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They’re too empicados


Órale, the feature of this episode of Caló is the term empicar. In modern Spanish, it means to dive into something headfirst, as in a pique. In Caló, however, it means to become used to or addicted to something, as if stunned by the power of a snake bite. Of course, the first step to becoming empicado, is to be picado, which never comes from an actual snake, but from a very pleasurable or alluring experience, such that the person who’s been picado wants more of it and less of everything else.

Boy was at a quinceañera in OJ. He was there as an attendee, not as a chamberlain this time. The quinceañera was one of his parents’ ahijadas, one of their goddaughters. It was a small affair, a court of only half dozen couples. All the damas wore long pink slinky gowns. Their chamberlains wore dark suits and hats but were otherwise not uniform.

The dancehall was a long but narrow, little-used, out of the way adobe structure owned by somebody in the family who dusted it off for this one occasion. The crowd was animated and packed tightly into the improvised dancehall.

There was no band stage, only a corner corded off by a row of speakers resting on the cement floor. But the band made up for the otherwise humble setting. Colorfully dressed and quite active, their repertoire was all “tropical” music, mostly cumbias and jacarandas. Well into the dance, they had let out no boleros or corridos, the otherwise usual fare for OJ. No slowdown and very short intermissions.

As the entire crowd was from the northern rancherias where Boy’s father hailed, there was not the usual fortress of Montoyas taking up a section of the dance hall. This meant Boy was free to sit anywhere and even move around as he wished. Everybody was kin and knew him. So he sat next to the band to watch them dance.

After a long cumbia, the trumpet player in the band blurted out a bugle call, as if rallying the troops to advance. Only when the kids at the court table got up and formed a single line did Boy know it was the call to the marcha.

The trumpet receded and the band crescendoed into a slow cumbia. The marchers sashayed forward then backward then quickly broke the line up into dancing couples—mostly synchronized, moving forward then laterally together. Instead of cumbia moves, they took short steps. Their dance resembled short marches but to the animated beat of a cumbia.

“What’s this?” Boy asked the full table of cousins he was sitting with.

“It’s the new San Tevo dance,” several cousins said at once.

Boy nodded in appreciation.

“Sí, that’s what all the kids are doing now,” said the oldest cousin at the table, a young woman in her late teens.

“It came from the countryside, where the older people are empicados with the waltzes and boleros of the past. They say the kids got picados by cumbias but never really got out of the old dance steps. So they do this, which looks like a marcha. Don’t you think?” she added.

“Órale. De aquellas,” Boy responded.

Oscar Rodriguez is the creator and host of Caló.