Alfredo González has dreamed of having his Mexican songs and ballads performed since he wrote his first poem at age 11. For decades, he told his three kids, “Someday my songs will be on the radio, you’ll see!”
Now, after 70 years of composing romantic verses, his dream is finally coming true. González will be interviewed today for National Public Radio’s Latino USA show, which will broadcast music from “ Tuxcueca Mi Tierra,” his first album of nine original songs performed by Mariachi Cuauhtémoc, a band from Guadalajara.
At his 80th birthday party last Saturday night, his three kids surprised him with his own website, Facebook page and Twitter account promoting “ Tuxcueca Mi Tierra” – Tuxcueca My Homeland – where fans can buy the album for $5.
González, who lives in Sacramento’s Pocket neighborhood, grew up in Tuxcueca, a village on the southern shores of Lake Chapala in Jalisco, 60 miles south of Guadalajara and 278 miles west of Mexico City.
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He said he fell in love with poetry in January 1944 at Las Fiestas Taurinas, nine days of music and serenitas – Mexican love songs – celebrating bullfighters. Farmers from across the lake would bring their corn, garbanzo beans, sugar cane and cheeses by canoe to the port of Tuxcueca. At the fiesta, they would honor the memory of General Ramón Corona, a native son who helped save the Republic of Mexico by defeating the French occupiers in 1867 and the bandit king Manuel Lozada in 1872.
González loved the trumpets playing la musica de viento (the music of the wind) and the tamboras, Mexican drums, but drew his greatest inspiration from un payaso, a clown in pajamas, pointy shoes and a cone-shaped hat whom he called one of the first rappers. “I could understand his verses and thought, ‘I could do that, I want to compose my own rhymes,’” he said.
His first poem, “ Dia De Los Madres” – Mother’s Day – was such a hit, “guys in their teens and 20s paid me 50 centavos to write love poems to their girlfriends,” González said. In those days, two centavos could buy a big loaf of bread, so he became the Cyrano de Bergerac of Tuxcueca, writing three or four poems a week and sharing his tips with his mother and grandmother.
González said he never learned an instrument, “and when I sing in the shower my wife gets out of the house.” But he’s never stopped composing, and now has about 300 poems, songs and corridos, or ballads, filed in manila folders.
While studying accounting in Guadalajara, he joined the Jalisco Composers’ Association and won first place for “ Tu Me Dejastes” (You Left Me).
González’s journey to Sacramento began in 1942 when his father, José Trinidad González, became one of the first braceros hired to work in the Central Valley and later worked on the railroad in Folsom. “When I went to visit him in 1953 he was checking 5 miles of track with a magnifying glass, looking for cracks,” González recalled. In 1957 he left his accounting job in Mexico and came to Sacramento, where he washed pots at the Senator Hotel and got a job bottling soda for Hires root beer at 21st and R streets.
At the Fremont Adult School, he studied English and leaped from his seat when he spotted a Mexican girl named Piedad showing her friends photos of her home on Lake Chapala. They kept turning up at the same Mexican films at the old El Rio Theatre on J Street between Fifth and Sixth, “but I didn’t like his mustache and sideburns,” she said.
“She said I looked like a devil,” González said.
González kept trying to talk to her, but Piedad said she rebuffed him until her older sister remarked, “He’s kind of rude but he has beautiful eyes.”
“She was beautiful from her eyes to her high heels,” recalled González, who tried to capture her with his poems.
“I used to read a lot of poetry – his was OK,” Piedad deadpanned at his birthday party.
She finally weakened when he recited the acrostic poem “ Piedad,” each line beginning with a letter of her name: “ Piedad, pura como el alma que el pecado no conoce, (Piedad, as pure as the soul that does not know sin); I zas con ternura tu inocente amor (Idyllically lifts up her innocent love); Elevandolo hacia mi buscando comprensión (Elevating it to me looking for understanding)...” It ends, “ Doncella del amor, angelical y hermosa (damsel of love, angelical and beautiful),”
González followed that up with “ Si Pudiera Viajar Por El Espacio” (If I Could Travel Through Space). More than half a century later, at his birthday party, he looked into Piedad’s hazel eyes and began, “ Si puderia viajar por el espacio, Y logara llegar hasta la luna, Y llevarte conmingo entre mis brazos, Y platicarle a ella que te amo con locura (If I could travel through space, and carry you in my arms, I would wish to reach the moon, and confide in her that I love you madly).”
His verses produced a big smile, and Piedad declared, “I give him a good life, I still cook for him every day, and after 53 years he’s still writing.” When he couldn’t remember the last stanza of his latest song, Sacramento, she filled in for him: “ Sacra, sacra Sacramento, Joya de la region, El mucho lo que te amo, Te llevo mi Corazon (Sacra, Sacra Sacramento, Jewel of the region, I love you very much, You live in my heart.”
They raised three kids, Maria Watts, Elizabeth González and Alex González. To support them, Alfredo González “clocked 40 hours a week at Norcal Beverage in West Sacramento and also worked as an accountant and tax preparer, putting us all through college,” Maria Watts said. A renowned soccer coach, he was inducted into the Mexican American Hall of Fame. And every Saturday morning in January he answered tax questions on Spanish TV.
González kept composing, often waking up at 3:30 a.m. “to write down ideas that came to me in my dreams,”
He also kept entering competitions. In 2000, his song “ Corrido a José Alfredo Jiménez,” an ode to the famous Mexican composer, beat out 863 other entrants for first place in El Festival de la Canción Latinoamericana de California in San Francisco. The Argentinian director of the competition, Roberto Chiofalo, loved his songs so much he sat down at the piano with González and arranged them. “He created the music for 14 of my songs,” González said.
Finally, he decided to make his dreams come true. In 2005, he traveled to Guadalajara and hired Mariachi Cuauhtémoc to record his songs. “But the idea of selling his music was overwhelming, so my siblings and I surprised him with his own website to do just that,” Watts said.
At his birthday party, a jubilant González declared, “ Sí se puede!” the call of the United Farm Workers meaning “Yes we can!”
“It’s never too late to make dreams come true,” he said. “I want to make a video of my corrido, ‘ Las Ilegales,’ the story of two beautiful undocumented girls, Francisca and Josephina, working in the Salinas lettuce fields,” González said. “Then they stop in a cafe in San Jose to find two Americans to marry.”
That song has a sad end, but González said most of his songs, laced with the moon and the stars, are about “love, respect, friendship and trust – and making people happy.”