When he was 19, Jaime Torres received some life-changing advice. The young musician had recently moved to Texas and started a Norteño band. “I was pretty much getting paid to do what I loved in my twenties,” he says. “I got to live that dream, and I got to meet my idol in San Antonio.” That idol was Ramón Ayala, a legendary Norteño musician and the “King of the Accordion.” Torres says Ayala “gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever heard — ‘If you’re going to keep playing the accordion, or whatever you do, give it 100 percent. Give it your all, no matter what.’ And that has stuck around with me forever.”

Tri-Cities musician
The morning of his interview with ColumbiaBasinTalk, Jaime Torres found some photographs that he’d never seen before. They were of his time in the hospital while he was recovering from his brain bleed. “I started feeling accomplished and proud of myself, from where I was to where I am now,” he says. Photo credit: Ana Patricia Torres

That advice helped Torres face some incredible challenges. He suffered a brain bleed in 2015, the result of a congenital cavernoma. “I was one in 450,000 that it happens to,” he says. “There’s a lot of people who are born with it, and they bleed a little bit, and they don’t even know.” But Torres wasn’t so lucky. The brain bleed’s location meant that it was inoperable, so the doctors were forced to put him in a medically-induced coma. “They just waited for the blood to be absorbed back into my body,” he says. “When I came to, I was pretty much a baby in an adult’s body. I had to re-learn everything.”

The first thing Torres had to learn were his new limitations—especially those related to music. Each day, physical therapists worked with him to regain what he’d lost. He couldn’t hear for almost a month and still vividly remembers the day he got his full hearing back. “I put on headphones, and I put on one of my dad’s favorite songs growing up, and I heard it perfectly. And I remember just sitting in my wheelchair in the hospital room crying because I was able to hear again.”

Before his brain bleed, Torres could play every instrument used in Norteño music: bass guitar, drums, accordion, and bajo sexto guitar. But now, he says, “I’m very limited on what I can play because my left hand is very weak. So there goes the guitar, and bajo sexto, and a bunch of other instruments.” Undeterred, he realized “the next best thing was recording bands that I loved, music that I loved.” Always one to give 100 percent, he has recorded an album for his old rock band, Get ‘Em Tiger, and recorded an EP for a new band, Oedipus Rex. He has also released a solo album of instrumentals.

Tri-Cities musician
Jaime Torres hiking in Red Rocks Park, Colorado, while on tour with Get ‘Em Tiger in 2017. “I grew up in the Northwest; I grew up hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, all of that good stuff,” Torres says. He recently got a new all-terrain wheelchair to tackle more aggressive hiking trails. Photo credit: Amy Hanson

“The brain bleed really, really did change my outlook on life,” Torres says. “Before this happened to me, I…wasn’t advocating the way I am now, with disability rights, with marginalized communities of color, all of that.” After George Floyd’s murder, Torres formed the Tri-Cities Justice Alliance to support nonviolent resistance to police brutality. He is also active with the Disability Mobility Initiative, which advocates for Washington residents who do not drive. Torres addressed the state legislature this past March on their behalf, as legislators worked on the latest transportation budget. “Everybody deserves an accessible world, and that’s kind of what I’m fighting for,” he says.

For Torres, accessibility and equality are two sides of the same coin. “The sidewalks where I live in my community [in east Pasco] are crumbling,” he says. “All the new development is in west Pasco.” Part of his solution is to help his community advocate for themselves. “Our culture [Mexican-Americans], we don’t do that. We just shut up and work. We don’t call the city. We don’t go to the [city council] meetings,” he explains. “[But] that’s how you get things done, is to be present.”

Tri-Cities musician
Filmmaker Steven Barrientes of Time Magic Studios. The film’s working title is Animo, a Spanish word that inspires one to “get animated; get up and do something,” according to Torres. He describes it as a “pump you up” type of word in Mexico, and one his father was fond of using. Photo credit: Jaime Torres

Torres’s story and advocacy work caught the ear of Time Magic Studios, a production company run by Steven Barrientes and Nestor Salgado. They approached Torres and asked if he’d like to star in a documentary about his journey. At first, it was just going to be “a simplistic documentary of me talking about my incident and accomplishments,” Torres says, “but it’s turning into something of therapy and healing, for myself and my family.”

With the documentary, Torres hopes to inspire others with disabilities. “You can still live a good life, and you can still accomplish things. It’s very, very easy to succumb to depression and being down on yourself…I want to inspire other people just to get out more and do things.” Torres certainly does this in his own life. Aside from his other projects, he is also working on a book and a podcast and plans to review hiking trails’ accessibility accommodations. “Every day is something new; I don’t know who I’m going to be tomorrow,” he says. “What I do know is that I want to help as much as I can. That’s my purpose.”

Please visit Torres’s GoFundMe page to support the documentary’s production.

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