I was born between worlds. With a mother from the Midwest United States and a father with unclear and disconnected Mexican American roots. I looked like no one. I talked like no one. I belonged to no one. I became a cultural nomad, with no examples of who and how to be.
My father grew up at a time when it wasn’t safe to be brown and proud in the United States, so he did what he had to do. He assimilated. He did his best to be that model minority we all know so well. So while my father may have looked like theirs, my childhood was vastly different than that of my friends, shoot even that of my cousins. I didn’t grow up listening to Vicente Fernandez on the weekends when it was time to clean. I heard Bonnie Raitt. I didn’t eat burritos for lunch, I had pb&j. All the trappings of American society, but still I didn’t quite fit. I felt lost and pulled toward ancestral ways of life, belief systems, food, and dress. But often that can feel like costume when you are also American as apple pie. It’s a lot of work trying to be empanadas and apple pie. I had to figure out how to be both.
Around the same time, I started experimenting with my own identity and how to make it feel like home. I discovered a trend in music that was mirroring my journey. Call it Digital Folklore, Nuevo Cumbia, or whatever else you’d like, it is music that embraces the ancient foundations of the culture while maintaining roots in the current moment, sometimes even looking into the future. It started off slow with Julieta Venegas and expanded to Natalia Lafourcade and then I heard Bomba Estereo and I was obsessed. I felt seen. I felt like I finally found the voice to all the thoughts and feelings that, until then, had nowhere to go. You can feel the heart of the earth in your chest with the beats of someone like Chancha via Circuito or Kaleema. I feel connected to the cosmos, to fire, to ceremony but also I have an iPhone and that doesn’t feel weird. Music makes me feel alive, like it is okay to exist in a world that tells a lot of us our existence is a problem. I wanted other people to feel the same way so I started a podcast, ‘Super Sonido’, which eventually became a radio show on a local station and made its way to the UK via internet radio.
It seems cliché but I think music can connect us. I play mostly music with an emphasis on Latin American roots, but it speaks to something deeper within most of us; the murkiness of our identities. The way our identities can make us feel like we are liberated and weightless, or like we are wading through thick mud with ten pound weights strapped to our ankles, sometimes simultaneously. You see, in one way or another, most of us have experienced some sort of cultural loss. Our land has been taken from us. Our homes, our values our ancestors. A lot of us have no real connection to those things anymore. Our parents were forced to decide which home they would claim. Those who chose the dominant culture lost a lot. Their children (us) even more. Music can help us find our way back.