Grab Your Maracas and Come with Me

My cousin loves the music of Tom Waits. I never saw her more excited on Christmas, in fact, than the year her sister gave her a copy of Big Time as a gift.

My cousin can groove to any tunes she wants to, of course, because she’s a Latina. It’s one of the few times that it’s advantageous to have a fuzzier, less-distinct cultural image.

If she were black, for example, exclaiming an admiration for Frank’s Wild Years would cause perplexity, and possibly outright hostility. Similarly, white people are given wide latitude in what they listen to, but if they get too far into hip-hop it comes across as slumming or co-option or a grotesque absurdity that makes all of us nervous (spare me your exceptions).

But an Hispanic can crank anything and it fits. I have another cousin who admires Johnny Cash, another who blares Ministry, and another who only listens to extended DJ remixes of techno blips and beeps (which are sounds that I’m sure will replace waterboarding as an interrogation technique).

All of it lines up, but none of it does too. So bring on the classic rock or blare some jazz or trip back to disco, because everything is equally representative.

The few Hispanic artists out there don’t present a unified front. I grew up listening to Carlos Santana, but his music is no more or less Latino-centric than Daddy Yankee, who is, of course, quite a bit different stylistically. You can go old-school with Tito Puente or Celia Cruz, but by their very nature, these artists bring up images of foreign lands and warm climates that our ancestors left behind to come to America in the first place.

So there is no music specifically associated with the Hispanic American, like hip-hop with black people or, I don’t know, The Carpenters with white people. But is this such a bad thing?

Truth be told, it’s a relief to have one aspect of life not subjected to the whims of cultural categorization. And if this is one of the few ways in which Hispanics have it easier than other ethnicities, I’ll take it. Plus, it makes it a lot easier to explain the diverse and occasionally embarrassing contents of my ipod, should it ever fall into the wrong hands.

But writing about this got me thinking about Darius Rucker. I always felt bad for the lead singer of Hootie and the Blowfish. It was all over for him, culturally, the moment he strummed an acoustic guitar and began getting all James Taylor on everybody. He became a curiosity, even a freak. That never would have happened if he had wised up and claimed to be a very dark Cuban. 


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April 2008
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