“To Dance the Bamba, to Dance the Bamba”

“You need a little bit of grace.” – Ritchie Valens

UNSPECIFIED – JANUARY 01: Photo of Ritchie Valens (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Did you know this was the English translation to the first few lines of the song “La Bamba”? Neither did I. If you said you did, then you lie! Or maybe you’re bilingual or maybe you’re just a huge Ritchie Valens fan. Whatever.

“La Bamba” was the only non-English song to appear in Rolling Stone’s list of 500 greatest songs of all time (#354) back in 2004 (alas, it was dropped from the list when the 2021 version was released in September). Though Valens was born in California, his parents were both of Mexican descent. And that fact is kind of how I ended up with this post-Halloween blog post. It’s really nothing but a cultural connection of sorts.

There is some dispute as to where they originated, but it cannot be denied that our culture owes much of today’s festive use of pinatas at parties to the Hispanic community. Many will say that the most similar use of pinatas in our society today can be traced back to their origins in Mexico for use specifically in evangelism.

As for when human pinatas were introduced, well that may be up for debate… human pinatas you say?

Yes, that is myself and my wife at our church’s “Trunk or Treat” event this past Sunday dressed as human pinatas. We allowed the children to “hit” us lightly with a foam sword that didn’t really hurt, but a few of them took some mighty swings at us anyway. Thankfully, there were no bruises, scrapes or cuts of any kind though my feet and legs were worn out after two hours of spinning and dancing and throwing out candy for hundreds of children who showed up.

Only one or two small children were scared and cried at the colorful sight of our costumes. It’s possible we caused some sort of scary psychedelic visual for some, or we could have been the cause of seizures for others, but the laughter and smiles we elicited from most made all of the pain of getting out of bed Monday morning totally worth it.

“I`m not a sailor. I`m not a sailor, I`m a captain. I`m a captain, I`m a captain.”

Richard Steven Valenzuela was well on his way to becoming a captain of the Chicano Rock movement when he perished in that fatal plane crash in Iowa in February of 1959 at only 17 years of age. The crash also claimed the lives of Buddy Holly, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, and the pilot, Roger Peterson. Seventeen years old.

If you’ve seen the movie or know anything about the accident, then you know that Valens was only on the plane because he won a coin-toss against Holly’s back-up guitarist, Tommy Allsup. Richardson was on the plane because he was ill with the flu, and Holly’s basist, Waylon Jennings (yes, that Waylon Jennings), voluntarily gave up his seat on the three passenger Beechcraft Bonanza that Holly had chartered.

Then little-known-actor Lou Diamond Phillips portrayed Valens in the 1987 movie, and he makes an appearance in the video for the song which I had long forgotten about. It was kind of cool to see him pop up in this video back in 1987 since my wife and I have been watching him on a series called “Longmire” on Netflix for the past few months (the series ran for six seasons from 2011-2017).

Anyway, here is the band Los Lobos with a song that spent 15 weeks on the charts and only reached #22 back in 1959 for Valens, but became a #1 hit for “The Wolves.” From the soundtrack of the movie by the same name in 1987, it is the irresistible dance groove of “La Bamba”…

Thanks for reading, and if you ever have a go at a human pinata, please go easy with your swing.


the 80’s

Matthew 19:14

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2 Responses to “To Dance the Bamba, to Dance the Bamba”

  1. Way to go all out for the Trunk or Treat. Good thing no one took a swing with a real bat.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Rebekah “River” Kerwin says:

    Best time with those kids. They loved it and we had a blast!


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