© 2023 Marfa Public Radio
A 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

Lobby Hours: Monday - Friday 10:30 AM to Noon & 1 PM to 2:30 PM
For general inquiries: (432) 729-4578
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Los machines


Órale, the feature this week is the word machín. It comes from the English word, machine. It means to act or do something very well, impressively. Somebody who’s machín is relentless, strong, self-assured, invulnerable to impediments and distractions. A machin is well, machine-like...superhuman.

It was the dusty season in the Southside, late in the winter when the wind blows hard day after day. Boy was in his eighth quinceañera. This was the most glamorous one he had been in so far. Big court—24 couples. And unlike most quinceañeras where the dancehall owners allowed in non-invitees for an admissions fee, this one was solely for invitees. Hundreds of them. The court table was covered by white linen and festooned with cut flowers and champagne glasses with matching plates and embroidered napkins with the quinceañera’s name, Destiny, scripted on them. It would soon prove to be a seminal experience of Boy’s youth.

There was required dance practice almost every evening for weeks. And the marcha they were working on was complicated, with crisscrosses and special steps to a modern song that vaguely resembled a marcha.

The coaches were a serious but gentle couple that seemed to be very experienced at choreographing marchas. A few practice sessions on, however, noticeable tension arose between them. Then the week before the dance, only the woman showed up. Her partner stopped coming.

Eventually the rumor started circulating that the couple had broken up. There were stories of infidelity, personality conflicts, and even artistic differences.

“I hear he quit cuz he was mad that she was better than him,” one of the damas (maids of honor) said.

“Chale, I hear he flirted too much with the damas,” a chamberlain (male escort) said.

“No matter, they’re paying her the full fee even without him,” another dama said.

“But I wonder how it’s going to work at the dance,” said another chamberlain.

The rehearsals went on without interruption, and everybody learned all the steps and the movements well.

When the date finally came, the damas and chambelains gathered as instructed. Their lone guide was still alone when they arrived at the dancehall. Curiosity turned to tension.

Excitement over the upcoming marcha mixed with anxiety among the crowd as well as the courtesans. Everybody knew the story and was curious to learn how it was going to turn out.

The moment finally came when the band came back from a break and quickly launched energetically into the practiced marcha melody.

Suddenly, the departed coaching partner appeared. His counterpart, showing no sign of surprise, anger, or even relief, took her place in front of the line of damas without hesitation.

The marcha set off with the two guides smiling broadly but not looking at each other. Everybody noticed. The guides marched animatedly and gracefully, stepping crisply and in unison with each other and with the music. Their inspired dancing enchanted all the marchers. The lines and steps stayed perfect. No salidos or relajes. The crowd watching them began to clap to the beat of the music.

Boy was caught up in the moment until somebody shouted, “machín!”

“Maaachín! Maaachín! Maaachín!” the crowd yelled frantically until the marcha came to an end.

Oscar Rodriguez is the creator and host of Caló.