Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
When I was entirely too young, my mom walked in on me in my room wearing a self-designed costume and dancing along to “Little Red Corvette” by Prince. I had found the Purple Rain cassette in one of my dad’s boxes in the garage, where he also kept his records, 8 tracks tapes, and nearly every issue of National Geographic printed since the 1960’s. I didn’t quite know who Prince was or what kind of music he made. I just knew that I really loved it. I have been singing and dancing since I could barely talk, and after all of these years, I have to admit that I don’t really listen to much “traditional” Latin music...at all.
I used to think that it was a “requirement” you needed to be a “real” Latina. Like being totally fluent in Spanish as well as English. While I am proud to have grown up fully bilingual, I didn't feel the Latin music in my DNA. My parents both came to the United States when they were in their early teens and my mom confessed to me she fell in love with the American folk movement early on. So, she grew her straight, jet black hair down to her waist and bought records from Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell.
My dad, on the other hand, went full-on Saturday Night Fever and was all about The Bee Gees with some Motown and soul thrown in. Some of my fondest memories as a child were dancing around to Stevie Wonder and Jackson 5 records in the living room. For a short time, we lived with my grandparents in Miami, and my grandfather was always the one urging us to speak Spanish as he blasted Spanish radio and we heard everything from Celia Cruz to Vicente Fernandez to Miami Sound Machine.
Personally, I've always loved old school hip hop and r&b, but when I was 10, my mom bought me Tragic Kingdom by No Doubt and everything changed. I started wearing edgy Gwen Stefani-inspired outfits and had dreams of fronting my own rock band one day.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I still loved and respected Selena and Gloria Estefan as Latinas who were owning their heritage and breaking barriers on the English music scene. They are indisputable queens in my book, but even they couldn’t get me dancing to Latin music. When the quinceaneras came around, I was in a constant state of panic. If I was invited to be in anyone's court, I knew I would have to be involved in some salsa steps I knew I couldn’t and didn’t want to do. Of course I did anyways, but that's besides the point.
When there’s a wedding, it is still everyone's goal to get me out on the dance floor to some Juan Luis Guerra, while making jokes at my expense and calling me "la gringita." I always tell them I don’t hate the music, it’s just not my preference, and that’s okay. In the past few years, I have started to dive into the world of Latin rock and alternative, discovering bands like Maria y Jose, Carla Morrison, Astro and El Guincho, which combine elements from cumbia,, rock, funk, psychedelia, afro-Latin and more.
That’s the beauty of growing up bicultural. I don’t need to love or know every salsa or bachata song, but I can still appreciate their roots and what our diverse musical history means to our community. And sometimes, I actually get up to dance with my tios, no matter how awkward I may be.