El Embrujo Inconfundible de Mi Sol: On Rita Indiana’s Diasporic Return Anthem “La hora de volvé”

   By Verónica Bayetti Flores | Nov 12th, 2019

    Artwork by Alonso Ayala (@ouchal)

¿Quién quiere estar comiendo mierda y hielo cuando puede estar bailando algo mejor?

The most devastating irony of classic xenophobic insult “go back where you came from” is arguably that many – maybe even most – of us wish deeply to do exactly that, but just...can’t. It’s almost a cliché for immigrants and their children – the return fantasy. Hitting this tender nerve, Rita Indiana crafted one of the best songs of the last decade, full stop: the diasporic return anthem “La hora de volvé.”

Rita Indiana y Los Misterios’ El Juidero came out in the fall of 2010, a masterpiece ahead of its time. The album is a glorious cacophony of güira, tambora, and synths, the driving alt-merengue diasporic Caribbean weirdos everywhere had been waiting for. It’s not exactly that it had never been done before: Rita Indiana herself engaged in initial explorations of this sound with Miti Miti – whose 2008 album Altar Espandex teased at the glory that would be El Juidero – and Maluca’s “El Tigeraso” played with alternative merengue in 2009. But what you must understand about Rita Indiana is that she is quite literally a novelist; her facility with words, her poetry, her narrative ability are a thing of sublime beauty, and the lyrics on El Juidero are nothing short of rhapsodic. Nine years later, I haven’t found a lyricist that, for me, captures the same intoxicating mix of Caribbean humor and flow with metaphors that elucidate quotidian experiences in a way so alive as to render them an almost visual experience. An allegory for the hardships, joys, and everyday absurdity of diasporic life, El Juidero explores leaving home, exploitation, love, everyday microaggressions, and, of course, return.

Salir pa’llá pa’ después darme cuenta que no hay de na’

Before migrating here, the United States we know is the United States of television – a glossy fantasy where everyone is financially comfortable and lives in homes with wild luxuries like garbage disposals, carpeting, and multiple stories. This is the dream we’re chasing when we come here, but what awaits immigrants, more often than not, is much less glamorous: xenophobia, racism, back-breaking work, y un frío del demonio that threatens to mentally break those of us used to more gentle temperatures.

Similar to its thematic predecessor – Gloria Estefan’s classic 1992 diasporic longing anthem “Mi Tierra” – “La hora de volvé” speaks to the pull of one’s homeland. But while “Mi Tierra” focuses almost exclusively on the beauty of home, Indiana’s modern, arguably more honest rendering highlights a different motivation for returning: how deeply uncomfortable it is to exist in a place where no one wants you.

In the visual, Rita Indiana and her crew of dancers and musicians are in a surrealist space landscape. Dodging rocks and strange animals, it’s not unlike finding yourself lost somewhere magical and strange where you’ve made a home nonetheless, dancing to the rhythm of life the only way you know how.

“Subiste nevera con cinco vaca a’entro,” she sings, and I think about what metaphorical cows I’ve been carrying in the heavy refrigerator of migrant life.

Coge un avión coño, una yola al revés

There’s nothing quite like diasporic longing for home, but for most of us, a fantasy is all it is. Returning is either impossible or stupid – because we don’t have the money or the visa, because our careers aren’t viable at home, because the global economic violence that sent us here in the first place has ravaged home so badly that eeking out a meager existence there is nearly impossible for most people. Logistics aside, the reality of return is much more complicated than a triumphant homecoming. Maybe you’re gay and it’s awkward, maybe when you’re home you miss some other kind of food that you got used to that you can’t access there, maybe when you finally get back you realize you’re actually in some hopeless ni de aquí ni de allá limbo and your longing for home isn’t cured after all.

But “La hora de volvé” gives life to the fantasy. It makes you feel the pain and longing of being far from home, has you start thinking of pulling out that giant maleta – that fleeing the country maleta you got under your bed filled with all sorts of random shit – if only for the four minutes and two seconds of the song. When the beat is a quick staccato and the synth is foreboding and harsh, I imagine my life in this dirty, cold city I live in; when the melodic chorus kicks in, my mind shifts to the smell of the ocean air as I get off the plane in Venezuela, the dark green, shiny foliage that threatens to take over everything, the pastel rainbow of peeling paint on the homes and businesses. That an openly queer woman is the narrator makes it feel even more possible – maybe I, too, could make it work.

Tengo nueve años llenando maletas

In my diaspora return fantasy, like Rita I come home with a maleta llena a casa de mi abuela, with is airy patio and solemn sala filled with dark wood and velvet furniture donde no se sienta nadie, making way to the open air comedor with wicker seating where we’d always eat papayas, watermelons, and mangos from my abuelo’s huerta. All my primos are there like it’s semana santa or something, and mi tío Elieser who lives across the street knocks on the door with some dominoes and a bottle of liquor in hand. Pero la casa de mi abuela was long ago divided up into something much smaller to make room for tenants. My cousins have mostly left and are scattered across the world. And in March my abuela passed, joining my abuelo and the rest of our ancestors. The displacement inherent to global economic violence means that there is no longer one obvious place where my triumphant return could take place, no one matriarch holding the family together, and barely any family together at all, really.

What we have left is held together by the thin thread of the Flores WhatsApp group, where family members spread out from Argentina to Sweden write in with an assortment of birthday wishes, health updates, jokes at best corny and at worst offensive, and copy-and-pasted chains of what’s more likely than not political misinformation.

Y en un invierno en Nueva Yol te viste muerto

As I write this I am in Miami, having stayed extra days away from the brisk fall air of New York City with the excuse of meetings to set up, work to do. But really I’m here chasing home, listening for a Venezuelan accent on the street or the Lyft driver, or searching for them more intentionally at El Arepazo in El Doral. I try to surround myself with strangers who speak the way I do, fishing for the accent of my people, the familiar Caribbean sing-song of our words, the opportunity to experience Venezuelan strangers clowning each other in riotous laughter for the smallest infractions, as we do. There’s something about hearing it not from family, or friends, or people I come into contact with purposefully; to just exist in the vast expanse of the outside world among people who are, in this particular way, like me.

As a teenager I had the return fight with my parents – I hated this place, I wanted to go back, please let me go back – and for the longest time I maintained the fantasy that I would, when things back home got a little better.

Things have gotten worse. I don’t know when or if I’ll get my yola al revés. But I will always have “La hora de volvé.”

Todos vuelven a la tierra en que nacieron, al embrujo inconfundible de su sol. ¿Y quién quiere estar comiendo mierda y hielo cuando puede estar bailando algo mejor?

Verónica Bayetti Flores is a New York City based, writer, policy wonk, and cultural critic. She has led national policy and movement building work at the intersections of immigrants’ rights, health care access, police accountability, and LGBTQ liberation. Verónica has written extensively about race, immigration, gender, and music. She is a co-creator and co-host of Latinx music podcast Radio Menea, and is a co-founder and Managing Partner at the Center for Advancing Innovative Policy.

Twitter/IG: @veroconplatanos