco Stefanik (her maternal grandfather and my maternal grandmother were siblings), who with her husband Steve Stefanik entered as strangers and exited as family. We wondered how it could be we had never met before, but when we thought about it, it made sense. The Anguianos were notorious homebodies and often boasted about how they didn't need to socialize.
I was sorry my Tio Chato and Tia Malena Cisneros could not attend, but my cousin Edna Cisneros says her father, now 94, doesn't get out much anymore. So we sent two meals home for them instead. Edna and her sister Alma Cisneros grew up in the neighborhood over on Miller Street, just a few blocks from where we were dining. I have wonderful memories of having my ego repaired whenever I spent time with them to remedy the trauma inflicted by my grade school teachers and six brothers.
My cousin Rita Lopez, daughter of the ever-vivacious Aunt Margaret, came up from Arkansas where she is in self-exile since abandoning Manhattan. Even my brother Mario and cousin Richie, loath to come out of their lairs, obliged me and made an effort at sociability. I thank them all here, since I know it took them all a lot of effort to be there.
I camped out at my cousin Licha's, whose apartment near Irving Park and Lincoln is home for me now whenever I come back to Chicago. Licha was my date at the Award receptions both before and after. We always watch great movies at her house and eat Garrett's Popcorn together or pick up a Chicago hotdog. This time was no exception, and we saw two great documentaries, “What Happened, Miss Simone” on the life of the great Nina Simone, and “Good Ol' Frida” the unsung fan club secretary of the Beatles back in their Liverpool days. Licha and I were Beatle fans since we were in fourth grade. I always thought I'd marry Paul and make tamales for the other Beatles. Sheesh! Talk about dreaming small.
The Fifth Star Awards were held at Pritzker Auditorium in Millennial Park with exceptional presentations by the Joffrey Ballet and Steppenwolf Theater, among others. My fellow MacArturo Paul Roldán and Cesareo Moreno, curator of the National Mexican Museum of Art, spoke on my behalf. Thank you, Paul and Cesareo, for the generosity of your words and, more important, your time. The awards video featured many of the artworks included in the recent “House on Mango Street” show, which just came down at the Mexican Museum and is next slated for the Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque. Don't miss it!
But to tell you the truth, I think most of my family attended my award ceremony for the same secret reason I did! To see Rita Moreno, who was the celebrity flown in to present my award. I imagined myself meeting her afterwards, asking intimate questions about Marlon Brando and Elvis Presley, her ex-novios. But it was not to be. None of the awardees were permitted on stage during the ceremony. It was a bit like attending your own funeral; you could see and hear all the great things being said about you, but you could not be seen and heard. And by the time we clambered backstage for pastries and vino, Ms. Moreno was long gone. I felt sad and sorry for myself, until my brother Carlos and I went out for a cheeseburger. Cheeseburgers can cure just about anything, I think.
The big emotional highlight of the week for me was the day Licha and I drove down to Armitage and Cicero to visit Cisneros Custom Furniture, my father's old shop, where three of my brothers now work. I had to pick out fabric for furniture my brothers are making for me. I wish Carlos had told me I had an audience waiting. If I'd known, we wouldn't have been so late!
Turns out the daughter of one of the employees had taken a day off of school to meet me. Andrea Ascensio, a Chicago high school student, waited quietly and patiently while I flipped through fabric books unaware she was a fan and not an employee. I was astonished, ashamed, honored, and deeply impressed. Andrea said she aspires to be a surgeon, and as she is only 15, I advised her to stay focused, as the next 15 years will be the hardest, especially for a woman, especially for someone as beautiful as she is.
I had to write a letter to Andrea's teacher explaining that she had indeed met me and not skipped school in vain. And I promised to give her a copy of my new book, A House of My Own when next we meet. I hope she won't make as many goofy mistakes as I did growing up. Or maybe she will NEED to make goofy mistakes. In that case, I wish her reflection for recovery, because you can't resurrect yourself without it.
It was emotional for me to be back in my father's shop without my father. I posed for photos with everybody and left feeling stunned by my father's absence and Andrea Ascencio's presence. I think I'm still reverberating.
I'm trying to recover from my Chicago hotel air-conditioner. Why don't hotels have windows that open? I have to be fit for my seven-week book tour that begins in two weeks.
Meanwhile, Juan Felipe Herrera, Poet Laureate of the United States (I can't believe I said that!), wowed the crowd with his debut reading in D.C. last week.
I know the world is a mess, but sometimes something wonderful happens. Andrea Ascensio, Juan Felipe Herrera... Thank you both for tilting the planet back into balance by the work you do. You make us proud!
un tambache de amor,