For some, parties are just about having a good time, getting loose and forgetting.
But the most exclusive party at the National Association of Hispanic Journalists conference is held every year to help Latinos remember.
The Tejano party has allowed journalists to celebrate their accomplishments, their laughter and their unity. The six members who started it all left a path for the next generation to follow, and the legendary Tejano party has left a mark on the NAHJ that persists even after 34 years.
Imagine this: You’re away from your family, your friends, your home. You’re off following your dream, chasing your career. You’re at a conference, it’s 2 a.m. You walk into a roomful of people who look like you, who remind you of where you came from. They quiet down and these words rise above the din:
“Por la mujer que me meció en la cuna.
Por la mujer que me enseñó de niño
lo que vale el cariño
exquisito, profundo y verdadero;
por la mujer que me arrulló en sus brazos
y que me dio en pedazos,
uno por uno, el corazón entero.
¡Por mi Madre bohemios!
¡Por ella brindo yo!”
The recitation of the poem, “El Brindis del Bohemio” by Guillermo Aguirre y Fierro, is essential to every Tejano party. The ritual takes place at 2 a.m., when the party is winding down.
It is often the last words NAHJ members hear before they go their separate ways.
Rigo Chacón, a retired radio reporter who is a lifetime NAHJ member, was the first to so.
“That was la despedida and we’d all go home and it got very emotional,” said Maclovio Perez, 67, a broadcast meteorologist with KRIS News, in Corpus Christi, Texas. “Because we were spread across the country, we are all far away from our families and that poem brought me back home, it reminded me of home and it brought me back to my mom.”
The very first Tejano party happened in 1984, when NAHJ was founded.
Perez and his five friends from San Antonio, Texas, had attended the first convention and before departing decided to have “a little despedido,” a farewell party.
That small party — a group of six friends saying goodbye over beers and music — has morphed into one the most anticipated social gatherings of NAHJ.
“NAHJ wouldn’t be NAHJ without a Tejano party,” said NAHJ Board Member and NBC Video Producer Geraldine Cols Azócar. “It speaks a lot to the traditions that we have at NAHJ, it also speaks a little bit about the founders of the time.”
The location and time of the Tejano party has always been a closely guarded secret.
Though organizers usually plan it for the last night of the NAHJ conference, after the Gran Baile, conference goers don’t know where it will be — until the whispers and rumors reach them.
They’ve held the Tejano party in countless presidential suites at hotels around the country. They’ve opened up people’s hotel rooms to the masses, filled the bathtub with ice and hauled in boxes of beer.
A Texas flag is hung at the center of the room.
Initially, the party was Tejanos only. In recent years, the founders have opened it up to all Latinos — but to get in, you need to know someone who knows where it will be.
“I didn’t know where the Tejano party was going to be at, but I knew people who knew where it was going to be at,” said Victor Escobedo, a former NAHJ member who attended this year’s conference with his wife, Jodi Hernandez from NBC Bay Area. “I felt accomplished when I went to my very first Tejano party — I was a part of something, I had arrived.”
Tejano parties at NAHJ bring people together who may have little in common besides being in the same place for the same reasons.
“Here’s the thing about NAHJ: You don’t know many people and here we are meeting many people from across the country,” said Perez. “That was the beauty of the thing, we are all here for the same things, we all believe in journalism a noble cause, we believe in truth and we believe in getting our fair share of leaving a mark in our community.”
“Having this event is a gift,” added Dino Chiecchi, who was the NAHJ President in the late 1990s and is a multimedia professor at the University of Texas at El Paso. “When I first walked into my first Tejano party, the poem brought me to tears, it reminded me of how wonderful my hometown was and it brought back all these fantastic memories, and it does that for everyone who goes to a Tejano party.”
It was not immediately clear where the 2018 Tejano party would be as of publication Saturday evening.
But the organizers knew what they wanted people to feel when they arrived: Like they had a family, a home, a community — and a place to return to, year after year.
“For that night everyone is a Tejano and that is what makes it so special,” said Maury Vasquez, who worked as an NAHJ mentor in the early 2000s. “It is not a goodbye, it is a to be continued, until next year.”
The poem that gets recited every year ends with a series of toasts.
One for hope. One for love. One for joys and sorrows. One for new beginnings.
When they raise their glasses at the Tejano party, everyone is a bohemian, toasting themselves, each other and the community that brought them together.
This article has been corrected to reflect the correct spelling of Rigo Chacón, who is a lifetime NAHJ member.