Una Vida de Música
By Tracy Gillette Ricci | Photos by Manny Espinoza
Emerging from the kitchen of Demetra restaurant, the dishwasher strides slowly to the center of the restaurant. As the music begins to play, he throws one arm up toward the sky and starts singing. One by one, patrons rise from their tables and dance throughout the restaurant, in a chain of joy and celebration. The excitement is palpable and phones are raised high in the air, capturing images to be forever chronicled. The music commences in an eruption of cheers as the dishwasher takes a humble bow and then returns to his work in the kitchen.
Antonio Perez Ramos was born with music pulsing through his blood. Farmers by trade and musicians by heart, Ramos’ family was deeply rooted in traditional Mexican life. Villa de San Pablo Huixtepec, in the State of Oaxaca, Mexico, was home and is where music and dance are almost inextricably linked to the state’s folkloric heritage. Ramos attended school and helped his father in the fields, where they grew corn, beans, and other staple foods. He dreamed of seeing the orchestra that played steps away, but at the age of six, he could only listen to their sounds wafting from the building next door to his home. “Music is fundamental to life,” says Ramos, who sits with perfect posture and punctuates this declaration with his hands reached out. His journey began when an uncle who played piano at their church taught him to read music. This was the impetus for taking up the saxophone, which in turn, led to an invitation, when he was 16, to join the orchestra he coveted in his childhood. Soon after, Ramos, with a few others, formed a performance group and traveled as far as the city of Oaxaca. For 23 years, the group performed, gaining popularity and establishing Ramos’ status as a professional musician and singer. The group dissolved just before Ramos’ fortieth year, but he did not give up his musical career. He formed a new group, finding even greater success over the next 15 years. Ultimately, changing times led to his ending his career as a musician. As groups came through from the larger cities, his bandmates chose to leave their small village and join them. Ramos could not leave his family and resigned himself to work in the fields. “It was very sad and hurtful to see them leave. They were family,” he says, with his head bowed down. Emotions overcome Ramos as he remembers how he reached his dream to be a working musician. “They are the best memories of my life. I live off those memories,” he says through his tears, “but I’m satisfied and grateful to experience such a thing.”
Nearly 15 years have passed since Ramos, listening to his heart, left Villa de San Pablo Huixtepec and ventured to California for a new experience. He worked odd jobs, ultimately arriving in Monterey. “I was surprised there was a Monterey in California. It made me remember Monterrey in Mexico,” he says with a chuckle, shaking his head. An interview at Demetra defined his future and returned him to the spotlight. After learning of Ramos’ musical background, owners Faisal Nimri and Bushar Sneeh asked him to sing a song; they were so impressed that they had him return the next day to join the Demetra family and found a space for him in the kitchen. In the decade since that first meeting, Ramos is thankful to be able to connect with people through song. “It reminds me of the old days,” he says. “I’m thankful for God, for life.”