In memory of Mexican crooner José José 

By María Bird Picó

It was 1980s New York and I was there studying. Rushing through the streets of the city one day I passed by a well-known music store, and, when glancing inside, I saw a famous Latin American singer sitting very much alone. He was at a table, promoting several stacks of his cassettes. Despite his elegant and portly demeanor, he looked sad and uncomfortable. The store was full of tourists and locals, yet absolutely no one drifted to the section where the singer was.

I immediately recognized him, because I had grown up listening to his wonderful songs. He was one of the several so-called ídolos de América that rose to fame in the 1970s. He was still relatively young when I saw him at the store, but his bouts with alcoholism were no secret. I was stunned by how miserable and listless he seemed, and I debated whether to go in the store or continue on my way. That was when his gaze met mine: he knew I recognized him and I perceived a sliver of hope in his eyes.

Because of my appearance I am often mistaken for an Anglo-Saxon, and it sometimes surprises people when I say that I am Puerto Rican. But my amazement and my slowing down when I saw him unveiled my true identity to him. My Latin American blood compelled me to go in, but haste was fuel to my existential being at the time, so, as heartbreaking as the scene was, I kept going. 

Thirty years have passed and I still regret not having stopped that day to honor him, or at least to smile at him. Not only because I loved his love songs, but because it was my duty as a Latina to openly acknowledge my heritage and rescue from obscurity--if only for a few minutes--the protagonist of such passion in songs that influenced me while growing up, songs that cultivated a sensitivity that I carry to this day. 

Despite the years, I cannot erase from my mind the sadness in that glorious singer’s eyes. 

It is said that we writers pay our karmic debts through our writing. I certainly hope mine will be somewhat recompensed in this memory of my chance encounter with the beloved ídolo de América. ☗

María Bird Picó is a Puerto Rican journalist and fiction writer. The short-story that inspired this event is in the recently published book of short stories, Behind Shades, the English-language version of Tras esas gafas de sol, both published by Publicaciones te Pienso. The two are available on Amazon and Kindle.