I can honestly say that, ever since I can remember, I’ve always been into my Mexican culture. I grew up surrounded by music, food, my hilarious familia from Michoacan who continue to remind us and tell us about Mexico. Being that my Mom was from the US and my Dad was from Mexico and a musician, we grew up bi-cultural from the start, it is so interesting to me to see how the 5 of us siblings have our different ways of honoring our culture.
I don’t think that anyone will deny that I was the daughter who has always ‘represented’ and have always worn my culture on my sleeve. In the third grade, I was chosen to “plan” my first Cinco de Mayo, the staff really did it all but, gave me the credit, and after that first event, it was ‘ON’. I took charge of any opportunity thru all of my years in school from elementary school to university, to work it in cultural events and, more important, to make sure that the event was done as authentically as possible. I had a Mom who had great ideas and my Dad is so ‘folklorico’, he knew what looked or sounded right so I was off!
I was constantly running into this dilemma, “you’re not Mexican enough”, “no sabes hablar en espanol bien“, “how come you act like you’re white?” (when I’d speak in English around my Mexicano friends) and on and on and on. In school, I was into Student Government just as much as I was into my many Latino clubs. I will admit, however, that I was never completely comfortable being myself around anyone anytime until I got at the University.
I had always been a fan of Linda Ronstadt and her music, I never knew that she was Mexican American. Imagine my joy when she came out with “Canciones de Mi Padre“. I was always the first one to get the latest music so I was completely floored when I heard her break out with “Los Laureles” – it doesn’t get any more Mexican than that. What struck me was her accent, so much like my own when I spoke Spanish. But the fact that she had the ‘huevos’ to get up there and do her thing with the #1 mariachi in the world, El Mariachi Vargas de Tecatitlan, and sing these classic songs, songs that I had heard my entire life, totally gave ME the big push I needed to claim and own that cultural part of myself 100%. I would, from that time on, make an effort to roll the many r’s in my name in front of anyone, not just in front of relatives or people who spoke Spanish; I would not be embarrassed to let out a grito if I wanted to in front of anyone, I would follow my cultural heart if you will. I would speak Spanish NO MATTER HOW IT CAME OUT. And I would follow my dream of working in Spanish radio — so what if I wasn’t born in Mexico? so what if my Spanish was more like Spanglish at times? Y’all know how that turned out…I am working at my twelfth Spanish radio station at this writing.
I was not alone in loving “Canciones de Mi Padre”, it struck a chord for many of us. For many, it was the very first time that they had ever listened to a mariachi, ever heard the classic songs that we Torres’ were blessed to hear practically from the womb, and likely the first time that they publicly expressed pride in their culture. The great majority of us have never lived in the motherland, yet we always felt very connected to our culture and, many times, we were made to feel bad for being half American, for not knowing how to speak Spanish well, for instinctively loving our both countries. Music was, for many of us, the bridge — one of the ways that we learned how to speak in Spanish and make it flow. To hear Linda Ronstadt sing all of these songs that we somehow knew was culturally powerful. Linda Ronstadt, for me, was the first true Mexican-American artistic heroine and she had a huge influence on those to come like Selena and La Jenni. And closer to home, my father, Mike Torres, who KNOWS the music and, more important, the feeling one has to have to sing rancheras as one has to throw all of the emotion into the song in order to make it authentic, says that “this girl sang it right” LOL.
Although I’m very sad that Linda Ronstadt will no longer be able to sing due to her illness, her musical and cultural journey was not in vain and it is not that much different that ours: Grew up speaking in English, heard the Spanish language and music in Spanish her entire life, opted to follow her musical heart to become a successful music star in English, and like many of us – we can run but we cannot hide, we always come back to our cultura. I have so much admiration for her because she followed her heart and opened up the world for us as much as for herself.
All I have to do is hear her versions of the classics, “La Charreada” “Por Un Amor” or “El Crucifijo de Piedra” and I think, “oh man, I can totally sing that”… and then after like the first verse, I know that I’m nowhere in Linda Ronstadt’s league musically, but, culturally, I’m right up there with her. I will, confess, though, that one of the songs that I will attempt in karaoke is ‘Tu Solo Tu”, y sin tener que tomar un trago/no drink needed. LOL. If you haven’t listened to “Canciones de Mi Padre” in awhile, I invite you to do so and you may have this sudden urge to break out in a grito and you will find that you actually know the words to the songs but have no clue when or how you learned them. Celebrate one of the must beautiful parts of our cultura today…enjoy the music and salute Linda Ronstadt’s musical legacy in both Spanish and English.
Here are a few of my favorites:
YOU’RE NO GOOD
WHEN WILL I BE LOVED