José Guadalupe Esquer, 51, stepped out of the Señorial bar near the Sonoran side of the Morley Avenue pedestrian border-crossing Wednesday morning with his pockmarked guitar in hand.
He smiled, the August sun glinted off his silver incisor, and he became the Bronco Negro de la Sierra, one of the best known buskers who work the pedestrian port-of-entry lines in downtown Nogales, Sonora.
As he walked over to the small but growing line at the Morley Gate, he strummed “Noneta Mi Ma,” one of the 150 songs he says are in his repertoire and what he calls one of his big hits. Between the chorus and the verse, tongue pressed hard against the roof of his mouth, he made his signature, “Ch-Chacha Ch-Chacha, Ch-Chacha,” smiling wide. Two young boys waiting to cross watched El Bronco, transfixed and smiling just as wide as him.
“Every day I walk around the streets, playing my guitar, singing and entertaining my people, children especially,” he said.
Strolling on toward the pedestrian line at the Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry, workers with Ferromex, the Mexican railroad company, called out to him. José Arango, a musician himself, requested “El corrido de Gerardo Gonzalez,” a ballad about a “loyal” gunslinger cut down in Reynosa, Tamaulipas by cops and other adversaries.
Listening to the song, Arango said he’s one of the Bronco’s many fans on the border.
“He’s got his style,” he said. “People like it.”
That style has been more than 30 years in the making. Esquer, who is originally from Navojoa, Sonora, first picked up a guitar in his late teens and started making money doing it at 18. While mostly sticking to upbeat norteño, he also plays cumbias, rancheras and some corridos, music he has taken to other sections of the border in Tijuana, Mexicali and San Luis Rio Colorado.
Bolstered by occasional painting and gardening jobs, Esquer said he raised his five children mostly on money made with his music. He said he’s been playing in Nogales for about eight years and it’s his primary source of income. He sometimes performs in restaurants, but most of his business is done on the line with waiting pedestrians.
“This is how I make a living,” he said. “With my guitar.”
He’s out walking the streets of downtown Nogales, Sonora by 8 a.m. and doesn’t leave until well after dark. What he makes on any given day is a question of luck. He said 50 pesos, or nearly $4, is about as bad a day as he’ll have and 500 is as good as it gets, “but only when there’s a line,” he said.
“I charge my people whatever they want to pay,” he said.
Many people smiled and called out his stage name as he walked around town Wednesday morning, but nobody gave any pesos up. Guillermina Rojas Tebo, who was waiting to cross at DeConcini and who is also from Navojoa, said she enjoys having the Bronco around.
“He’s good,” she said. “He sings well, and plays his guitar beautifully.”
If Esquer gets his way, he’ll be belting out his songs for border-crossers like Rojas for years to come.
“God willing, that’s what I hope,” he said. “I hope to be playing, singing and entertaining my people.”
To listen to some of his music, search for El Bronco Negro de la Sierra on YouTube.