Artwork for podcast Si Yo Fuera una Canción (If I Were a Song)
Yax Montaño (English)
Episode 1622nd October 2021 • Si Yo Fuera una Canción (If I Were a Song) • Elisabeth Le Guin
00:00:00 00:44:57

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Interviewed the day before her 21st birthday, Yax reveals a source of wisdom and seriousness worthy of a much older person. In her view, the migrant condition as a person who is “Neither from here nor from there” is not necessarily tragic, but rather an opportunity to know oneself better.


Facundo Cabral & “No soy de aquí ni de allá” (I’m not from here, nor from there”)

The song was written in 1970 and is probably the best-known song by the great Argentinean singer-songwriter-philosopher-artivist. It has been covered by a great many artists, among them Alberto Cortez (see Episode #10, Abel Ruíz).

The two Wikipedia articles are different but each is quite good:


  • This short Wikipedia piece about the song is short on references but has anecdotic charm

Chavela Vargas

Wikipedia, as usual, offers good basic information about this amazing figure:

Chavela has also been noticed in academic circles:

  • Jesusa Rodríguez, Liliana Felipe. “Doña Chavela” (119) 31.XII. 1990 Debate Feminista, Vol. 23 (ABRIL 2001), pp. 372-377
  • Roberto Strongman. “The Latin American Queer Aesthetics of El Bolero.” Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies / Revue canadienne des études latino-américaines et caraïbes, Vol. 32, No. 64 (2007), pp. 39-78
  • Lourdes Torres. “Becoming Visible: U.S. Latina Lesbians Talk Back and Act Out.” Counterpoints, Vol. 169, Talking Back and Acting Out: Women Negotiating the Media Across Cultures (2002), pp. 151-162

070 Shake

As with many younger hip hop artists, 070 Shake is chiefly represented by the Internet—with attendant issues around the reliability of the information thus encountered. (English)




This re-enactment in English was recorded with the voice actress, Terri Richter.

ELG: Greetings and welcome to THE latest episode of “Si yo fuera una canción”-- “If I Were a Song.” We are a community-based podcast and radio show, in which people of Santa Ana, California, tell us in their own words about the music that means the most to them.

ELG: I am Elisabeth Le Guin, your program host, and Director of this project.

This project is based on my conviction that we people in the modern world need to learn to listen to one another; and that music, and all it brings us, is the perfect place to begin.

DAVID: My name is David Castañeda, music researcher here for the SYFUC podcast. I am so happy to be a part of this project, using my scholarly training and my performance experience to bring you the stories, music, and lived experiences of those living right here in Santa Ana.

ELG: Well, welcome Yaxalli, I’m very grateful [that you’ve made time for our interview today]. If you could introduce yourself to our listeners, tell us your age if you like, and some details about what you do, what you’re working on right now...

Yax Montaño: Okay, sure. Hi Elisabeth, thanks a lot, it’s an honor. My name’s Yax. Yax Montaño. I’m 20 years old, turning 21 tomorrow! And --.

ELG: No! Tomorrow?

Yax Montaño: Yup, yup, tomorrow.

ELG: Happy birthday!

Yax Montaño: Thanks! And… well, yeah, I've been… Lately, I've been tattooing for work, but I consider myself an artist. Well, I'd like to be an artist, but, yeah, I'm lucky that my main source of work has been tattooing for the last year, year and a half. So, yeah. I like it a lot.

ELG: How’s that? – Are you implying that tattooing isn’t an art? Or that you don’t feel that you’re an artist when it comes to tattooing? What do you mean here?

Yax Montaño: Well, no, it’s not that, I don’t mean that by being a tattooer, I'm not being an artist, but, for me, my goal is to focus more on art, instead of on tattoos. But at the same time, I like it because tattooing is a form of art via... via people, right? Via their skin, it's art on the skin, and at the same time, it helps to sustain me financially.

ELG: Of course. And what is your artistic background? What type of art do you hope to make in the future?

Yax Montaño: Ah, well, I really like art in general. In truth, I like all types of art, all visual art: painting, sculpture, drawing, all of that. I also really like music. I don't have a lot of experience with music. I've mainly drawn and painted my whole life just as a hobby. And I really enjoy it. It's what I'd like to keep doing.

ELG: Okay, and tattoos are, like you said, a form of art that's done directly on the skin of human beings.

Yax Montaño: Yes!

ELG: And many people see it. Right? It’s like, every one of your clients displays your art publicly wherever they go.

Yax Montaño: Yes, it's a really big honor. It's a funny feeling because before this, I’ve always made art and there have always been people who say, “Oh, that’s nice”, and they like it and they probably want a painting or something like that. But it’s not the same. It’s nothing like putting my art on someone’s skin and them carrying it with them forever,

ELG: Yeah, because tattoos last, right?

Yax Montaño: Yeah, yeah, permanently. More or less.

ELG: And it’s really – it’s also really personal. Choosing a design for a tattoo is a super personal decision.

Yax Montaño: Yes.

ELG: Okay, which of the designs that you’ve done up until now do you like the most? Which – which one are you most proud of?

Yax Montaño: Hmmm... it's tough, that's a very hard question. There are many, many designs I've done that are special in different ways, some designs were really special to the client, others were ones I truly wanted to draw... but... I'm trying to think… Because the truth is that, yeah, there are many…

I have a friend who I actually met through tattoo, because she was my client and then we became friends. And she has – almost her entire arm is full of my drawings, things I drew without anyone requesting them. Just things I wanted to draw.

And they’re – almost all of the drawings she chose were inspired by things that were happening in my life, or feelings, and she chose them, and has, like, half her arm full of my tattoos. To me that’s really special. Above all because she gave me her trust… and she likes what I do, and she chose things that were special to me.

ELG: Yeah, that shows a lot of confidence in you, right?

Yax Montaño: Yeah!

ELG: I imagine that’s a sign of a very strong friendship.

Yax Montaño: Yes.

ELG: Oh, that’s nice! And, okay, and in terms of your current presence in Santa Ana – because, as you know, this podcast centers on Santa Ana's communities – how did you come to live in this part of southern California?

Yax Montaño: Yeah, well before living in Santa Ana, I lived in Guadalajara, in Mexico, and Santa Ana was one of the first cities I lived in in the United States. So, I came here to live with my mom, and she was here, and she’d already made friends here and everything. So I lived the first 5 years [of my life] in the United States, in Santa Ana. I came [back?] when I was 15 years old, still pretty young. I finished high school, I – I changed a lot in Santa Ana, you could say that it’s a city that saw me transform from a child into an adult.

ELG: From your perspective, how do the two cities, Guadalajara and Santa Ana compare? What are some of the differences between them that stand out to you?

Yax Montaño: Hmmm… Okay, well, for starters, I mean, I don't want to state the obvious, but a big difference is that… Well, Guadalajara is a huge city, it's very, very big. It's a metropolitan city, with several neighborhoods, and a ton of people, like… Well, very large. It's a very big city, very active, with a lot of things to do and see. And for me, Santa Ana… the difference is that it feels like a small city. Not quite a town, but more… well, less urban, much less urban than Guadalajara. So sometimes it’s a bit difficult because, well, that affects my work. The public transportation as well. It isn’t as easy for me to get from place to place in Santa Ana as it was in Guadalajara. .

ELG: Of course.

Yax Montaño: For me that’s the most notable difference; the size of the city and the differences that brings. But also, well, it’s a cultural change, right? Because even though Santa Ana has a large community of Latinx people, and people from other countries, an immigrant community, well, it’s, it’s not the same, right? You still feel, you feel… the cultural difference, from one country to another.

ELG: Yes, the difference is really one of density, we could say.

Yax Montaño: Mm-hm.

ELG: Here in southern California, the communities are planned out in such a way that they're very dispersed, and the distances are quite large. On top of the fact that, like you said, the public transit system is quite poor.

Yax Montaño: Yes, very.

ELG: So, without a car, access to urban spaces, to public spaces, is really a challenge.

All right, let’s talk about the two songs you’ve selected. You’ve chosen fascinating songs. And the first one, the one that represents your origins or where you’re from, can you tell us the name of the song and a few words about how this song came into your life?

Yax Montaño: Sure. The song is called "No soy de aquí ni soy de allá." (I'm not from here or from there"), and the version I chose is by Chavela Vargas. The original is by someone else, a singer-songwriter. But the truth is, I don't know who they are. [laughs]

ELG: It’s by, let’s see… Facundo Cabral.

Yax Montaño: Ah, okay. I knew it was a man, but I always listen to the Chavela Vargas version.

ELG: Okay, so, let’s listen to the song before getting into what it means for you in your life.

Yax Montaño: Great.


MUSIC CLIP #1: Chavela Vargas, “No soy de aquí ni de allá”


ELG: All right. I have a thousand questions!

Yax Montaño: Ask away.

ELG: Well, for starters… Let’s start with Chavela Vargas’s voice. It’s a very distinctive voice, isn’t it?

Yax Montaño: Yes.

ELG: And as you’ve just said, there are other versions, several, of this song. What about this voice brings you a sense of “where you’re from”?

Yax Montaño: Yeah, well, first, I think I identify much more with a woman, than with a male singer. But it’s not just that, but also, well, obviously, her voice. It’s a gorgeous voice, no? That, that… well, I’ve listened to it many times, many, many times. I’ve listened to Chavela Vargas songs throughout my whole life. But always, every time, [her music] makes me feel something that I sometimes can’t even explain. But it’s like that, a feeling of… I don’t know, sometimes it gives me a feeling of power, of inspiration, sometimes melancholy, it’s that way sometimes… But it always makes me feel something passionately, right?

ELG: Mm-hmm. And it’s strange, no? Because she isn’t a singer that … that really lets loose with her voice. You could say she’s not a very lyrical singer. Her voice is, well, it’s low in tone…

Yax Montaño: Yeah.

ELG: Right? And also, well, in this song, for example, sometimes she’s barely singing. It’s more like a combination of singing and speaking, right? It sounds like, as if she were a smoker. I’m not sure if she was. There’s a bit of, like, gravel in her voice, like “rrrr.”

Yax Montaño: Yeah, like, a bit raspy. Yeah.

ELG: Yes, that's the word. Alright, well, in my understanding, Chavela Vargas rose to fame singing rancheras. And well, rancheras, as they're known in many places, are… it's a very lyrical music, right? With floating melodies, and vocals suspended in space. I don't really know how to describe it.

Yax Montaño: Yeah.

ELG: But not in Chavela’s case! It’s not her style. Her way of singing is very, very grounded, I would say, and… Well, what do you think of what I’ve just said?

Yax Montaño: Yeah, I definitely don’t think I've ever put it in those words, but, yes, I feel that she has her own way of singing, like… more than anything it's like… Yeah, it's more like speaking instead of singing, as if she’s reciting the words. It’s like… but it feels very intimate, I feel like that makes it really intimate, because it feels like she’s there, singing to you quietly, but even so, she has such a powerful voice, that she doesn’t need to do many vocal flourishes.

ELG: [laughs] Yes, yes, exactly. There’s an intimacy to it…

Yax Montaño: Mm-hm.

ELG: And, alright, thinking about the song again for a bit: if you had to say what the principal effect the song -- as sung by Chavela Vargas- has on you, what would it be?

Yax Montaño: Well, in terms of her own personal life, I think the song really fits, because, you know, she was from Costa Rica, but she considered herself to be Mexican, right? So, this song says "No soy de aquí ni soy de allá"—"I’m not from here or from there.” I take that to mean literally, well, she’s not from one single place, right? But I also like the… there are a lot of lesbian references. For me it’s like a lesbian anthem. And I love that Chavela never, she didn’t come out of the closet, so to speak, until she was very, very old. But even so, she found ways to express [her sexuality] one way or another, right?

So, I find it very strange that this song was written but a man, because it sounds like it comes from a woman’s perspective.

ELG: Yeah, yeah. It’s very strange. Chavela did a very powerful act of appropriation there. And yeah, the verse that goes “"No le gustan los señores." – “she doesn’t like men”, made me laugh. [laughs]

Yax Montaño: Yeah, “le gustan los amores, pero nunca los señores."-- "she enjoys love affairs, but men, never.”



Chavela Vargas

DC: Okay, Elisabeth, so we have here Chavela Vargas, an amazing rendition of this song. I actually wasn't too familiar with this artist before this episode. Were you familiar at all with Chavela?

ELG: Well, she has a huge repertory and a lot of recordings, so I can't claim to have complete knowledge of all of that, but she's kind of a lesbian icon as a musician.

DC: Hmm.

ELG: And I had run into her through my connections to that community. But yeah, so diverse and so, so rich, what she does with every song that she sings. So, yeah, tell me a little bit about what you discovered in getting to know her and her voice.

DC: Well, for me, I think that it's always difficult for anyone in any kind of artistic endeavor to create a signature, right? That's what artists are always trying to do.

ELG: Mm-hmm.

DC: With Chavela, it seemed like everything was about signature -- "sello," right? In Spanish, sello was like her stamp, right? Like her, who she is in terms of her art and reflected in her art and in her singing, her compositional style, the way that she interprets songs. It's all just so original and very, very intense. And you know this from what I learned, this artist was actually singing ranchera music, which is very different. It sounds very different for anyone who's familiar with ranchera music. But she was taking this music and going a completely different direction with it and being extremely musical. And the way that she would manipulate tension and release in her interpretation of the songs is just gorgeous. It's amazing, amazing, amazing work, to be able to do this.

ELG: Yeah, yeah. And a tremendous voice. I mean, I think Nature just gifted her with this amazing instrument in her body! And, you know, Yax talks about how she she feels the intimacy in this song, she feels like Chavela is talking to her, kind of talking in her ear, almost. And this is another thing through some of Chavela's many recordings: she really knew how to use a microphone.

DC: Mm hmm.

ELG: You know, so when she wants that intimate feeling, she knows exactly kind of how to get the mic to work for her, you know, so that it sounds like she's right there in your ear. And then she'll take a step back and she'll just belt, you know? It's... It's masterful.


INSERT MUSIC CLIP: Chavela singing “La Llorona”


DC: [Masterful. Also, lots of practice. She made over 80 albums, so she had lots of time in the studio to get that right.

ELG: Holy cow.

DC: Eighty! Eighty: eight-zero.

ELG: Yeah, this is a person who just lived and breathed music, isn't it?

DC: Mm hmm. I'm so happy for this episode, that I actually was not, like I said before, I had no intimate familiarity with her music, and now I'm like all about her work and her body of work. I'm very excited to explore more.

ELG: Well, hopefully we can make some of our listeners excited as well.


ELG: But, how, how funny, because yeah, this Facundo Cabral, who, as far as I know is the original composer, I've listened to his version and… To tell you the truth, I didn't make it to the end of the song because… I completely agree with you. This song sounds really great from the mouth of a woman. It has a freedom and a, there’s a power in the feminine voice that… sung by a man it has, I don’t know, a completely different message, a message that’s a bit arrogant. Or something like that.

Yax Montaño: Yeah, yeah.

ELG: So, in terms of your personal connection, your sense of your origins, why this song?

Yax Montaño: Yeah, well, honestly, this song was the easiest to choose. I totally relate to this song, and I've always, from the first time I heard it, I've always felt a great connection to it. And not just to the lyrics, but also the sound, right? But all of the lyrics, to me are… I can relate! You know, I was born here, but I grew up in Mexico, and then I came back here and when I first got here, I had a lot of issues around my identity. I didn’t feel like I was from here. But now, too, when I go back to Mexico I sometimes don’t feel like I’m completely from there. So, there’s always a feeling of… of that I’m [just] from myself, you know? I’m not from a [particular/physical] place. "No soy de aquí o de allá / y ser feliz es mi color de identidad." right? "I'm not from here or from there/and being happy is the color of my identity." And to me, that means that your identity is inside yourself and in what you do for yourself. And what makes you happy is who you truly are. Yeah.

ELG: Yeah, that’s lovely. Yeah, because really the song isn’t… it’s not a lament.

Yax Montaño: No.

ELG: I would think, without listening to this version by Chavela Vargas, that with that title, “I’m not from here or from there”, that this song would be some kind of lament about not belonging anywhere, right?

Yax Montaño: Yes.

ELG: But no! It isn’t that at all. It’s more like a celebration of that state of not belonging anywhere. Do I have that right?

Yax Montaño: Yes, for sure. Yeah, it’s almost a kind of revelation or a way of singing your freedom, right?

ELG: Yeah!

Yax Montaño: Mm-hm.

ELG: Yes. I really like this interpretation [of the song]. -- And so, moving on now to the second song, which is really quite different!

Yax Montaño: [laughs] Yeah!

ELG: As you know, the second song represents or expresses your hopes for a future, or the future -- I think there are various futures -- and… Alright, can you please give us the title and a bit of what you know about this second song.

Yax Montaño: Sure. The song is called Flight 319, and it’s by 070 Shake. And I heard it because I like this artist very much and listen to her music a lot. And this song… more than anything else, the sound made an impact on me, the sound of the song. I don’t know if it’s the production or how you would call it, but I like the way it makes me feel.

ELG: Yes, okay, let’s listen to the song. Here it goes.


MUSIC CLIP #2: 070 Shake, “Flight 319”


ELG: What a song… the form of this song really grabs my attention, because it starts out one way, and, up until about 2 minutes and 15 seconds, it’s one thing. And then, out of nowhere, there’s a… like, a break, right? And you hear the voice of a man saying: "Good night to all of you." And from that moment, it becomes something else. Okay – tell me a bit about this song. It's so out of the ordinary. Such a profound shift halfway through a song is something you don’t hear that often. So, please, can you explain a bit to me about how this song carries your hopes for a future?

Yax Montaño: Yeah, well, it’s funny, because what attracts me about this song, and what makes me think about a future, more than anything, is the sound. That change, that difference, makes me feel things that the lyrics don’t reflect. But… but yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s… something about the sound that gives me a lot of hope, it gives me… it makes me feel like everything is going to be fine and… yeah. I’m trying to think…

ELG: You said: “the sound,” is it the background sound, uh, at the beginning of the song, for example? Is that it?

Yax Montaño: Well, I’m referring to the song itself, without the words. So, the music. So, what you’re referring to, that transition, like a beat or something that changes [the song] from one thing to another, into something completely different. And yeah, well, the composition in general really fascinates me.

ELG: Me too. Because it’s so unusual. That sound at the beginning, before the voice comes in, that sound is, is… it’s nice, right?


MUSIC CLIP #2B: from beginning, about 20 seconds


ELG: It’s like… are you able to describe it?

Yax Montaño: Ummm… I don’t know if I can describe it in words, but, well, it’s, for me it’s a bit, how can I say it, it’s a bit more… I don’t have the words for it, really. I’m not very good at describing music, but –

ELG: Sometimes it’s impossible, really. Do you have colors or shapes that would be equivalent?

Yax Montaño: Well, maybe not colors, specifically, but this song is… I sometimes close my eyes when I listen to it, and, honestly, there have been many times where it's made me feel like it's the end of the world, I don't know. Like that. That's the sensation I get from it, like I'm, like I'm going through that, but I don't feel, it doesn't feel bad, you know? I mean, maybe it's not the end of the world, like the apocalypse, but it’s the only way I can describe it, it feels like a big… Like maybe a catastrophe, or a big change, or something big is happening. But you're just there, listening, and it feels fine. And everything is fine.

ELG: Yeah, yeah.

Yax Montaño: That’s how it makes me feel.

ELG: Allright, so, remembering now the sound of the first part of the song, and yeah, there’s like a… a peacefulness present behind the song. And I would describe it as a somewhat luminous peacefulness.

Yax Montaño: Mm-hm. Yes, yes, definitely.

ELG: Of course, because it is super difficult to describe these things with words alone, sometimes I find that images help me a bit. -- Great, so, does this song give you hope in the sense that you, all of us, live in a world that’s, uhh, in danger in various ways?

Yax Montaño: Yes.

ELG: A fragile world. And I think we are all looking for sources of hope, like a bit of ground to stand on, that’s firm and reliable, right? And what you’ve described to me is like a world of sound that carries that feeling of something reliable or something… something greater than ourselves?

Yax Montaño: Yes.

ELG: That’s lovely, lovely! So, the lyrics, which I’ll confess, I have a bit of a hard time understanding what she’s saying! [Yax laughs] But the lyrics, and I’m mostly referring to the chorus-type. part that goes “"Say oh, I'll never know/ how long I'll stay, how far I'll go." Does that chorus affect you?

Yax Montaño: Yeah, yeah. In fact, that’s the part where I identify most with the lyrics, because, well, it’s something all humans deal with in our lives, right? We really don’t know how long we’ll be here, how far we’ll get, what we’re going to do, how we’re going to go. All of it, really. Life is always [full of] unknowns. But… [laughs] But to me, she doesn’t say it in a sad way, it’s more like she’s saying, “well, yeah, I don’t know how long I’m gonna be here, I don’t know how it’ll be, but… but it’s okay.”

ELG: Yeah, that it’s not necessarily a tragedy.

Yax Montaño: Mm-hm.

ELG: Or even sad. It’s simply, well, the conditions of life.

Yax Montaño: Yeah.

ELG: Wow, you have a lot of wisdom for someone who’s not even twenty years old -- [laughs]

Yax Montaño: [also laughs] No, I’m turning 21. I’m 20.

ELG: Ah. That makes all the difference. Wisdom arrives at age 21, yeah. [both laugh]

Yax Montaño: Yeah, right?

ELG: But I really think you’re touching on a theme that’s important to everyone. When I think of the world’s young people, it’s you guys who will inherit this Earth of ours that’s in danger, that we’ve made a disaster of in many ways.

And I constantly worry about the hopes of the youth. And… I don’t know, it’s a very heavy topic, I know that, but…

Yax Montaño: Yeah.


INSERT #2 – 070 Shake, etc.

ELG: So 070 Shake takes her performance name, she takes the name from… 070 is the first three numbers of New Jersey postal codes. And she's from New Jersey, of Dominican heritage, and she belonged to a collective there in New Jersey called 070. And so when she broke out as a solo artist, she became 070 Shake. And she started out as a poet and kind of crossed that very interesting bridge, from poetry to spoken word to rap, and has quite recently had a lot of success as a rapper. And a very interesting one she is. Tell me a little bit about what you heard in listening to this song Flight 319, and to her music.

DC: So I think for me, the most apparent thing is this new approach to making music. So this is like, taking sounds, perhaps from like an acoustic instrument, right? Instruments that we know of. And putting them through synthesizers to create sounds that are impossible to create with acoustic instruments. And then creating these, what I like to call "soundscapes," right? They're just these sounds that don't really make any kind of sense musically, but they create a vibe. And that's all over this type of production with this song here. It's something that has become very popular ever since synthesizers became very mainstream and widely used in music production in the eighties. And it's gotten to a point now where artists -- like Billie Eilish, I think her brother, who was her producer as well, he was saying that he recorded the sound when you press the button to call the flight attendant on an airplane. He recorded it, and then was able to take that sound, put it into a computer, manipulate it with the computer, and then [was] able to make a beat out of it that Billie Eilish was then able to go and use. This kind of creativity, using all kinds of sounds, not just musical instruments, and manipulating them digitally, allows an infinity of different types of sounds, that you can create with the computer. And to me, that was one of the first things that was very apparent in this song because it's done so well, and it creates such a vibe just from the onset.

ELG: Well, yeah, it does. And of course, this is what Yax, this is what she's responding to. She's zeroing in on this, this soundscape, as you call it. She finally gets to a point where where she's saying, you know, "It kind of sounds like the end of the world, but in a good way." And I'm just thinking, Yeah, you know, these are sounds that don't occur in nature, they don't occur acoustically. Yax also, you know, mentions this opening as being just really important to her. And what I noticed is that it creates a feeling, like a sonic metaphor, I would call it, of space, of spaciousness, like you’re in a really big room.

And, umm… reverb.

DC: Yeah. Mm hmm.

ELG: Reverb!

DC: What Reverb does is it simulates a sound using algorithms. Why don't we give the audio team a cue, now, "hit the reverb!" And, let's talk. Elisabeth, go ahead and say something.

ELG: Well, yeah. And the thing about talking with reverb is that it can make you sound like a Very Important Person because your voice is ringing out over this implied large space, which is probably full of worshipful listeners.

DC: Yes! "Si yo fuera" listeners!

ELG: There we go. [both laugh] –

ELG. But yeah. Case in point. So that would be our little example with the reverb. And yeah, and it's present at the beginning of this song, Flight 319. All of these things kind of braid together and create this sense of a unique space, a space that actually doesn't exist in the physical world. It's it's an imaginary space. It's what's what's the word you were bringing up earlier? Liminal.


INSERT MUSIC CLIP: very beginning of “Flight 319”


DC: A liminal space. Yeah. So I really got into this idea of liminality when I was working on my dissertation, I came across an essay written by Victor Turner about being in between, right? So the name of the essay is, "Betwixt and between: the liminal period and rites of passage." And this whole idea has to do with being in between one state of consciousness and going into another, but that one space, there, is so important: that transitionary space. To connect it back to Chavela Vargas: you know, for me, what she allowed just in who she was, was a liminal space, an acknowledgment of liminal space, a space and a way of being that was not conforming with accepted ways of being. In many different ways, right?

ELG: Right.

DC: Her music, and her as a person. For me as a Latino growing up in the United States, I for many years of my life felt very much as being in such a liminal space, right? I very much did not feel like I was American, but I also didn't feel like I was Mexican or Guatemalan, right? I didn't really feel like I was from Guatemala. I didn't really feel like I was from Mexico. So a lot of my youth was spent in this really alone, lonely, liminal space, right? That a lot of youth of diasporic communities -- doesn't even have to be Latino -- have to come to terms with, all across the world. And it wasn't until much later that I started to hear people actually talking about this space and the challenges that people can face when they don't feel that they are conforming and they don't feel that they fit in ethnically, culturally, racially, whatever. Just the conversation, just the making of that space can be so powerful. And songs, like Chavela Vargas, her version of "Ni de aquí ni de allá," and even songs like this one, that create this space without words, can be so powerful in creating that feeling of belonging. That's what we're all really looking for. And that's what we yearn for.

ELG: Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, thank you for sharing that, David.

DC: And it's, I think it's something that Latinos need to really discuss more. Again, being someone who, you know, is a first-generation Latino here in the United States, I kind of had my experience in that as well. And I think we as a community, as a Latin community, we need to come together and really fix that, because that needs to be talked about, number one. Also, I think that what Latinos need to do here is realize that, you know, the United States, since its inception, has been part of Latin America, right? We are in Latin America. And that doesn't mean that we're any less American. You know, it's just that this country, from its inception, has been a place where many people from many different places have come to create. Be it life or business or whatever. And to realize this is to realize that you don't need to feel disconnected from your Latinidad if you were born here. That's a hard realization to come to. It's also a realization that looks different for every individual because it's a very personal journey. But what I hope is conversations like this can provide at least a space for people to no one not feel alone, that they're the only one feeling these kinds of feelings, because you aren't. And number two, for people to really realize that this is a problem and a challenge that many people face. So it's something that we, as a community, we should really be active in in acknowledging and addressing.

ELG: So, yeah, I am on board with everything you're saying, David, and I'm really glad to hear you saying it. I appreciate it a lot.

DC: It's... We live in an amazing place and I guess my only my main point is that we don't have to divide them. It can still be Latin America. It can still be the United States. It can still be everything that this is. We don't have to choose.


ELG: Can you speak a bit about, well, the sources of your feelings of hope? Because it’s impossible to live without at least some hope in life. You’ve shown us this sonic image [the song evokes for you], which I like a lot, but speaking now beyond the song, and a bit more generally. What are your main sources for… the will to continue, let’s say?

Yax Montaño: Wow, I was not prepared for that question! Umm… [laughs] Well, it’s… I think it’s a bit difficult, definitely, to find that sense of hope sometimes, especially, like you're saying, with everything that's happening in this world, and everything that's going to keep happening, that we're starting to see is going to keep getting worse and worse. That, right? And the changes, nothing will ever be the same. But I think one of the things that helps me the most to have the hope to want to keep going and to… to be okay is, well, people and passion, I think, and not just my own passion, but the passion of other people that[‘s expressed] in different ways, you know? Because, of course, there are people who are very, very focused on helping the world, and making a change so all of this doesn't turn out as badly as it could. And at the same time, I also have a lot of respect for people who – it's not that they don't care, but who are more focused on enjoying their own lives in a way that doesn't affect other people, but that… well, yeah, they live their lives to be happy, right? And I respect that a lot too. But, yes, definitely one of my greatest inspirations is art, in any form, by any person. And you can really see, like, that hope in people through their art. And that hope also inspires me and gives me hope.

ELG: Yes, and inspiration is, I don’t know, a fundamental element of hope, I think. Like Chavela Vargas says: “being happy is the color of my identity.”

Yax Montaño: Yes.

ELG: Yeah. I sometimes think that looking for happiness and finding a few moments or perhaps a few hours of happiness could be a political act, right? Because it’s as if we’re reclaiming that thing, that right that we have, to be happy.

Yax Montaño: Yeah, the right to enjoy [life]. Because, yeah, a lot of the time I feel like, uhhh, the way the System is set up, and the way we live, well, we don’t get a lot of space, a lot of time, to do things that we enjoy, things that make us feel fulfilled, things that make us human. So, to me, the most important thing to be able to find is that space where you feel alive, while you still are!

ELG: Yeah, a lot of the time it seems to me that the System we’re living in endeavors to crush --

Yax Montaño: Yeah.

ELG: -- our happiness, or stop it. It's certainly an act of resistance –

Yax Montaño: Yeah.

ELG: --to pursue happiness and to pursue artistic expression as well. I know you weren’t prepared for a question like that, [both laugh] but you handled it perfectly. Your point of view inspires me.

Yax Montaño: Thanks a lot.

ELG: We’re arriving at the end of the interview. I think something I’d really like to do if you think it’s a good idea, is to put some of your drawings or artworks on the [Si Yo Fuera Una Canción] website. Images of your work that you feel express some of these ideas we’ve talked about.

Yax Montaño: Yes, of course. That would be great. I can send them to you.

ELG: Great. I really appreciate your time and your thoughts which you expressed so well, and, it’s [been] a great pleasure.

Yax Montaño: Sure, thank you. Thank you so much as well for giving me this space, this time, and for listening to me. And… Yeah. [Both laugh].

ELG: My interview with Yax shares some fundamental themes with other interviews in this project. Migrant experience is a red thread that stitches together many lives here in Santa Ana; and among the many ways of weaving together and sustaining this always somewhat precarious identity, music stands out, whether for its ability to preserve and awaken memories of dear and lost places, or for its way of suggesting new, luminous, and untrodden horizons.

As we explored in our recent episode featuring Don Apolonio Cortés, radical self-sufficiency is a very common response to the migrant condition; this has been expressed in various songs chosen by our interviews, from Jorge Drexler (“Somos una especie en viaje/No tenemos pertenencias sino equipaje.” that is, “We are a travelling species/we don’t have belongings, only luggage”) to the famous song by Facundo Cabral that Yax chose. But also, as our own David Castañeda just expressed, there is an undercurrent of longing; and if it is not our fortune to be able to count on a homeland, it becomes especially important to find community. Some, like Luis Sarmiento in Episode 4, Abel Ruíz in Episode 10, or Diana Morales in Episode 13, find this through connecting to the Earth or to indigeneity; others, like David, or like Lucy Dale in Episode #6, or like Yax herself, seek it through synthesizing new, shared identities.

Migrant experience can remind everyone that our time here is temporary at best. In a profound sense, none of us is ever from here, nor are we from there.

There is a body of traditional Mexican verse that explores and expresses this aspect of the human condition with a striking combination of beauty and matter-of-factness.

We’re all here in passing,

Like feathers on the wind.

In this life we’ve been loaned,

no one should get attached,

because everything there is, will end,

and be erased by Time.

Would you like to know more?

On our website at, you can find complete transcripts in both languages of every interview, our Blog about the issues of history, culture, and politics that come up around every song, links for listeners who might want to pursue a theme further, and some very cool imagery. You’ll find playlists of all the songs from all the interviews to date, and our special Staff-curated playlist as well.

We invite your comments or questions! Contact us at our website or participate in the Si Yo Fuera conversation on social media. We’re out there on FaceBook and Instagram. And then there’s just plain old word of mouth. If you like our show, do please tell your friends to give it a listen. And do please subscribe, on any of the major podcast platforms. We’ll bring a new interview for you, every two weeks on Friday mornings.

Julia Alanis, Cynthia Marcel De La Torre, and Wesley McClintock are our sound engineers; Zoë Broussard and Laura Díaz hold down the marketing; David Castañeda is Music Researcher; Jen Orenstein translates interviews to and from Spanish; Deyaneira García and Alex Dolven make production possible. We are a not-for-profit venture, currently and gratefully funded by the John Paul Simon Guggenheim Foundation, UCLA’s Faculty Grants Program, and the Herb Alpert School of Music.

For now, and until the next interview—keep listening to one another!

I’m Elisabeth Le Guin, and this is, “Si yo fuera una canción -- If I were a song…”