Happy Music for Happy People


A while back, an acquaintance commented that Latinos listen to polka music.  I’m sure I gave her a blank stare.  They listen to Dick Rodgers?  Romy Gosz?  Alvin Stacinski?  Why?

If you do not live somewhere in the belt between Milwaukee and Rhinelander, you may not only be asking “why,” but “what.”  You can see and hear “what” at http://www.polkacatalog.com.  (Sorry, it might not work in Firefox.)  If you’ve ever lived in Wisconsin, you don’t need to visit the polka link to know what (but it will still make you smile if you do).  Polka, at one time, was so much a part of our culture that I had to learn the dance steps in gym class (I flunked).  My high school band director used to give us hysterical imitations of Alvin Stacinski playing the accordion and stomping to the music.  He sang in Polish while he did it!  We have polka festivals all over the state all summer long — but it is an aging cultural form, and I have sometimes commented that when the retired people of today die out, polka will die with them.

Apparently this is not true!  Polka lives on in the Mexican people of our area.  I am so relieved!   Why should such a wonderful art form be gone with the wind?  I thought, when my friend told me about the Latino connection, that she had been slurping something laced with … something.  But no, she knew what she was talking about.  I have our rummage sale last summer to thank for setting me straight.

We had been having a few quiet moments at the sale, when suddenly the air was filled with happy music (Polka — “Happy music for happy people” — see the web site).  It really was happy music!  And it was in Spanish!  A couple of happy-looking guys got out of a happy-looking pickup.  Unfortunately, they could not speak a lot of English, so I opted out of asking about the music.

We had an interesting conversation about the backpack one of them purchased, though — “For mi niña,” he explained.  He informed me, with pride, that it had a tag saying it had been made in Mexico.  The other one pointed to a box on my garage floor, and said the kids in Mexico carry their books to school in boxes.  I think he was trying to express the oddity of backpacks being made in Mexico for U.S. kids, while the Mexican kids use boxes instead.  Well, one father was making sure his little girl was going to use a backpack instead of a box from now on.

But polka — we were talking about polka, sort of.  When Paul and I were a young married couple, we used to entertain ourselves by going to the Cinderella Ballroom on a Saturday night.  We didn’t boogie, disco, line dance, or square dance.  We did the polka.  We were the only young folks in the place.  The seniors all smiled and pointed at us.  This may have been because they thought it was odd that young people would want to polka.  It may have been because they thought we looked funny.  But it was probably because we didn’t really know how to polka (remember, I flunked that course in gym class), and just sort of hopped around without stamping on each other’s feet.  We didn’t care.  We were having a good time in our own little way.  But it wasn’t a good time when they had a “change dance partners” song.  Then I stepped all over the old guys’ feet.  (Paul knew how to keep his toes out of the way.)  I learned quickly — when it even mildly looked like they might do a change partners song, I made a beeline for the ladies’ room.

The Cinderella has been gone now for almost twenty-five years, and all the old folks with it.  Sigh!  But polka lives on — among the Latinos.



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