As we travel through life, we are gathering experiences. Good and bad. 

Some experiences clearly stand out, from the very moment they took place. They also have a soundtrack: the words that were spoken when those events took place.

Generally, we treasure the unmistakably positive. Although that which is initially negative, as time passes, might end up included in the blog of our indispensable memories.

When we evoke, we feel the memories fresh, current. At times, we share them. Moments that made us feel happy, appreciated. As we share them, the evocation of the original events rekindles our spirit, stirring sensations that we keep in the closet of our inner self, ready to help us live. I will share a few examples.

The first one happened a thousand years ago. 

When I was almost 20 years old, I won the 200 meters in the South American Track Championship, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Mine was a totally unexpected triumph, a life-changing event. Thanks to those few seconds spent on the track, I received a sports scholarship to the University of California, Berkeley.

That day in Brazil, as I finished in first place, I heard the excited voice of Santiago Gordon, another Chilean athlete, who watched the race from the stands, above the finish line: “You won! You motherfucking Carlitos! You won!”

Generally, when the word “mother” is used in a sentence, we have to be very careful. It could incite to violence. Mothers are sacred. I believe that is true all over the world. Nevertheless, to me, that scream seemed very funny. It made me laugh then. Same thing today. It all depends on how it is said…and the context in which it was born. Thus, we can yell the word “mother” if it is done correctly. 

The second story is related to the first one. A few weeks later I was back in Chile, enjoying unexpected fame, which was reflected in magazines and newspapers all over the country. One day, I found myself behind a young boy, who walked ahead of me, holding his father’s hand. The kid was about eight years old.

Suddenly, the boy let go of his father’s hand and said: “Dad! I’ll race you to the corner!” The father readily accepted, proceeding to stand next to his son, ready to run. It was then when the boy raised a hand to halt the start and said: “But…I am Carlos Barón!” Of course, they had no idea that I was standing right behind them. I did not tell them either. That exchange between father and son remains as one of the best in my life.

Years later, in 1982, when I was in Cuba as a member of the Jury for the Casa de las Americas Literary Award, another warm and fuzzy moment happened, with its respective soundtrack of words. It is the third story. 

One particular night, with a few members of the Jury, representing various Latino countries, we went out dancing. Some of our Cuban hosts came along.

I enjoy dancing. I also enjoy it when I am honored by being thought of as “a true Mexican” if I am in Mexico, or “a true Puerto Rican” if I’m in Puerto Rico. I get a kick from faithfully and respectfully mimicking a little…or a lot. Perhaps it’s the professional actor in me? 

When the music started, I danced enthusiastically, showing off some moves and gestures that the Cubans did not expect from a Chilean. Us Chileans are not famous  for our “salsa” dancing.

It was then when I heard one of the Cubans loudly yell to the rest of the group a phrase that sounded — it still does now — as a compliment both amazing and funny: “Hey, chico! Look at Barón dancing! Man! He even bites his lower lip the way Cubans do!”

Illustration: Bruno Ferreira

This last moment in time happened in the Mission District, in San Francisco. It was the year 1978.

As an actor, I have received many compliments. Verbal and written. Nevertheless, few of them were as magnificently positive as the one which my friend Martha Estrella gifted me.  

I had written and was now directing a musical play called “Pasión y Prisión de Lolita Lebrón” (“Passion and Imprisonment of Lolita Lebrón”). The musical director was my good friend, “maestro” Javier Pacheco. 

It was an ambitious work, with many participants, of diverse ages and theatrical experiences. We rehearsed and performed it at the original Mission Cultural Center, today known as MCCLA. (Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts).

That day was our Dress Rehearsal and the atmosphere was rather chaotic. It was the first time that actors, musicians, techies and other assistants got together in order to fit the various pieces of that creative adventure. Even a stray dog had managed to sneak into the space where we were working! Don’t ask me how he got in.

We were on a short break, as I tried to decide our next step amidst a chaotic cacophony. It included loud conversation, laughter, screams…and a few barks. It was then when Martha Estrella, who acted in the show, got on top of a chair and let out a big scream. As she agitated her hands to attract the attention of everyone around her, she exclaimed: “SILENCE! SILENCE! Carlos is thinking!”.

A magical and unforgettable silence ensued. Today, I still get chills thinking about it!

Tell me, really: can you imagine a better homage? I cannot. 

I invite you to remember, to examine past events and choose some of your own indelible moments. Consider sharing them. We would like to know them.