Moseying: Living La Vida Llanero
Rasquache, an aesthetic from the borderlands of Mexico and the United States
September 17, 2003
At the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. there is an exhibit dedicated to rasquache. Rasquache surrounds us here on the Llano Estacado. Before I talk about examples of rasquache within our regional landscape, I must define it and its origins.
As a philosophy of life, an art form, a lifestyle, rasquache reflects a vital faith that life is beautiful and should be cherished despite any amount of difficulties. The word itself means scraping together or scraping by. Rasquache is making do with what you have, and making what you have beautiful. Rasquache is joyous pride, inventiveness, resourcefulness, and ingenuity. In rasquache the irreverent and spontaneous is employed to make the most from the least.
As individuals enlivened their own surroundings, rasquache originated as a domestic aesthetic in la frontera, the borderlands of the United States and Mexico. It is now an artistic aesthetic as well, and not limited just to the visual arts, but also extends to theatre, music, and writing. Tomas Ybarra-Frausto published the essay Rasquache; A chicano sensibility in 1988, and Amalia Mesa-Bains published the essay Domesticana, the sensibility of chicana rasquache soon afterwards. In 1998 Robert Stam of NYU compared rasquache with other forms of cultural hybridization worldwide. Rasquache is the flowering of an endemic aesthetic that germinated in the Spanish speaking regions of the New World.
In rasquache, the aesthetic originates from cultural hybridization of the mestizo culture of Spanish America with Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, African, and indigenous Indian strains. People on la frontera that became part of the melting pot (or salad bowl) of the United States were exposed to more cultures, which furthered the aesthetic. When people of two or more cultures become family, people have to learn to accept their differences. A person has to learn at least the basics of the new family members cultural framework, and begin to celebrate the variety of lifestyle, culture, and behavior otherwise the family does not have a hope in being cohesive.
Every town in West Texas has examples of rasquache. In Mexican restaurants where a gypboard wall has been painted to appear to be an old adobe wall is one of the most obvious examples of rasquache. Grutas and nichos in the yard are rasquache. Flowerbed borders made of old oilfield drill bits or oil well cores are rasquache. Countless examples are to be found in Hispanic neighborhoods and businesses. Although the aesthetic flowered within norteno culture, I believe that it is not limited to Hispanic individuals.
I believe that metal silhouette art is rasquache, too, for it is people at play creating art from resources brought here for the oil industry. The folk art murals in McCamey, Seagraves, Tahoka, and other places fit within the definition, for they are local interpretations of the surrounding environment, history, and culture. So is a quilt made of the worn out clothes of the family. To me, the use of native plants for home ornamental use is also rasquache. Celebrating the unique aspects and taking pride in the resources of ones own home region is a bulwark of rasquache.
Rasquache is re-creation, re-invention, and redemption. The aesthetic incorporates diverse styles, time periods, and materials. Working class folks invented the aesthetic not in imitation of the more moneyed, but as a statement of pride and dignity. The products of rasquache are personally created not bought and paid for. People who make do with materials at hand, and who draw from diverse cultural perspectives, are participants in creating the rasquache aesthetic.
Rasquache is not limited to the visual enhancement of ones surroundings, but can extend to food and music. Soul food the culinary use of throwaway parts of animals -- is rasquache. Menudo, lengua, and chicharrones are rasquache. Rap music is rasquache sampling and cut n/mix is an embodiment of embedded intertextuality, combining multiple musical forms from call and response, to funk, disco, doo-wop, skipping rope rhymes, prison farm songs, and the dozens. Norteno music with oompah polka and waltz beats is rasquache. La linea (the borderlands) by Lila Downs, who performed some of the music in the film Frida, is rasquache. Examples of rasquache are endless.
I am a scavenger often I am aghast at what people throw away. I have a shed that measures 60 by 40 feet full of material I have picked up over the years I am a packrat, or a junkman! The shade structure at my plant nursery of the 1980s (The Gone Native Nursery) was built from storm-damaged lath material from the old Wolfe Nursery in town. My friends have called me a bottom-feeder as a result of my belief that new is not necessarily better.
When Deborah joined me in 1998 we found that we shared the re-use and recycle philosophy. As children of the Great Depression, our parents believed that if something broke it was to be fixed and not thrown away. They passed on to us that sort of fiscal conservatism which is part of the forge that creates rasquache.
Deborah has built patios and flowerbed borders from bricks she found in an illegal dump not far from our house, as well as constructing decks and outdoor tables out of recycled lumber. She has taken discarded tile and broken crockery and created mosaic surfaces to birdbaths and tables. We are given, or pick up bones, multicolored rocks, and rocks with fossils when we go daytripping to further ornament our garden. When we vacation, we augment stops at nature preserves, historical museums, and other cultural sites with visits to thrift stores, craft shows, and flea markets (especially the Pojoaque Flea Market north of Sante Fe!) We continually add layers of ornamentation to our house and garden with our discoveries on our travels. Ebay is a wonderful source for folk arts and craft products and ideas. For additional inspiration, we seek out ideas from books about other arid regions of the world from the Mediterranean, Africa, Mexico, and others.
As a teacher, it is important to learn about the cultures of my students, to be able to connect the subjects I teach with my audiences perspectives. I did not know the term rasquache until earlier this year when I bought a book entitled Chicano Folklore by Rafaela G. Castro. I have family members, in-laws and relatives of several religions, cultures and races that identify themselves in the following manner; Mexican Catholic mestizo, American Christian fundamentalist, Ayn Rand individualist, Chinese Goth post-modernist, Puerto Rican Catholic, Brit-trad American Wiccan, American agnostic, American Indian, Irish Catholic, and a Toltecan berdache. With our joined families being so full of variety, Deborah and I have long experienced the salad bowl of cultural diversity. The ornamentation of our house and garden reflects that diversity. When we found the term rasquache in Ms. Castros book it was a moment of epiphany that describes our aesthetic philosophy!