Family of Musicians

My interest in music came about when I use to pick up my dad from the local bars. Mom was making dinner and she didn’t want it to get cold so she sent me to let him know. While I was there the juke box was playing great sounds from Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller. Dad would set me down and buy me a hippo size soda. We were late for supper all the time.
You might say that I grew up in the forties listening to my uncle playing guitar backup to the big band music on the record player. I loved that music but as I turn into my teens I listened to Scratch Phillips on my radio playing rhythm and blues late at night. My mother would come in and ask me to turn that “devil” music off. Later on, that music turns into “rock and roll”. I was not into that genre but instead listened to “pop” music like Perry Como and Joni James.
When I was attending church at Immaculate Heart of Mary, I listen to the beautiful organ music coming from the choir loft and wished that I could be up there singing. It so happened that one day, one of my friends invited me to go up to the choir loft. It had an old large organ with the pipes going all the way up to the church ceiling. The organist, Maria Uribe, immediately gave a large music sheet with Latin lyrics. At that time the Mass was sung in Latin and the priest would celebrate the Mass with his back turned toward the parishioners. I didn’t know my singing voice so I just followed along.
We practiced the hymns in the choir loft in the evenings when no Mass was being celebrated. I didn’t know how disciplined she was in practicing the music for the Mass. We learned four different Mass for each liturgical season which was difficult for me. Eventually I learned that I was a baritone. All the others were tenors and sopranos. I was placed as a second voice singing bass.
Later on we moved from the choir loft to a very small room that looked like a walk in closet. This was where the resident priests stayed. This was in a building in the back of the church. We practiced there until I graduated from high school and joined the military.
During my time in the service, I wasn’t interested in singing due to my duties and barely had time for church. However, in 1974, when I was stationed in Bad Kreuznach, Germany an American Catholic chaplain invited me to start attending church. I was by myself and living in the barracks because my wife was expecting and couldn’t join me until after the birth of my third child. I started to be more involved with the church and also attended a retreat which changed my life completely. I also became a CCD teacher and later the director of religious education (DRE). Thus began my return to the church and singing career when he invited me to join the choir.
My family, when they arrived, join me in all the religious festivities which I had not participated before my conversion and return to my Catholic faith. We would spend a year and a half before they had to leave because of a death in the family.
When I rotated back to the states, I was stationed at Ft. McNair in Washington D.C. I couldn’t find housing for a year so my family had to stay home in San Antonio.       Meanwhile I was attending Mass at Ft. Myers, Virginia. I enjoyed the way the choir was singing with electric guitars, flutes and base guitars. Quite different from organ music. I asked to join the choir and after I auditioned, they let me in. I was singing in my usual baritone voice. I was surprised that we would get a standing ovation after the Mass. At one time we were asked to sing at a festival the church was having. We sang traditional Broadway songs. At another time we sang for a private celebration and we were paid for it.
With my family coming to Washington D.C in late August of 1977 and finally finding quarters right inside Ft. Myers, we had the most enjoyable time touring the various famous places in the Washington area including Virginia. However, my time for retirement came and we moved back to San Antonio.
After my retirement and with nothing to do, I went back to Immaculate Heart of Mary church and rejoined the choir. I found that things had changed. The Mass was now sung in Spanish and had Mexican type mariachis music playing the Mass. The choir had moved from the choir loft to downstairs in the front pews with the parishioners.
What was most unusual was that the members of the choir who were there in 1958 when I left were still there. A little older but with the same sounding voices. Maria Uribe had retired and left her son, Carlos Macias, in charge. It took a while for me to understand and sing the lyrics in Spanish.
I spent almost ten years with the choir at Immaculate Heart of Mary church before I realized that my children were growing up and attending St. Michael’s Catholic church which was across the street where we lived. I started going there and after a while started to join the English choir there. I later moved to the Spanish choir.
In retrospect I come from a long line of musicians in the Cortez family. Starting with my grandfather who played the mandolin in a folkloric orchestra which went on to become the San Antonio symphony orchestra, my uncles who played the guitars and also played in an orchestra and with trios. My dad who played the harmonica and dabble with a bass guitar, my cousins in Mexico who compose music and my son, John who plays the bass guitar in a local band and my daughter, Marie who played the flute. Including my grandchildren playing violins, trombones and tubas.
This is my musical heritage and I am very proud of my family and I am blessed to have them in my life.

Asian Influence

Around the corner from my house is a now empty grocery store that was owned by a Chinese couple. My wife and I went there quite frequently to buy some products back in the 70s after I retired. I never paid too much attention to them at all and the fact that they spoke Spanish fluently didn’t surprise me.
So, it got me to thinking that I had actually went to a Chinese store in my younger days. There are certain things that you can buy in a local Mom and Pop store in those days. For example, kerosene, (fire department didn’t care) candy, pan Dulce, sodas (hippo size). What? No bottle deposit? Get a gallon jar and fill it up with different flavors. Then there’s the Chinese store where you can buy coffee beans (you have to ground it yourself), clothes, shoes and different merchandise that you actually need.
My store was a block and a half from my house. I remember that they spoke perfect Spanish because most of their clientele were Hispanics.
Now that I remember, there were a number of Chinese stores all over the west side of San Antonio that catered to the people living there because the major grocery store like Centeno was too far to go for immediate needs.
We have always wondered where those Chinese who manned the store lived. Where did they go? We never saw them riding the Guadalupe bus to and from. We have always imagined that there’s a Chinese barrio similar to ours somewhere in San Antonio. Because of our ignorance, we never found out.
Way later in life when we are now more aware of different ethnicities and current resources are at our fingertips via the internet, we can readily get the information we need.
For example, we know that there was migration of Chinese workers from China to San Francisco to work in those areas of menial labor and the railroad. After the railroad was completed, most Chinese went West for other jobs. A lot of them went to Mexico where they stayed and assimilated to a Mexican society. To this day there are colonies of Chinese families all over Mexico. The problem is that you can’t tell the difference between a Chinese and a Mexican because a lot of them generation to generation have assimilated so well into their society.
A case in point. After I retired from the military, I started going to my local church, St. Michael. While there I met quite a few families who were Hispanics of Polish ancestry. Mainly because the church was once an exclusive Polish church until it later changes to allow other ethnicities to attend Mass there. I also met a Mexican family who were also Chinese but I could not tell the difference. The only way I found out is that one day while I was visiting their home I noticed a picture of their grandfather who was Chinese. One family had a Chinese name which I thought was Spanish but turned out to be Chinese.
While I was employed by the school districts I found out that one of our distinguish city council member, Frank Wing, was Chinese. If you knew him, he didn’t look Chinese.
There is a legend of a slave Chinese woman who was brought over from China into Mexico by a merchant in the 17th century. She became very friendly with the village population and everybody loved her exotic beauty and for her generosity. She was the originator of the dress with red, white and green. To honor her, the villagers started to make copies of the dress and wore it in their festivities and it now has evolved into the national symbol of Mexico. This became the China Poblana.