I can remember as far back as 1963 when my father, the late Juan A. Sifuentes Sr., was singing with the legendary Wally Armendarez. Music has always been a part of my life. My father used to say that La musica de nosotros would be the one to educate La raza. I would ask him what, about people in california or chicago. His response would always be "Somos los mismos, hijo". We all have the same feelings everybody hurts, cries, laughs, loses, wins, begs, borrows, steals, and yes, sings and dances.
I would ask my father how he knew when to write a song. His response would be that all he had to do was listen to la gente del barrio. They all have a story to tell. Some people just didn't know how to express themselves.
My father gained a lot of material for songs in the late 60's during the Vietnam war. My father never got drafted but he felt that los musicos had an obligation to keep our gente with a sense of hope. Give them a temporary escape from reality. La raza was muy pobre back then but they would always save a little to go to the baile grandes. They would then write to our brothers across the seas and give them a taste of home.
In 1967 my father left our home. He was gone for a couple of months. I was sure that he had divorced my mother. I would go to my room and bring out a picture of my father and cry for hours. Sometimes I would pull out an album of El Conjunto Bernal. I would put on one of my father's songs, usually "Lo Lindo de Ti", and sing in front of a mirror. I would pretend I was my father and use a hair brush for a microphone.
One day while I was in school my mother got me out of class and told me that we had to go on an emergency to Corpus Christi. When we got there we went to the airport. A place I had never seen before. I can remember a lot of the media people being there with cameras and all. My mom took us to a side door and we waited for about 10 minutes and a plane landed. When the doors opened I saw Paulino Bernal, then Manuel Solis, then Eloy Bernal, and my hero...My dad. I ran as fast as I could to greet him hugging him really tight crying. I told him that I thought he had left us and was never coming back.
My father later told me how he and El Conjunto Bernal had gone to Vietnam to entertain the troops over there. He told me stories about how some gente de our raza had died holding the fort while the rest of our raza got to see some of the shows. At one event the Viet Cong was only five miles away and still the conjunto played. I asked my father why he had done that and he said that it was the least they could do for la raza that was fighting a war that was not ours.
My father taught me a lot about life and he always took me on the road with him when ever he could. He took me to places like L.A., Salinas, California., Bakerfield, Oregon, Washington, Detroit, Chicago,and many other cities. I have lived in Alice,Texas all my life. I live in the house that my father bought.
My father taught me a lot about life. Most importantly, no matter where we come from, Somos Los Mismos.....
Juan Sifuentes jr.:
Juan A. Sifuentes Jr. lives in Alice,Texas. He works for the JIm Wells County Sheriff Department . He is a second generation Tejano singer and is on the Board of Directors for Tejano R.o.o.t.s. The official Tejano music hall-of-fame museum of Texas.