Artwork for podcast Si Yo Fuera una Canción (If I Were a Song)
Tiana Chambers (Original, English)
Episode 2225th February 2022 • Si Yo Fuera una Canción (If I Were a Song) • Elisabeth Le Guin
00:00:00 01:04:12

Share Episode


Tiana is the fifteenth of our 20 interviewees to date who came to Santa Ana from elsewhere and found home. She is dedicated to promoting and supporting local events, relations, and spaces, and has a lot to tell us about growing up, growing compassion, and growing community.



Tiana’s business, “Retreat yo’self” is on Instagram

El Barrio Delhi (Delhi Neighborhood), Santa Ana Useful summary

Courtney Perkes, “Plaques for the Pioneers.” Orange County Register, 15 May, 2008. English only. 

Stater Brothers,business%20on%20August%2017%2C%201936

Fleet Foxes (English) (español)

José Gónzalez (English)

Interview and article – English only,vein%20as%20his%20earlier%20work

Community gardens (overview): – English only


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.


On the whole, our show makes it pretty clear that Santa Ana is a city of immigrants; if an interviewee was born here, in every case to date their parents, or perhaps grandparents, came here from somewhere else. Thus daily life in Santa Ana takes place against a background of displacement and re-settlement. This can be said of a lot of places in the United States; but that sense of connection to “elsewhere” is stronger here, and people want to talk about it more, than in any other place I’ve known.

Tiana Chambers is one of that group of our interviewees who chose to come to Southern California as adults from another part of the United States—and who found in Santa Ana the compelling sense of belonging, and the rich texture of community life, that makes the label of “Santanerx” a badge of pride as well as of identity.

On the whole, our show makes it pretty clear that Santa Ana is a city of immigrants; if an interviewee was born here, in every case to date their parents, or perhaps grandparents, came here from somewhere else. Thus daily life in Santa Ana takes place against a background of displacement and re-settlement. This can be said of a lot of places in the United States; but that sense of connection to “elsewhere” is stronger here, and people want to talk about it more, than in any other place I’ve known.

Tiana Chambers is one of that group of our interviewees who chose to come to Southern California as adults from another part of the United States—and who found in Santa Ana the compelling sense of belonging, and the rich texture of community life, that makes the label of “Santanerx” a badge of pride as well as of identity.

Tiana: It's like, this is all we need! We just need this orchard and we'll work the land and we'll sell our little goods and we'll -- you can waitress and we can just live this life instead of doing all this other, you know...

I'm the oldest of five, so I had a lot on my shoulders as far as like going to college and setting an example. And like as a Black person...

Like in my family, my generation, my cousin is the first person in our family to go to college.

And for Black families, that's a big thing. Some families, just graduating high school is a big thing. So then, like thinking of all this stuff that I'm going to do, I need to do and accomplish. And then all of the, just turmoil, that can come with that. Moving all the way to California and just thinking, there's like some days where I look at my friends that are in Oklahoma. There, they have really stable jobs, good paying jobs, they have houses, they can afford homes. And it's like, why do I have this feeling that I could be at peace if I just went back to Oklahoma? Tulsa, Oklahoma, and just bought a little house and worked at the utility company and went on vacations every now and then? And that's what I think of when I'm listening to this song, right? There are so many different layers to it.



ormed as a band in Seattle in:

Tiana helps us hear in this song a longing for authenticity, expressed as small-town life or through working the land. There’s some irony here: we don’t have to go very far back in the history of almost any urban family to find ancestors who were only too glad to get away from the often brutally hard realities of farming, and move to the city in search of what they were sure were better and more varied opportunities in life.

But just because a longing is idealized, doesn’t mean it’s without substance. The localized, anti-capitalist economic and social models that Tiana is exploring may well be our best way forward to creating the sustainable, beautiful, dignified cities we all deserve.


ELG: Yeah. I have to ask you if you've had any anything to do with the community garden initiatives that are going on here in Santa Ana.

Tiana: Yes, actually, I have a friend, my friend Blu. They run the Santa Ana community gardens. They're working there. And I go volunteer sometimes on Fridays when I can, at the Monroe Garden. But I'm actually, I grow cannabis and I've recently gotten into growing like fruits and different vegetables from being involved in Santa Ana gardens.

ELG: Mm hmm. Mm hmm. I know, you can learn so much by going to those places and just seeing how they're doing stuff. Yeah, I mean, I can -- speaking personally, I can definitely relate.

One of the things that got me to move to Santa Ana, was that by moving this far down into Orange County, I could find a house that actually had a yard. And I do, I garden. I grow fruit and vegetables and flowers and…

Yeah, you know, this is easy to say and impossible to really fully express, except maybe in a song like this, it's like, that is my... that's where my feet really touch the Earth.

Tiana: Right?

ELG: And, yeah...[sighs]

Tiana: Like this song is the feeling that you feel when you are in your garden and you're, you know, taking care of your plants and you're making your soil right and like, this song, is that feeling. That it's home! And that's why I wanted to use this song today when I'm talking about Santa Ana. Like, as the same as this song gives you that feeling, that's how Santa Ana made me feel when I first came here. I felt like, "OK, like this…I can settle here, I can feel at home here." You know, they say home is where the heart is. In the story of my life, Santa Ana has more than a few chapters.

ELG: Yeah. Well, that is just a really beautiful kind of little poem to this place where we live, which I also love. But I just love hearing you talk about it this way. Yeah, love of place. And you know, another thing that I think is kind of hovering in this song is the way that the lostness and the confusion of the first part of it, you know, that's all tangled up with what it means to be living in big cities. You know, which, most people now do live in cities. There's been this, you know, over the last 80, 90, 100 years, there's been this huge migration from the country into the cities.

It's taking place all over the world. And cities are magnificent and wonderfully challenging, and I've lived in cities all my life, but they also... There are things that it's very hard to find in cities, I guess I'd put it that way.

Tiana: Right. So these are very disconnecting for community, because I feel as cities are, you know, they're made of concrete, so they kind of disconnect us from nature.

And so in us, we as humans, we are nature, which means part of our nature is connection. In cities are a structure of individuality, that doesn't allow as much of community to thrive.

It's just more difficult. It's not impossible. But when you get to like [the] part of this one [song] that says, "The men who move only in dimly lit halls / and determine my future for me?"

And it's like you get into, that's how we got in cities where we have our jobs and we mostly connect over the things that divide us like politics and stuff like that, where we're, you know, in our little apartment watching the box that's connected to the wall tell us what we want to hear. Yeah.

ELG: Yeah, and I mean, moving to the country, that is one way to address that. But I think also, addressing the denatured parts of city life from within the city.

Tiana: Yeah.

ELG: You know, there's some good work there, and it sounds like that's the work that you're committed to.

Tiana: Right. We're in the city, we're here, this is how it is. So now we have to create the veins of connection in whichever ways we can. It gets difficult because you want to do everything. You want to have so many different things going, but it's like you have to build the community so that you can build the community! First, we're reaching out to the people so that you can be a part of it, and from there, each of us can spread more branches.

ELG: Yeah. Well, this is a really natural place to kind of pivot and start talking about your second song, which is the one that expresses your hopes for the future, and we're kind of already going there a little bit, I think. You're already talking about this kind of set of interlocking commitments that you have made and that you are living, here in, you know, this very urban environment, which is Santa Ana; but bringing values into it that don't participate in the alienation and the distancing, the human distancing that is so characteristic of cities. So the second song, "Killing for Love" by José González, how does that song connect to those values and connect to your hopes for the future?

Tiana: I think it connects to my values and my hopes for the future, because the song is mostly questioning the value in love that would cause you to do something like take a life, or to hate. And I think that's the next step. We've all been raised [to think] that love is the grandest thing, but we are progressing to a point where we're starting to question that love, and what it causes us to do, and the things we've done or do in the name of love. And I think just that question is telling! And it looks like, you know, a seed of evolution for the future.

ELG: Mmph. Yeah, the whole song is one big question, right? I mean, it's a rhetorical question, you know, he says, "What's the point if you hate, die and kill for love?" And he doesn't try to answer it, because maybe it is one of those questions that do kind of answer themselves.

Tiana: Right. I mean, if there's even a moment of pause where you have to think about it, like, well, "Wait, like this is love, you know, we're talking about!" So then we oftentimes attach, like "I would kill for this" or "I would die for this."

And it's like, "But whoa, let's pump the brakes and really examine that!" And just in the examination of that, I think changes the way that we compute things in life and value, and what things mean to us. Like, what does it mean to you if you're willing to do something that's kind of against what we say we are? Then, why is this belief held so important?

ELG: You know, I gotta say, this reading of this song, it does take me back to, like, church-related matters, and specifically, just my sense of some of the core teachings of Jesus Christ, is this idea that Love can't be in the service of hate, love can't be in the service of doing things like killing. And that sounds obvious, but actually living it is quite challenging.

Tiana: Right.

ELG: And I mean, you see that in the history of the church itself, I gotta say.

Tiana: Right.

ELG: The amount of not just killing, but let's be honest, genocide that has gone on in the name of Jesus Christ is... pretty appalling.

And you know, and then here comes this song, which is like super, super understated -- asking this question once again.



I am not a Christian, and Si yo fuera is not a religiously aligned organization. That said, as a human I do find valuable material in the core texts of many religions, the Bible among them; and as a historian I find it illuminating—if, as here, sometimes appalling—to compare the worldly behaviors of organized religions to the values expressed in those core texts.

A number of our interviewees are practicing Christians, and I’ve found that references to the Bible can, like music, be a way of connecting more deeply through sharing cultural material in the course of an interview.

It is in this sense that I occasionally invoke Biblical texts or concepts.


Tiana: Right! In the name of love, so many things have been done that are antithetical to our belief in love. And so I think before we continuously move forward with our ideas of what community is and who community is and what we would do for the community, we have to take a look outside of that. And if we want harmony in the future...It's completely fine for me to love and, you know, embrace the things that I do. But in embracing those things, I have to also make sure the ripple effect of that doesn't harm anyone else. And when we talk about, you know, like what we've done for love or what we would do, we have to really check ourselves and think to ourselves, "Well, I have to reduce the harm that I'm doing to others from wanting to believe or think the way that I think, or have the things that I hold dear to me."

ELG: Yup. Yeah -- he uses the word "compassion" in the song. Which, you know, is maybe a way to kind of summarize that idea that you can be feeling love, but if its effects are harmful, yeah, you've got to sort of stop and check yourself, you know?

Tiana: Right? [chuckles]

ELG: Yeah, because there's love and there's responsibility, and they're all entwined together, I think, and irresponsible love. maybe it shouldn't bear the name of love, you know? It --

Tiana: Right.

ELG: Yeah. Boy, you really, you have a gift for getting to the nub of what your songs are about, and it's helping. It helped me with the first song, and you're helping with the second one, because I'm sitting here listening to this thing and thinking, "OK, I get what he's asking, I get what he's doing, but why is he so understated? This is a really strong message!"

Tiana: Right.

ELG: But this is like, you know, this still small voice that comes in the middle of the night and and reminds us about the meaning of what we're doing...

Let's listen to the song, and then we'll talk about it a little bit more.

Tiana: All right.


MUSIC CLIP #2: José González, “Killing for Love” 0:15-0:35


Tiana: Mmm.

ELG: Indeed: "What's the point?"

Tiana: Right.

ELG: Yeah, it's powerful.


INSERT #4 – dialogue, ELG & David

ELG: So, José González: really interesting figure! You know, I will admit that given the context of our show, when Tiana gave me the name of this artist whom I didn't know beforehand, I figured it was another Latino artist because of his name. But he turns out not to be that at all. He is of Argentine parentage, but he grew up in Sweden, and he sings primarily in English. So this is one of these really interesting international situations that happen because of diasporas, because people have to leave places. His parents had to leave Argentina because of the the "dirty war" that was happening there in the 70s, and I was surprised to hear the tone of his music and the language in which it was being sung. And I just... I'm kind of interested in your reaction to hearing his music and getting to know it a little bit.

DC: To be quite honest, it wouldn't be something that I would call, quote unquote, you know, "Latin music" or "Latino music."

ELG: Not at all.

DC: Yeah, yeah. I mean, he's Argentinean, you know, by way of his parents and his heritage. And that's great. His music for me doesn't necessarily speak of anything distinctly Argentinean or what we can call "Latin American," but that's also great. That's fine. You know, I think part of being in and understanding diaspora is realizing that everyone will not want to express it the way that perhaps we're most comfortable with, or even want to see it expressed, right? This is more of a question aimed at what we think a diaspora should look like, versus what it actually looks like. And people can still be very much part of that heritage without being overtly connected to it in ways we're used to seeing, right?

ELG: Without sounding a certain way, or speaking a certain language.

DC: Mm hmm.

ELG: You know, we all tend to associate certain identities with, say, a certain kind of name or perhaps a certain skin color. And that may or may not be the case. And you've got to just sit there and actually listen to what a person is doing.

DC: Mm hmm. Yeah. Yeah. And also just be -- I mean, for me, it's one of these instances where, you know, at the end of the day, he's still connected with millions of people across the globe. He's been very successful. And it seems that, you know, just being Argentinean just isn't a part of that, you know? And that's OK, too. Sometimes people can just be part of the global community and not necessarily have to overtly say, you know, from which part.

ELG: Right, right. And well, not only does he not quote unquote "sound Argentinean," he doesn't, at least to my ears, "sound Swedish" either. He sings in English!

DC: Mm hmm.

ELG: I think a lot of those millions of people that he's connecting with are English speakers. I think a lot of them are here in the United States. It's a really, really interesting example of musical border crossing, I guess -- or I wouldn't even call it that, it's like musical border erasure. Like borders really don't exist with this.

DC: It is interesting. But I think for me, the more interesting because there's been many musics that have done that right. I mean, Salsa has done that. Jazz has done that. For me, the interesting part here and especially within the context of our podcast, is that we want him to be Latin, right, almost? We want him like, "Oh, you're Argentinean, there should be a bandoneón in here," or something! [ELG laughs] But that's more, you know, that's where we have to restrain ourselves. We're forcing people to be who we think and want them to be, when that just isn't the case. You know, he's creating music the way that he wants, and it resonates with people. And that's cool. It shouldn't really matter what we want him to be. We should just accept them for who he is.

ELG: Absolutely. I think you said it really, really well. I mean, yeah. Got to check those assumptions at the door when you start listening to anyone's music, in the end!

DC: Or meeting anyone.

ELG: Yep. That too, that too.

Tiana: There's a line that says, you know, "You've got a heart filled with passion / are you going to let it burn for hate or compassion?" And I think that's the question. That we have to like filter our, you know, our passions and our motives and everything we're doing.

ELG: Mm hmm. Yeah, and... You know, there's not a lot of lyrics to this song, there's a lot of repetition. It's kind of the same thing several times over. But it just kind of like engraves itself somehow. And you know, the music is super repetitive, too. So the whole thing has just got, it's like a bullet. It just goes Boom, and it has this question that it implants in your heart, and kind of almost forces you to ask yourself that question. Which is an uncomfortable question, always, I think.

Tiana: Oh yeah. Any time you're asking a question within yourself or you have to examine yourself and possibly be accountable, those are the questions we're afraid of. And that's why this question is important, because we have to really, it calls for us to balance ourselves. And I mean, that's where we are in the world. We need to balance ourselves so that the planet can balance, so that we can live in harmony with this, with this planet. Like that's where we're at! And so, in so many small ways, when you just want to, you know, you can be passionate, but is there any way someone's being harmed by this, and which ways can I still be passionate and mindful of others that might have a different view or perspective?

And those are the things we need to spend more time on. We, like if we were living more communally, we'd naturally have more compassion because we're seeing, you know, people who are different from us, but they generally have all of the same wants and needs and goals in life. We want to, you know, live freely and have our families or our business or whatever, and be able to just enjoy our life. When you're seeing that and someone completely different from you that lives down the street, they have a completely different culture, they have a different everything, but you have the commonality of being in community with each other and knowing that even though we have all of those differences, at the root, we are similar.

And that's what allows one to live like that. And we, you know, then it allows us to not feel so far from our decisions and the impact that it has on other people and places and things.

ELG: Yeah, this song is really, really on that level all the way through, and I now understand why it is [that] his way of singing it is very understated. He doesn't really sing out. He's almost kind of murmuring.

And now I think I kind of get why he's doing that, because this is a conversation that we each have to have with ourselves inside of ourselves.

Tiana: Yeah.

ELG: You know, I really love that your song that you chose for your hopes for the future is a song that goes inward. That's unusual. I mean, I've done about 20 of these interviews over the last year and a lot of the time, understandably, I think people, you know, when they start thinking about hopes for the future, they kind of think big and they think outside of themselves, [about the] kind of things they want to happen that reach beyond their own lives. And you're doing that too.

But this song, it's like the gateway. It's like, OK, to get those changes, we've actually got to go through this gateway, which is a narrow gateway, and it's very much inside of ourselves and it's examining in our own hearts, like, "What are you doing? Where is your love actually taking you and the rest of us?"

Tiana: Right? It's really confrontational. We always want to go outward and say, "This is how things change and this is what needs to happen." But we all have probably heard a million times in our lives that “we have to be the change.” So, in which ways can you be the change? It starts with yourself and looking at who you are and how you can be, you know, a part of the solution, because we all have a million problems and a million gripes about everything going on. But without being part of the solution or, you know, bringing forth new ideas that can propel us forward -- and that's the real thing, is that a lot of us are still so, you know, we're so in our box that we're not even feeling comfortable to say our ideas or quote our ideas. There's pretty much a certain group of people whose ideas are supposed to change the world, where we ALL have the capability to put our minds together and collaborate, in community, and really make change. And going inward is the first, because you have to feel that confidence, you have to know who you are and know that your integrity is right, in order to really feel as if you have something to give to the world, that's of value. And you know, that's how you get there.

ELG: Yeah, so, it kind of loops around! [both chuckle] We're kind of back at where you have to come from, in order to get to where you want to go. And I think this song also makes it clear [in] just kind of the way it sounds, the, you know, it's got this kind of forward momentum that never, ever, ever stops.



re of “Killing for Love”,:


ELG: Somehow, to me, it's not a real comfortable song. It's not a song where I kind of put my feet up and say, "Oh, that's nice," you know? And it makes it clear that this process -- it's hard.

Tiana: Yeah. Yeah, and that's what I like, like what you said, it does feel like it's going, kind of like a train. And he's just strumming, and he's just saying these words and you're never hearing an answer, because you were supposed to be thinking of the answer! And that answer is probably always changing because we're always living through different moments in life where we have to check, you know, our compass.

And I feel a lot of us are often, we don't have much time to stop and really make sure our mentality is right, because we're just, you know, rushing through, trying to, "What's my name? What's my station? Just tell me by now?" You know?

It's like, so we oftentimes don't even have time to check on ourselves and what we believe and what is going on and how that's possibly even, you know, maybe affecting someone negatively, because we don't have time to check in. And…

ELG: Well, I think listening to good music is a way that many of us can sometimes carve out a little bit of that time. At least I certainly hope so.

Tiana: Yeah.

ELG: So kind of closing our conversation -- I hope to have many more conversations with you, I have really enjoyed this -- but in closing it for now, for purposes of today's show, I want to ask you just, if you feel like sharing with us, what are some of your particular rituals or kind of go-tos that you use to generate that space that you just mentioned, you know, the space where we can check in with ourselves in an authentic way? How do you make that happen in your life these days?

Tiana: Well, like you said, music is a really great space for us to really... I feel like you can listen to music, and music can speak to you. When I'm listening to music, I'm listening to what it's saying and what it's like. You know, you hear music and you like it, or you'll hear certain things and then it's like, "Well, what is this song actually saying? Should I be saying these words into the universe for my life?" Because sometimes songs are saying, you know, "I'll never breathe again if you're not there," and you're like, "Well, wait, maybe I SHOULD breathe again! Let me not sing that!" [ELG laughs]

-- But then, maybe you're in a space where you're feeling like singing that type of music and that allows you to feel your feelings and say, "I do feel like I'm not going to breathe again because I lost this person. But let me work on my breath and maybe meditate and take some deep breaths and listen to this song and feel my feelings and release that." And I think music is a space that's carved out for us to check in with ourselves.

If you are into music and you know, if you relate to music, I think that's... That's the way that I do it.

And that's just one of the ways. But I think that's the way that everyone probably could.

ELG: Yeah, it's a kind of thoughtful listening. There are many, many kinds of listening and not all of them are very conscious, but yeah, what you're talking about there, for sure, for sure. And you know, artists like this guy, José González, are, well, both the artists you chose today, they're really, really good for that.

Tiana: Oh, yeah.

ELG: They're like guides, you know?

Tiana: Yes, indeed. Exactly like that.

ELG: Yeah. Thank you for sharing these songs with us. And for the wonderful wisdom that you just brought to talking about them. I really, I feel like this has been such a rich conversation. I'm really, really inspired by it.

Tiana: Wow, thank you for having me here, I have been blessed to even share this piece of conversation. I welcome it and yeah, I hope we get to have more conversations because I feel like rich conversation and like actually digging deep into things is -- we need to do this more.

There is so much for people to share. And we, you know, we have a lot of shallow interactions and it's like, no, we have the capability now with all of this technology to actually have, you know, more deep connection and conversation. So I'm excited to have been here to share.

ELG: Me too. Me too. Yeah. Thank you so much, Tiana.

Tiana: Thank you.


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…”