Editor’s note: “Look Back” is a series designed to highlight articles from the Good Faith Media archives that remain relevant or historically interesting. This article is being republished in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, which begins in mid- September and ends in mid- October. If you have an article from our archives that you’d like us to consider including in this series, please email your suggestion to email@example.com. A version of this article previously appeared at goodfaithmedia.com on October 15, 2021.
Mariachi music, Spanish language music and the Spanish channels playing on my abuelita’s TV were how I connected to a culture and language that I only knew about from my parents’ memories.
Sure, it was common in Texas with Tejano radio stations, but to know that there were entire genres of music filled with people that looked like me served as a small glimpse into my own culture.
Spanish music — whether it was Cumbias sung by Selena Quintanilla or love songs by Luis Miguel — tapped into the passion and emotion deep in my soul the way English verses never could. It’s like this for those of us who were born “on this side.”
In Mariachi music, there is an important piece to any good song — el grito.
To the untrained ear, they are merely whimpers peppered throughout a song at the local Mexican restaurant or in the Pixar movie “Coco” when Miguel sings, “Un Poco Loco.”
But if you have ever listened to a Vicente Fernandez classic or included “Paquita La Del Barrio” in a breakup playlist, you know that each cry and wail is meant as a bridge connecting us to the joy or grief found deep down.
They are distinctive and they convey different emotions.
The long wail, ending on small whoops, invites us to pay attention, to stay alert. Gritos ending in a cry tells us the singer grieves the loss of a lover who will never return to their arms again or that they worry about their champion rooster.
And because we know that our emotions are not felt in blocks at a time, there are the gritos that tell the listener though there is grief, there is also joy. Gritos convey the emotion the lyrics are unable to express even in Spanish.
This is how it often feels when “observing” Hispanic/Latinx/Latine Heritage Month. Observance begins in the middle of September, commemorating the independence of several Central and South American countries.
Let me be clear in stating that I love us — us being mi gente, my people. And I love how unapologetic we are about celebrating the culture.
True, we celebrate and “observe” our own culture all year long. Yet, while I revel in celebration of our diverse culture during this month and consume an ungodly amount of various types of empanadas, a month to observe our resilience is not enough.
A month is not enough time to invite a larger community to learn about a richness found in our many cultures while we also struggle with the names given to identify us.
A month does not offer sufficient space for us all to sit in awe of the ways African and Indigenous folks not only endured but thrived after the Spanish arrival and departure, after revolutions and coups, after dictators, after American interventions, after it all.
Some are happy with the term Hispanic and think nothing more of the word or its origin. Others choose Latinx, despite researchers showing data saying our own communities don’t use it.
And there are other identifiers, yet none ever fully capture us without erasing the experience or identity of other siblings in our communities.
How can any name given to us represent the deeply rooted resilience and passion for life in the bones of our communities? What one name can describe the struggle, the story or the bravery?
Any and most of the identifiers are still riddled with colonized and gendered languages.
I yearn to be named and to belong, while knowing that, for some, the need to identify me is to categorize me and implement expectations on me as a brown woman.
In his upcoming book, The Crime Without a Name, Barrett Holmes Pitner asks if a new language can help us shape and redeem the erasure of many people’s ancestral cultures. He seeks to remedy the crimes of ethnocide committed in America.
This matters for any group of people whose community identities have been created by and for white supremacy.
I used to pride myself in being Mexican-American, saying the hyphen served as a bridge between two cultures.
These days I find myself wanting to draw the bridge up or burn it down all together with the expectations and stereotypes that come with being a brown woman mixed with Spanish and Indigenous blood not by choice but by colonization.
In one of my favorite Mariachi songs, “Cielito Lindo,” the refrain is one familiar to many and often sung at celebrations and gatherings.
In Spanish, it says, “Ay, ay, ay, ay, canta y no llores, porque cantando se alegran, cielito lindo, los corazones.” In English, it begins with a sung grito saying, “Sing and don’t cry, heavenly ones, for in singing we find delight in our hearts.”
Where English and even Spanish cannot satisfy our emotion, identity, evolution and resilience, a grito fills the space. Ay ay ay, my darling community. Sing and don’t cry.