Artwork for podcast Si Yo Fuera una Canción (If I Were a Song)
Fernando Agredano (English)
Episode 29th April 2021 • Si Yo Fuera una Canción (If I Were a Song) • Elisabeth Le Guin
00:00:00 00:47:36

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A primary-school teacher in Santa Ana, Fernando reflects on his upbringing in a rural migrant community, and on the heavy weight of racism in USAmerican society.

Transcripts

Today’s interview with Fernando Agredano was originally recorded in Spanish. This English re-enactment was recorded with the voice actor Wesley McClintock.

As with a number of my interviewees, I came to know Fernando through the son jarocho workshop at El Centro Cultural de México, here in Santa Ana. He lives in Corona, in Riverside County, but works in Santa Ana. The commute doesn’t seem to bother him—he is a peripatetic and gregarious individual, often traveling to see friends in Mexico and throughout California.

he afternoon of Hallowe’en,:

It’s not that racism and inequality have magically improved as a result of that election, of course. But their open endorsement by the highest office of the land has finally ceased, and I think we’re all breathing a little easier because of that.

Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that now we’re more able to gather our strength for the next stage of the struggle.

st,:

FA. Well, it’s a pleasure, Elisabeth! As you said, my name is Fernando Agredano, and I’m learning to play son jarocho. In fact, Elisabeth, you are one of my teachers! I’ve learned a lot from all of you, and of course, I love music, I like music, and I’m really happy that you’re going to interview me about two songs that mean a lot to me.

ELG. Okay! Well, Fernando, I know you don’t live in Santa Ana, but rather you work here. How long have you worked in Santa Ana?

FA. Since:

ELG. And what is your work?

FA. I’m a teacher, a primary school teacher. Normally I work with students in first and second grade. This year, I really pleased because I’m giving a class in the bilingual program. That means I’m actually learning a lot about my own Spanish, because…well, like everyone here in California, sometimes we don’t have a chance to use our Spanish, so we forget things and we mix up English and Spanish.

ELG. Well the truth is that we’re on the way to creating a new language, right? with Spanglish. Just give us, I don’t know, 100 years, 150 years, and we’ll all be speaking a new language that’s a mixture. So, is this the first time you’ve been able to teach in the bilingual program?

FA. No, in fact I did it in my very first year. My very first year, but honestly, I had just got out of University, I didn’t have much experience and I don’t think I did it very well! But that’s how one begins…Also, in the summers I’ve given summer-school classes, in the Migrant Education program.

ederal Government, created in:

This program attempts to offset the educational disadvantages suffered by minor children of parents who migrate within the United States in order to work within the agricultural, dairy, lumber, or fishing industries. Such children may not be able to stay in a school for the entire school year, or—as Fernando mentions a little further on—they may live far from any school at all, with no means of getting to and from it. The MEP provides mentoring, tutoring, and family literacy assistance.

FA. So with them, I work with students who are children of field laborers. So obviously most of it is in Spanish.

ELG. So -- you’re a hero!

FA. [laughs] No!

ELG. No, seriously, all teachers are heroes, and I think above all those that teach young children. It’s difficult work and it’s fundamental to any democracy. That’s what I think.

FA. Well, I think I get more from them than they get from me.

ELG. That’s right, and it’s the sign of a good teacher, that attitude, I think…Always learning, right?

FA. Of course.

ELG. Okay, and Fernando, if you don’t mind my asking, how old are you?

FA. I just turned 50. So every day a little more…[laughs]

ELG. Congratulations, half a century!

FA. Yup, I just need fifty more to make a dollar! [both laugh] You know, because I work with kids who are 5,6,7 years old, I feel like I’ve never grown up. That’s how I keep myself going.

ELG. Yeah, it keeps you young, young in your mind and spirit—

FA. But no, then you get up in the morning and look in the mirror and you say, “Whoooaaa, I look like my dad!” [both laugh]

ELG. That’s right, that’s right. I look more and more like my father. Oh, dear…Well, okay, great. So let’s go to the first question and consider it a little bit without the music first, and then we’ll go to the song you chose to represent it. So as you know, this question is deliberately broad in its reach. You can interpret it as you see fit, really. When I ask you, “Where are you from?” there are various ways to answer it, right?

FA. Yeah, of course.

ELG. So okay, tell us a bit about where you’re from.

FA. So, okay, I’m…I was born in Mexico, but I came to the United States as a small child. So I consider myself Mexican because I lived my first nine years in Mexico. But I also consider myself more Californian, because my education was here. So I grew up in Ventura County, in a really small community, a very small town. It was a village that was very…agricultural. So my education there was very much what you might call a “small-town raising.” That is, I grew up in a small town and even when I go back nowadays I see that it hasn’t changed, where I grew up…I hope I’ve changed at least!

But it’s important, I think, if you’re born in another country and then raised in California, it’s important to always remember that those things don’t define you. You yourself are forging your own identity and coming to accept it.

The good part is that here in California, the Latinx community is really extensive, so that’s not difficult the way it might be in other places.

ELG. Well we used to be part of Mexico!

FA. Right.

ELG. I mean, there are really strong ties, culturally and from all the migration, everything…And you said you lived in Mexico nine years, which is…they say that with little kids, by the age of 5 they have nearly all their character basically formed, and after that it’s like everything is—like, dessert, right?

FA. Yeah, yeah.

ELG. What I’m saying is that 9 years growing up in Mexico would actually be a pretty strong grounding.

FA. Yeah…I got to third grade in primary school there. And then when I got here, it was pretty difficult for me to adapt to the new school system. I struggled a lot, and so did my schoolmates, sons and daughters of immigrants. Really, we were in school because there was no other place to go! I mean, it was as if we were in…like we weren’t there to learn, it wasn’t like, “Oh, this is my education, I’m going to go to High School, to community college and then University.” No! That is, it was just…I grew up going to school here with other children of immigrant parents, field laborers, and it was really pretty much just baby-sitting. They’d put us at a table in the back of the classroom and say, “Okay, you guys, here’s some coloring books, make a drawing!” It was like—

ELG. Oh man, that’s awful!

FA. –they didn’t have, they didn’t have the same expectations as for the other kids.

ELG. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

FA. Really sad.

ELG. Really sad. I’m guessing this might have had something to do with your decision to become a teacher?

FA. I think a little bit. But in the sense that I didn’t actually study to become a teacher. Instead, when I was living in Northern California, the United Farm Workers came looking for volunteers and I volunteered to work with them, teaching boys and girls who weren’t going to school because their parents were working on really remote ranches, and they didn’t have access to schools.

So when I was doing that I realized, “Oh, I like this, and I like helping people.” And also because I feel like it was a reflection of my childhood, “Yeah, I was one of them.” Something like, “It’s great that now I’m helping these children…”

ELG. That’s right. Yeah, it’s really just, really good, to return to the scene of a childhood injustice and correct it, right? Really noble.

FA. Yeah.

ELG. Well, so then the song you chose, "Los caminos de la vida," (that is, “The roads of life”)…So this version is by a band that calls itself Tropa Vallenata…

lombia, released this song in:

ELG: So…well, how did you come across this song, first of all? How did it come into your life?

FA. Yeah. So, I heard this song a long time ago, on the radio. I heard it, I think when I was at university. And I remember that it really caught my attention the first time I heard it. I didn’t remember all that well what the words were saying, but it was a song that…it seemed really sincer, really pretty, very, very…that is, it didn’t, it wasn’t a song that just, it wasn’t one of those that is just a popular tune and that’s it. You could tell it had substance.

So, in those days, you had to wait like a week or a month to hear it again! It wasn’t like now, where you can just look it up on the Internet and there it is…

ELG. Uh-huh.

FA. So finally I heard it again. And I think that finally it was when I was with some friends, I think it was the Latin American Students’ Club, some thing like that, and we were at a party in someone’s house and I saw he had a lot of music by Carlos Vives, so I said to him, “Hey, there’s this song I really like…” But this song isn’t by Carlos Vives, it’s by Omar Geles. In any case, it turned out that he had it. He was a guy from Bolivia.

So I listened to it, and oooohh, I loved it, I listened to it a lot. I liked so much how the music sounded, the accordeon…So I’m talking about the 90s, when—it was a time when vallenato was really happening here in California. And little by little the words made more sense to me, and maybe because I was away from home, maybe it made me a little nostalgic [laughs]. Because, yeah, this song can be really reflective. So for a long time it was one of my favoriteds, but until really recently I didn’t pay that much attention to what the words mean.

ELG. The song has a lot of lyrics. It tells a complete story, or maybe it’s several stories woven together? Is that typical of vallenato? Or how does it work?

FA. Well, I don’t know very well how to answer your question. I’ve listened to a lot of vallenato and I love it. And well… usually vallenato is happy music, fromn the countryside.A lot of times they’ll mention the musicians themselves, like “So-and-so is playing the accordeon, listen to that accordeon!” But this one is different, because this song in itself, isn’t---although it’s vallenato, the tune is slower.

ELG. Mm-hm.

FA. …In the 90s, the Colombian football team was considered the best in the world. That is, there was more Colombian influence than usual in the USA, and there was a lot of Colombian music…Maybe that’s also why vallenato got my attention.

ELG. Uh-huh.

FA. And really, it’s country music, peasant music, music of people who…that is, they don’t have musical training.

ELG. Well, for what it’s worth, it’s pretty clear that the people who composed this song did know how to express deep feelings, and they aren’t simple feelings.

FA. No…

ELG. And…so, you mentioned a moment ago that this song has something, umm, slower, a little bit more, ahhh…how would you say it? It looks back, right? It’s a reflective song and for that reason, a good choice on your part, since it reflects back on your own past. But yeah. For me, the first time I heard it, I was grabbed by the…by a really particular kind of sadness. Not everyday sadness, you know?

FA. No.

ELG. I feel like it has a lot to do with resignation. It seems like the singer has already resigned himself to not being able to change his fate. What do you think?

FA. Yeah. He knows what destiny is.

ELG. Yeah, that’s it.

FA. He knows what destiny is. So, I don’t take the song literally, that is, the guy who composed it, it’s clear that he wrote for his mother.

ELG. Yeah.

FA. He doesn’t mention his father. I don’t know the context hhe wrote it in, but it does talk a lot about his mother, how she strove to make sure he and his brothers could get ahead in life. And how he’s grown up now and wants to pay her back, That is, he wants to help her.

ELG. Mm-hm. Yeah, it seems like the father isn’t around…And now I realize that we were going to listen to the whole song. So let’s do that now, OK? I think it’s best to talk about music when it’s fresh in your mind, right? So…

FA. Yeah.

ELG. Okay. Here goes…

CLIP “Los caminos de la vida,” by

La tropa vallenata

FA. That’s it.

ELG. That’s it. It’s moving, isn’t it? There’s something…

FA. Yeah. Really striking.

ELG. Yeah. So, a little while ago you said you don’t take it literally.

FA. No, not the way it’s presented in the song. because yu can tell he’s singing to his mother. But, you know, Elisabeth, for me, I’d explain it more like, being a child of migrants, right? When he talks about his “old lady,” for me it’s like talking about our parents. That is, those of us who were luckier, that wherever we ended up, wherever they brought us as children, in reality we didn’t have to suffer as much as our parents did. And so one wants…I don’t know. One wants to do well in life so that…they’ll feel proud, you know? Anyway, I see it in that way. As child of a migrant, that one wants to excel in order to help one’s parents, to help…But there are times where you can’t, and then times where you can.

So I understand the song in that way. That is, it wasn’t that I liked it because I want to dedicate it to my mother or anything like that…

ELG. Yeah, I understand. So I’m looking at the lyrics that say, "Mi viejecita buena se esmeraba/ por darme todo lo que necesitaba/ y hoy me doy cuenta qué tan fácil no es."( That is, “My good old mother took pains/to give me everything I needed/ and today I realize that it isn’t so easy.”)

FA. No, it isn’t. That’s right.

ELG. Yeah, that sentiment seems key, doesn’t it? It’s that when we’re kids we believe that benefits, good things, fall out of the sky, right?

FA. Yes! And well, it’s like…it’s like a coming of age, right? When you start realizing that, “ooohh, yeah…”

ELG. That’s it. Yeah, you’re right.

FA. It isn’t…it isn’t like one imagines.

ELG. Uh-huh…another aspect of the song that occurs to me—tell me if I’m on the wrong track with this, but the lyrics also say, “"Cuando estaba pequeñito yo creía /que las cosas eran fácil, como ayer." (That is, “When I was a little boy a believed/that things were easy, like yesterday.”) And so I see—tell me what you think of this—I see in so many parts of contemporary USAmerican society this huge nostalgia for a yesterday that actually never existed. I’m referring to things like "Make America Great Again."

FA. Or how about the “American dream”?

ELG. Yeah! -- Which was always just that, a dream…[laughs]

FA. Never…

ELG. Never realized.

FA. But I tell you, it’s alive, because it’s there! It’s like…illusions are there, right? And well, I think that it’s an effective illusion. And people go after it…In my hometown—I’m from Jalisco, the town of Yahualica –they use the phrase a lot as a joke. Sometimes they use that phrase, in English, “American Dream.” Like, “Heyyy, when are you going for the American dream?” [ELG laughs] Like, they don’t say any more, “go to California, go to the North.” Now it’s, “When are you gonna go to the American dream?”

ELG. [sighs] Wow. I don’t believe it.

FA. I think it’s funny, because sooner or later one realizes that it’s not—it’s not – [laughs]

ELG. Yeah, exactly, exactly! So maybe that’s a key difference between the various kinds of Americans: the Mexicans have jokes like that, sarcastic jokes, right?

FA. Yeah, sarcastic.

ELG. Yeah, that joke has an edge to it! It shows a consciousness that that “dream” is—just a dream. But I think that in the United States there are a lot of people who still really believe in it, they believe that it really is possible to return oneself to an infantile state where things were easy…I don’t know, but…

FA. For some, for some it’s possible…

ELG. Yeah, yeah, exactly. It’s not exactly innocence, more like negation of reality…

________________________________________

Los Caminos de la Vida has been covered by many other Vallenato bands and many other artists across Latin America. Geles wrote it during a time of financial struggle, saying that he was inspired by the memory of his mother needing to run a hose from his neighbor's home to their home just so they had enough water to cook and to drink. In this sense, Fernando was right on in his interpretation of Geles’s lyrics: Geles was in fact thinking about his mother, the struggles they had and their lives in relation to those memories. As mentioned by Fernando, this song meditates on the loss of innocence Geles is experiencing, but does so with appreciation for the sacrifices of his own mother accepted to make

sure the families can live a better life one day.

For many, this story is all too familiar, and these poignant feelings are a constant reminder of the struggles that remain and the generational memories of Latinos who have made their lives in a new country in hopes of a better life for their children. As Fernando mentions, this dream, this hope, perhaps is nothing more than a mirage, a fleeting image in the distance never to be reached. That vision, however delicate, provides many with hope. And sometimes that's just enough to make the impossible possible.

ELG. One more question about the song, if I may. I find it striking that—well, it’s dance music, cumbia, a kind of cumbia, right?

FA. Yeah, cumbia, mm-hm.

ELG. And in this case, this song in particular is distinctive for being a little more reflective, a little slower, sadder, than is the norm in cumbia. So what I find interesting is the combination of dance music, which is something where you get a little bit active, and with movement, you get happier, you know? So, it’s a dance; but it’s sad. What do you make of that marriage between dance and sadness?

FA. In fact, a lot of performers have sung this song. Lots! But in this version, it does come across as cumbia…So to talk right now about the date, we’re on the 31st of October, right? And it’s part of that whole thing that we, as Latinos, as Mexicans, that the relation we have with Death, the way we celebrate our dead, our saints and everything. I think it has something to do with that, too. That…there’s something so sad, so reflective, so…but at the same time: we’re dancing. It’s part of life. We move on! Let’s go!

ELG. yeah.

FA. We keep going, and we know that tomorrow will be a new day. Or—maybe not! That is, death is part of everyday life.

ELG. That’s right.

FA. That’s how I see it.

For many, this story is very much a reality, parents giving all they can with a dream of seeing their children live better. This song exemplifies that somberly but beautifully.

ELG. How nicely you express it! Yeah, yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. Ahh, great! So then, let’s go to the third question and your second song, both have to do with your hopes for the future. And let’s listen first and then talk, OK?

FA. Sure.

ELG. So this is quite a long song, it’s more than 6 minutes long.

FA. Oh yeah? [laughs]

ELG. It’s got a lot of lyrics, like the other one. Lots of lyrics, and they matter. They’re fundamental, right?

FA. Yup.

ELG. So let’s listen to "What it Means" by The Drive By Truckers. Here goes.

[song clip]

It Means,” was released in:

ELG. So Fernando: what DOES it mean? [both laugh]

FA. The song itself asks that question. What does it mean?...Everything that’s happening. What’s happening? That’s the question it asks.

Was this to explain why I chose this song?

ELG. Yeah.

FA. Because I was trying to think of a song that was going to give us, that gave us hope, that gave us something that would…that is, mmm. So, I don’t know how much attention you’ve paid to the words. They’re talking about what’s been happening. Well, it’s been happening for centuries, but only now is it really coming to light, that there’s been so much killing of innocent African Americans, and different minorities, by the authorities or because…so, he’s talking about that.

Charleston church massacre in:

Hood and Cooley see their music as a direct challenge to the stereotypes and oppressive cultural traditions of the southern United States, specifically racism, bigotry and injustice. “What it means” sharply critiques the way racism seeps into every corner of our social fabric, reducing inequalities, loss of life, and a reality that we should all be aware of and actively fighting against.

FA: But look, Elisabeth, this band is one of my favorites, and every time I listen to this song, I hear something new in it…But let me begin by explaining to you, that one time I was in Austin, Texas, and they told us there would be a band from Georgia. And, well, one has one’s prejudices, don’t you think? So we looked at one another and we said, “OK, we’re gonna go hear a Southern Rock Band from Georgia." Obviously a lot of things come to mind, right? When you hear that.

ELG. Uh-huh.

FA. But we went anyway. We went to see the show. And, Pffffff, we were blown away by them. Because it’s a…well, they’re from a community in Georgia that’s very progressive, the city of Athens, Georgia, that is more like…

ELG. Well I have to tell you, Fernando, that my father is from Georgia, though not from Athens. He’s from Macon, another part of the state. But I’ve known Georgia more or less well since my childhood, and I know exactly what you’re talking about…so, Athens is a University town, right? That’s why it has a more progessive quality, I think.

FA. Yeah, yeah, that’s right. And so we [laughs] we told ourselves that we’d go see this band. And it turned out that we went and we liked how they played and now I’ve been following them for a long time, and the truth is that it’s a band that is very socially and politically conscious. They’ve been around for quite a while, but they haven’t gotten that popular because they don’t sing popular music, or really it’s that they don’t get on the radio. --Or maybe it’s that they don’t want to be on the radio.

ELG. Aha. Because of the strong message they have.

r, it came out on an album in:

ELG. Well, yeah. It sounds—

FA. And from that, they say some really strong things.

ELG. Reeeaally string, really strong! It says, "The core is something rotten."

FA. Yup.

ELG. That is, that our—the heart of this society is rotting. It’s rotting.

FA. Yup.

ELG. Because of racism…and I guess if I were going to answer that, the rhetorical question of the song’s title, “What it means,” I’d say: racism. Racism. That’s what I think it means, although they never say so. Which is a really astute maneuver, no? Because if by not saying the answer, they make you think more and listen more, right? It’s like an invitation to answer, to think, and…yeah.

FA. Yeah…I’m really struck by a line that says, it’s about our supposedly being in a “post-racial” era now.

ELG. Mm-hm.

FA. But in fact we still maintain our prejudices. That is, we haven’t changes. They’re saying, we haven’t changed.

ELG. Ahh, no, not at all. And when I hear these, I don’t know, declarations of being in a post-racial state, well, I get really impatient.

FA. Yeah, yeah.

ELG. It’s—well it’s another dream. In effect, anbother dream that lacks substance.

FA. But let me explain to you why I thought of this song in terms of the future, what it promises. It’s promising. Because for me, I think it’s a lot like that song by Marvin Gaye, “What’s Going On.” That’s a really old song. Ah, and also it’s a little like that Bob Marley song, with the three little birds. You know, “Don’t worry about anything…” or "Everything's gonna be all right."

ELG. Uh-huh.

FA. I feel like all three songs are going the same way, have the same goal. But this one, the Drive By Truckers, it’s obviously stronger. Like, it puts itself right in your face, eh? It says “Look at what’s happening,” very politically. And then I see how it was, like I see these kids from the South, developng consciousness and thinking about what’s happening, they’re saying, “Heyy, wake up! Heyy, LOOK!” And –I like it! Because the guy, he’s called Patterson Hood, he said, “I had this feeling for many years and I wanted to express it but I couldn’t, I couldn’t.” Until one time in Georgia, when his neighbor, who was African American, who had—I’m not sure how old he was, but he was disabled. And this neighbor, he went out walking toward the center of town, I think he was only wearing his underwear or something like that, because he…he wasn’t well in his mind. And so the neighbor’s mother comes to Patterson Hood and she says, “Hey, listen, my son went downtown, I’m really worried,” and Hood tells how he thought, “Uh-oh.” And so, long story short, by the time they got there, he’d already been shot. You know, an older person, but with the intelligence of someone 6 years old.

ELG. Ahhh, man. How…

FA. And so then Hood said that he felt so terrible, for so long, that he felt the need to write something, like to put it out there. So in this song, for instance, he mentions Trayvon Martin.

ELG. Yeah…

FA. And not very long ago, Hood said, “I would have liked it if this song could have gone out of fashion, that it wasn’t significant any more.” That is, that it didn’t mean anything any more, like, "Yah, that's a thing of the past." But—no. To the contrary.

ELG. To the contrary.

FA. And it’s all the time.

ELG. To me this song sounds like it was written yesterday, right? It’s so current that it takes my breath away…

FA. I think that this is how it transmits hope, Elisabeth. I think, for me anyway. That is, like…

ELG. Well yes, so tell me a little more about this. Because a song as forceful as this, it’s that, such direct expression, how is it that it transmits hope…

FA. Because it’s bringing this to light. That is, it’s putting it out there, teaching us: “Look at it this way.” Because sometimes, there are a lot of things that everyone knows, but nobody talks about them. Well, maybe you talk about it in your little nucleus of friends; but it doesn’t come out into the open, because we always know—this is my opinion—that there are always two sides; and we’re only ever going to talk with the people who are on our side. Or…it’s that there’s division. It’s so clear right now, these days, that really we don’t have dialogue with others. And they don’t have it with us.

ELG. Yes.

FA. So then I think that this song says, “There it is, listen to it, the two sides. It doesn’t matter what side you’re on…”

ELG. That’s an act of a lot of personal strength, and a lot of self-confidence on the part of the band, to present like this in public. Because for sure they’ve had experiences, not just of resistence, but also rejection by their audiences.

FA. Yes, and then these guys, Elisabeth, since years ago, since many years ago, on the drumhead of their percussion –

ELG. Mmm.

FA. –So you see something like that and you say, “Heyyy…” right?

ELG. How great, yeah—

FA. --and that’s part of how also, we ought to fight against our own prejudices, right? That is…

ELG. Right, right. And, well, I think this connects with a question that came to me as I was listening to and thinking about this song. It has to do exactly with the role that music has in the context of protest. And it’s that, in a certain sense, the lyrics of this song are…they’re preaching, it’s that he’s preaching by singing, no? I mean him, Patterson Hood.

FA. Yeah.

ELG. And so, my question for you is, Why didn’t he dedicate himself to actually preaching, or becoming a politician, to express his feelings in verbal form? I mean, he already does it in the lyrics to his songs. But why not in more openly political settings, instead of composing songs? What does the music brings to the message that he’s preaching?

FA. Huh, yeah. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but yeah – that is, a lot of his songs send these kinds of messages.

ELG. Uh-huh.

FA. And I think also that when you listen to a politician, or if you listen to someone from the clergy, you almost, you more or less know the message that’s going to come. You really have more or less of an idea.

ELG. [laughs]

FA. That is, there’s not going to be any surprises. You know what to expect. But when you hear someone more…that you don’t expect, it’s like it gets your attention, you might say, “oohh, no, I hadn’t seen it that way,” or maybe “This is cool!” I listened to this song for two years, and the truth is, I didn’t know what it was about, until my friends started explaining it to me: “Oh, no, Fernando, what’s going on is this…” And I’m like, “Oohh, yeah! Uh-huhhh!” And then I started paying more attention, little by little, little by little.

ELG. Well how interesting. So you started out listening to it for, like, just its beat, its musical qualities, then?

FA. Yup…Well, I had more or less an idea of—I did understand it, but not very well.

ELG. Mm-hm, mm-hm.

FA. Like, "someone got shot," and "What it Means," and hey, that’s it.

ELG. [laughs] But really, this fascinates mel Fernando. So—

FA. –Because—

ELG. –It’s that in a certain sense, I think you’ve just answered my question, that is, it’s the music that carries us, music…it grabs us, no?

FA. Yup.

ELG. And it convinces us all by itself. And then, wuth lyrics like that, it’s like they’ve already entered into your consciousness. And then after a while, you realize what it was talking about. But…but with the music already in your bones, right?

FA. That makes me laugh, because in that samer album there’s this song. It’s called "Guns of Umpqua," something like that.

ELG. Uh-huh.

FA. It’s the best song on the album, the best. And I thought that it was about him and some friends going camping! So I said that to my friend, and he said, "No! He got killed!" And I’m like: "What?" --"He got killed." so THEN I paid attention, and it’s about that massacre that happened in Oregon. And I’m like, “They killed him?” So then you finally get yourself thinking about how to understand it, or else when you get home you look up the lyrics, and then you say, “Whooaah!” But years after you started listening to it, like you just said. And I think part of it is, although maybe you’ve spent a lot of time here in California, the language doesn’t come so quickly, or else…you know how that is, because you speak different languages.

ELG. Oh yeah.

FA. And then there’s times that you listen to a song and you understand the words, but not the message; or else you have to think about it. So, I’m still at that point! [laughs]

ELG. Me too! The truth is, I listen to a lot of songs in my native language and I don’t pay attention to the lyrics. It’s that, for me, the music always gets my attention. So, okay, we all have our way of listening, right? But, yeah…Your story of coming to understand the messages of these songs over time, that’s just a super interesting response, because it has to do with the power of the music. Well, music has many powers –but in this case the power is, to deliver a message that’s pretty strong, and quite political. But in a spoonful of honey, right? That is, it’s that the music convinces us before we even understand the words.

FA. That’s right.

ELG. And in that lies its power for protest, I think.

FA. Yeah…

For Hood and Cooley, this music, their therapy, an attempt to make sense of the atrocities committed all too often is a calling meant to inspire thought and action by all who listen to their music and their lyrics.

ELG. Well, how cool! Your story is so cool, I love it. Okay…I think, just to close: it’s a big difference between your first and second song, isn’t it? It’s all the difference in the world. And that suggests to me the possibility that you, in your life, have covered a lot of ground, let’s say, emotionally, psychologically, whatever. And then…the second song, “What it Means,” among other things it’s a call to action, no?

FA. Mm-hm.

ELG. And so…what are your active hopes, the actions you hope to take in future? What do you want to do and accomplish in life?

FA. No, well…I think that more than anything, it’s to be aware, right? To be…aware of events, of what’s happening. To not conform and to be active in local, national, State processes, whichever ones…That is, not to ignore thingd. To feel like one is part of the process. And the most important thing is action. Action, doing something.

You know, I’d like to do so many things. But I end up doing what I can. Here in California, you know, there’s…everywhere there’ s a lot of work to be done, we know that, in any community. But more than anything, just talking to people, and having awareness of what’s going on.

More than anything, I am grateful that I had the opportunity to get a little better educated, and so I feel a responsibility to do something. It’s that…I know that many people worked hard so that I could have the opportunity to go to University, so then now I feel as if I owe a debt, to do something myself so that the future can be better, whether it’s socially or…that is, I feel like, like you always have to do something. Maybe not something exactly defined, like, “This is my mission, “ but more like, being there in the struggle, you know…I grew up with, really close to the people in César Chávez’s United Farm Workers. I grew up in that ambiance, and I think I bring a little bit of that to my…not because, “Oh, I want to be an activist for this cause,” not that. But because I see what’s right, and I see what’s necessary, what ought to be done. And, well, I do it, with much pleasure.

States. From its founding in:

The UFW continues its work all over the United States on behalf of agricultural laborers, who continue to be oppressed by wage theft, unsafe working conditions, and unequal access to resources such as education and health care.

ELG. Yeah, yeah…well, what a great answer. Yeah. And how strong! So, well, of course every teacher is already an activist. I’d say teaching is pure activism, activism in its purest form…But yeah, every one with their droplet, their grain of sand, right? The thing is to contribute…

Okay. Thank you Fernando. What a great interview! I really enjoyed the music and the chat. You’ve given us lots of things to think about!

FA. Ah, I would’ve liked to know a bit more musical terminology and talk to you about, uh –

ELG. Oh, no, please.

FA. No, no, no...

ELG. So I’m determined to put everything that requires terminology to one side, because I believe really strongly that people already know what they’re hearing, and they already know why. It’s just a matter of opening certain doors, inviting people to express thoughts they’ve already been having. SO, well…many thanks. Really!

FA. Well, thanks to you, Elisabeth…Okay! Well, be well over there. Ciao.

ELG. Yes, ciao, ciao. Take care!

FA. You too!

ELG. ‘Bye!

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