No sabo selections: music as a bridge to culture

todayOctober 25, 2023 32 2

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By Michael Ybarra

Music Journalist 


A “no sabo kid” is a person of Hispanic, specifically Latin, descent who cannot speak or understand Spanish. Without knowing the language of their family and fellow Hispanic friends, a certain disconnect occurs inside these individuals. In fact, a portion of the Hispanic community scolds these non-native speakers, and this leads to an exclusion from one’s own culture.

I am a “no sabo kid.” My parents never taught me or my siblings Spanish, but I refuse to relinquish my culture. In addition to downloading Duolingo, I requested Spanish music playlists from my parents, and I picked songs which made me feel the most connected to my culture. Here are my “no sabo selections.”

: A man in a white sombrero and chaps sits in a chair
The cover of Vicente Fernandez’s album Por Tu Maldito Amor released via Columbia Records. | Vicente Fernandez

Por Tu Maldito Amor

 I think “Por Tu Maldito Amor” by Vicente Fernández captures my vision of Mexican masculinity. Although men may be encouraged to stifle emotions for the sake of their reputation, Fernández’s voice oozes with vulnerability. At points, it sounds like he is moments away from bursting into tears.

My whole life I have been told to “suck it up,” so I have learned to regulate my emotions, for better or worse, but Fernández presents a different form of masculinity. With each sustained refrain, he sings of heartbreak with a rich voice, unafraid to openly express his despair. Fernández dispels the myth of maintaining Mexican culture’s “machismo” mindset, and he teaches me sensitivity is a strength, able to be molded and channeled into something beautiful.

I selected this song from the playlist my mother sent, and she said my grandmother loved Fernández when she was younger. While exploring Mexican masculinity, I realized I must pass these songs and lessons down to my future children, a sort of sonic inheritance.

A woman wearing a black corset and black and white sleeves stands against a white backdrop
The cover of Selena’s album Entre A Mi Mundo released via the label EMI Latin. | Selena

Que Creías

Selena’s “Que Creías” from her album Entré A Mi Mundo centers around another heartbreak, but her voice stings and is full of spite. This reveals yet another side of my culture I had experienced but never truly reflected on.

Instead of adhering to stereotypes of woeful whining over a breakup, Selena hopes her lover sees how happy she is without him, how independent she has become. I can hear the disdain and pride as her voice growls around the lyrics.

The instrumentation gradually builds throughout the song, mimicking an actual argument. The accordion whines in response to Selena, representing her lover, but no matter how much it whales, Selena’s voice remains central throughout the song.

This song portrays the strength of women in Hispanic culture. I have stood among powerful, independent women my entire life, and they have often become my role models. Through this song, I can feel close to my fiery sisters, my independent mother and grandmother and use them as a guide to shape my own self-worth and autonomy.

Yuri stands with teased blond hair wearing a black dress in a cut out frame
The cover of a Solo Lo Mejor: 20 Exitos, the compilation album by Yuri released via the label EMI Latin. | Yuri

Maldita Primavera

 Because I never listen to Spanish music, and I was not alive in the 1990s to witness her popularity in its heyday, I had no idea who Yuri was, but her song “Maldita Primavera” illustrates the yearning I so often feel.

Heartbreak is a common theme throughout all music, but Yuri’s feels different because it addresses wanting more than a physical relationship with somebody. She does not want a kiss here or a caress there. She wants true love, a love which consumes her.

Speaking about non-marital relationships in this way remained taboo in 2002 when Yuri released this song. She was ahead of her time, and the instrumentation modulates as Yuri yearns during the chorus.

Sharing in Yuri’s pain, I found myself drawn to this song in a unique way. It represents such a relevant topic in my life as I navigate college and relationships and the possibility of love. It shows me I come from a culture which values rich love, love with depth.

I am not the first Latino to yearn for love, and I will not be the last. In the meantime, I have a catalogue of Spanish love songs to explore and apply to my own experience. Even though I cannot cognitively translate the Spanish lyrics into English, I feel as if my culture understands me emotionally.

Music transcends language. Someone does not need to understand lyrics to notice the intricate intonation of a singer’s voice or the swell of the symphony filling them with sadness, joy and nostalgia.

Latin music helps me navigate my culture even if I feel like an outsider sometimes. It embraces me with open arms. It helps me relate to my mother, father, grandmother, my ancestors, even my sisters who cannot speak Spanish either but are part of this culture all the same.

Spanish music fills me with pride. Culture was once an island far away. Now I can call it my home.

Written by: Cayla Soriano

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