March 2, 2001

Seniors keep the heart of Mexico beating strong in Barrio Logan

by Yvette tenBerge

Members of La Rondalla stand outside of the Paradise Seniors Center, ready to sing. Photo by William Bloomhuff.

Harmonized voices accompanied by the strumming of guitars and the shaking of maracas drown out the sound of heavy rain and traffic outside. A dozen men and women, all between the ages of 50 and 80, sit in chairs arranged in a loose circle. Some play instruments, balancing them carefully on their knees, and others clutch well-worn sheets of music. All belt out the Spanish language lyrics to La Rondalla, their group's theme song, perfectly in tune.

It is a Wednesday morning and the singing group La Rondalla is practicing at the Paradise Seniors Center, located on the busy corner of Crosby Street and Logan Avenue in Barrio Logan, as they have done for the past 25 years. Unlike other music groups, La Rondalla prides themselves on their ability to beautifully blend their voices and instruments to perform traditional music and songs from Mexico and Latin America. Some members, like Armando Dumas, Hortensia "Tencha" Carrasco and María Arce, have honed their voices in musical groups all their lives. The majority of La Rondalla's members, however, sing as a way to be social, express themselves and celebrate their roots.

"Meeting here and singing in this group keeps us vibrant and gives us joy. We were born with music around us," says Natividad "Nati" Zatarian, a woman who has sung with and who has helped organize La Rondalla for the past fifteen years. "These are songs we have known since we were children, since our parents sang them to us right here in this barrio."

Sisters Jennie Vargas (left0 and Maria Elena Collins (right) the newest members of La Rondalla.

Although they have performed at senior citizen homes, retirement homes, convalescent homes, hospitals, libraries and schools throughout the San Diego area since their inception, the aging process combined with a lack of resources has taken a toll on the group. "We used to perform a lot more [than we do now.] Most of our older players have passed away or have physical problems like Alzheimer's [and other] handicaps," says Ms. Carrasco, a member of La Rondalla since 1985 who worked in a cannery (which has changed names many times) on Crosby Street for 40 years. "The other problem is transportation. We like to perform close by because not everyone drives or has [reliable] transportation."

When it comes to practicing, the members of La Rondalla come dressed in anything from comfortable sweat suits and warm corduroy pants to dress slacks and bright colored sweaters. When it comes to performances, however, the group sports authentic Mexican costumes that are either made by hand or purchased by each individual with their own money. The men wear guayaberas (loose, lightweight shirts) and black pants while the women wear white, sequined blouses, red or green embroidered skirts and roses in their hair.

Apart from three or four annual performances, such as an upcoming performance in honor of Cinco de Mayo on May 4th, a Mother's Day performance and a program in celebration of Mexican Independence Day on September 16th, La Rondalla also performs upon request when provided at least three week's notice. Their musical program varies and consists of songs in both Spanish and English. They are funded solely by the small donations they receive for their performances, something that does not appear to distract them from their goal or intimidate them into changing the way they have run their operation for the past quarter century.

"We do what we do to give seniors something to look forward to every week. We don't have the experience or means to travel to schools to teach children about their heritage, but we can provide entertainment and social recreation [for seniors]," says Ms. Zatarian. A smile crosses her lips as she watches the other members of La Rondalla move to the music. "And you know, we do not care if a person does not know how to sing. If they can carry a tune, they can learn and we never turn anyone away."

A remarkable policy for a musical group that sounds like they could put out their own hit CD tomorrow.

La Rondalla practices at the Paradise Seniors Center, located at 1880 Logan Avenue, every Wednesday from 9:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Those interested in joining the group, finding out about upcoming events or booking La Rondalla for performances can reach them by telephone at 619-235-1148.


La Rondalla

En esta noche clara de inquietos luceros,
Lo que yo te quiero te vengo a decir
Mirando que la luna se extiende en el cielo
Su pálido velo de plata y safir.

En mi corazón siempre estás
Y ya no he de olvidarte jamás
Porque yo nací para tí
y de mi alma le reina serás.

En esta noche clara de inquietos luceros.

Lo que yo te quiero te vengo a decir.

Abre el balcón y el corazón
Mientras que pasa la ronda
Piensa mi bien que yo también
Siento una pena muy honda

Para que estés cerca de mi
Te bajaré las estrellas
Y en esta noche dormida
Será de mi vida mi noche de amor.

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