Bagpipes and Salsa

The Texas Story Project.

There are not too many places on Earth where the sound of bagpipes mixes with the roar of low-riders and the smell of fresh tortillas. My neighborhood was one of those places.

I grew up to the sound of bagpipes. This is a little unusual for a Hispanic girl. In a Texas border town. We lived across the street from Bel Air High School stadium in El Paso, Texas. El Paso is a border town, 90% Hispanic (in our neighborhood, it was closer to 98%), making the high school's choice of the Highlander as a mascot so bizarre that I can't quite fathom how it could ever have occurred. Did a rogue Scot take over the school board at an opportune moment? Were the distant mountains an inspiration to "highlanders"? Were darts involved?

Whatever the reason, the Highlanders had become a formidable football team, and at every game, in addition to the huge marching band, were a dozen bagpipes in full regalia. A dedicated and gifted band director (what else would you call a guy who could teach Sousa and Irish battle songs?) held practice for the bagpipes at six in the morning. Since there is no volume control on a bagpipe, no one learns this instrument indoors.

On the cool desert mornings every fall, the bagpipe division of girls—because clearly no Hispanic boy would be caught DEAD in a kilt—would fill their plaid bags with air and the cry of the bagpipes would climb above the desert floor. The sound would bounce off the concrete stadium and enter with full intensity into my bedroom. I'd feel the strain of the notes— at first interrupted so often that it was more like a chorus of demented car horns than music. But slowly the band director would coax the song from the breath of Latinas, girls who would listen to ranchero music on the way home from school, cruising in low and slow Chevys and Fords. I'd wake up from my confused dreams, trying to figure out why in my sleep I was bounding through rolling green hills when I lived my waking life amid yucca and sand. The bagpipes would pull a yearning from me for a place I'd never seen, a place whose music slipped into my childhood like a lost leprechaun wandering into a circle of mariachis.

It's been thirty years since those high school days and I wonder about the bagpipe band alumni. Do the Latinas who played the bagpipes across the street – do they look forward to March like I do? Do they have the same confused sense of nostalgia every St. Patrick's Day? As bagpipe music begins to break beyond the bounds of Irish pubs, as it invades radio time and parties and people break out shamrocks while searching their closet for green ties and shirts, are the bagpipers reminded of those cool desert mornings in El Paso? Do they feel the ache for the warm bag at their side, the pipes in their fingers? Do they secretly consider themselves descendants of a lost tribe of Celtic warrior princesses? Okay, that was probably just me. So forgive me if on each St. Paddy's Day I wear my green bowler hat complete with shiny foil shamrock and long for the days of bagpipes and yucca.

Erin go Bragh and pass the green salsa!


Desiree Prosapio is a fifth-generation Texan, award winning writer, and columnist. She writes personal essays about growing up in El Paso as well as humorous autobiographical pieces and fiction. Her work has appeared in various media, including Chicken Soup for the Soul and NPR.

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