She has sought social justice since her adolescence in Mexico City; equity flows in Laura Pantoja’s veins. She shares various episodes of a Mexican youth and migrant maturity from an ironic, wise, and compassionate perspective.
Centro Cultural de México
http://elcentroculturaldemexico.org/ (bilingual Web page)
Poppe, Nicolas. "Tito Guízar on Radio Row: Intermediality, Latino identity, and two early 1930s Vitaphone shorts." The Routledge Companion To Gender, Sex And Latin American Culture. Routledge, 2018. 91-100.
Irwin, R. M. y Castro Ricalde, M. (2013). Global Mexican Cinema. Its Golden Age. London: British Film Institute, Palgrave MacMillan.
Internal migration in Mexico
Villarreal, Andrés, and Erin R. Hamilton. "Rush to the border? Market liberalization and urban-and rural-origin internal migration in Mexico." Social science research 41.5 (2012): 1275-1291.
Lágrimas y risas (comic book series)
Todo en español
Cri Cri (Francisco Gabilondo Soler)
There appears to be no substantial work in English on Cri Cri. See the references below for more information.
Alcaráz, José Antonio. Cri-Crí: el mensajero de la alegría. Veracruz: Instituto Veracruzano
de Cultura, 1998.
Colina, José de la. «Prólogo» en Cri-Crí: canciones completas de Francisco Gabilondo
Soler. México: Clío, 2001.
Desachy-Godoy, Elvira. Cri-Crí: El mundo creativo de Francisco José Gabilondo Soler. The University of New Mexico, 1998.
García, Elvira. De lunas garapiñadas: Cri-Cri. México: Radio Universidad Nacional
Autónoma de México, 1982.
«¿Quién es el que anduvo aquí?» en Tierra adentro. Días de radio,
México: n° 137-138, diciembre 2005: 97-99.
García, Óscar Armando. “Poética literaria y musical de Francisco Gabilondo Soler ‘Cri-crí.’“ América sin Nombre - 2015, N. 20. Te voy a contar un cuento. Sobre la literatura infantil y juvenil
VV AA: Cri-Crí: canciones completas de Francisco Gabilondo
Soler. México: Clío, 2001.
“Cuban troubadour Silvio Rodríguez speaks out” | People’s World (https://www.peoplesworld.org/article/cuban-troubadour-silvio-rodriguez-speaks-out/)
“Silvio Rodríguez” | Discogs (https://www.discogs.com/artist/400811-Silvio-Rodr%C3%ADguez)
“Silvio Rodríguez” | NPR (https://www.npr.org/artists/801185470/silvio-rodr-guez)
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: I met Laura Pantoja when I first started coming to events at El Centro Cultural de México. For a long time she intimidated me: she was the lady who sat in all the important meetings, arms crossed over her chest and an ironic smile on her lips. She seemed to know mucho more than I did about everything.
Years have gone by, and Laura no longer intimidates me. The warm heart has made itself known to me, even as I have retained a healthy respect for her sharp intellect and for her critical judgment.
In today’s interview we get a glimpse of where all that got started, and we talk a little bit about where it might be headed, too.
ELG: Welcome, Laura. It's a great honor to have you here on the line recording an interview. After over a year of doing this podcast, I finally get to interview you, and I'm very excited. I'd like you to introduce yourself to the audience, to the listeners. Tell them a bit about yourself, like your full name, your profession, what you do in life – whatever you feel is important to tell us about what you do in life. How did you come to be in Santa Ana? Things like that, if you will.
Laura Pantoja: Well, good afternoon, Elisabeth. It's a pleasure for me as well, to be on your program, your podcast, which I love. And so… My name is Laura Pantoja, I'm from Mexico, from Mexico City. I'm about to turn 61 years old and I’ve been living in Santa Ana, California for over 25 years. And I'm a community organizer. I've been doing that for many years. I began very young back in Mexico. That's what I do. And I came… How did I end up in Santa Ana? I always tell my girlfriends that someone put a curse on me on the airplane when I came to California to visit my siblings, because I ended up staying, right?
I was just coming for a vacation, like thousands of migrants, nothing more. We come here for a while and we end up staying here. I went to live in a city called Orange. I was there for about 10 years, and after that I came here to Santa Ana. But almost all of my work, or, actually, all of my work has always been here in Santa Ana ,and it's always been, I don't know why, but in the center of Santa Ana, in the Downtown, as they call it. I've always, always worked in that area.
ELG: Mmhmm, mmhmm. And what type of work is there for a professional organizer?
Laura Pantoja: I’m not sure if there is an organizer ‘profession’.
ELG: [Both laugh] I think so.
Laura Pantoja: There should be a University of Organizers, I think, that –
ELG: [laughs] Yeah, yeah, like a Bachelor’s of Organizing.
Laura Pantoja: So, when I was very young, in Mexico, I grew up in Mexico City and… I remember that when I started high school, I went to a school called the Colegio de Ciencias y Humanidades (the School of Sciences and Humanities). And on the first day of classes, some kids came who’d been rejected by the university. The Colegio de Ciencias y Humanidades was part of the UNAM (the Autonomous University of Mexico). And they came, and they hadn’t gotten in. There were a lot of them, 50 or 60 young people who wanted to register, and to me it seemed like an injustice. I was, like, fifteen years old. And that day they went out to protest and talk with the people, and, I don’t know why, but I went with them.
Laura Pantoja: I think that was where I started to get involved with things that were happening around me, you know? In the community. And so, I was in Mexico for many years. I also worked on creating a cooperative in a place called Cholula, in Puebla, Mexico.
Laura Pantoja: And I learned there and… I have to laugh at myself. I remember well, I was very young, about 19 years old, and I showed up with all the arrogance of youth, thinking I was going to organize the Campesinos, the local peasants. But it was the other way around, the Campesinos wound up organizing me.
ELG: Oh, of course, of course.
Laura Pantoja: So, I’ve had a really great schooling, I’ve had many experiences of working with the people. Which are the same as my people. When I was working in that community in Cholula, well, I said to myself “This family could be my dad, my mom, my aunts and uncles, right?”
Laura Pantoja: Because my family comes from the countryside, my grandfather and great-grandfather were ejidatarios, that is, co-owners of communal lands. And so they were Campesinos.
Laura Pantoja: Unfortunately, my [aunts and] uncles had to emigrate to the United States because of the [poor] economy. And my grandparents’ land wasn't enough to maintain them. And that's how people came [to the city] and disappeared from agricultural communities, right?
Laura Pantoja: So, I felt very comfortable with the people because I felt like I was with my family. It was never hard for me. And when I came to the United States, well… there was a newspaper published by an organization called—the organization was called Hermandad Mexicana (Mexican brotherhood), and they ran a free newspaper in Spanish, called "La Unión Hispana." (The Hispanic Union). And I went and said [to myself], “Hey, why don’t you help them out?” So I started helping them and I worked there for a while, writing articles and reporting. And that was how I went about joining the community and getting to know people and understand a bit more about how things worked in Santa Ana, and what it meant to be a migrant in the United States, you know? What the laws were that criminalized the youth and migrant families for not having documents, right? So, I’m telling you, I became an organizer to serve the community. It’s the community that teaches me everything that must be done.
ELG: Yeah, yeah. So, community organizing is really your true calling? [but] not necessarily how you pay the rent.
Laura Pantoja: I’ll tell you, I worked a long time for the newspaper, and then I worked at the Consulate. I worked for many years at the Mexican Consulate, until they fired me! [both laugh] I’ll never forget it… It was an injustice, like all lay-offs—
ELG: Oh dear…
Laura Pantoja: -- And then I started working for an organization called Latino Health Access that hired community health workers, people that live in the community and are also experts on the issues that happen there, And I’m working there now, in the Community Outreach and Advocacy department.
Laura Pantoja: But I always say that something that marked me for life, and is the reason I’ve been here so long, was being a volunteer at an organization called El Centro Cultural de México.
ELG: Of course, of course.
Laura Pantoja: I think that we’ve all been touched by that organization in some way. And I think that this space is so important to me because it gave me a sense of belonging.
Laura Pantoja: And that’s really important for all human beings… So because of that, I belong to the community of Santa Ana, because I began getting involved in cultural activities and from there things emerged that had to do with our lives, right? The lives of migrants. And as they say at the Centro, culture is political too, right?
ELG: Yes, Exactly.
Laura Pantoja: When we began making Posadas or the Noche de Altares, these things were a political act, right? Going out and singing and pidiendo posada in the street, well that’s practically revolutionary, you could say.
ELG: Well, yes, of course El Centro Cultural de México has been sort of a recurring theme in these interviews, because I met a lot of our interviewees through the Centro. Just like you and me, right? I met you through the Centro. And I very much agree that the feeling of belonging is fundamental for any human being. And funnily, in my case, as I don’t have any Latinx heritage at all, and Spanish is my second language… I’ve found that same sense of belonging, of comfort and of an integrity between the cultural and political at the Centro. Which, well, was in fact the reason I moved to Santa Ana. So, yeah—a little promo for the Centro. [laughs]
INSERT #1- CCM + pedir posada
ELG: As I mention in the interview, the Centro Cultural de México has been a touchstone for many of my interviewees, as well as for me personally. Some time back, in Episode #3, when I interviewed Luis Sarmiento, I presented El Centro as a fundamental community resource for many Spanish-speaking residents of Santa Ana.
Like many small non-profits, El Centro was hit hard by the pandemic. Nevertheless it has continued to offer economic help to undocumented residents of the area, vaccine clinics, and for a time, a place to pitch a tent in its parking lots, for unhoused people who had no other options. It is to be hoped that in coming months, El Centro can re-open its doors to the community anew, to once again offer its rich range of cultural programs and classes.
Among these, the best-known has been the Noche de Altares, “Night of Altars,” that Laura mentions. This event takes place around the 2nd of November, Day of the Dead, when families and organizations in the area build altars to their dead throughout the whole center of the city. These altars are a moving testimony to the memories of lost loved ones, as well as to the creative richness of Mexican traditional arts.
Laura also mentions “pidiendo posada,” or “asking for shelter.” This is an old Christmastime ritual in which a group walks through the streets singing and carrying a decorated tree branch. At the end they arrive at a house or church where a second group awaits them, and a sung interchange ensues that recreates the search for a shelter in which the Virgin Mary could give birth. Finally, the second group admits the first, and everyone has a party with punch and traditional treats.
Laura comments that in Santa Ana a generation ago, doing something like this was “almost revolutionary,” for the way it brought dramatic ritual to the streets of a suburban community. Even now it has radical resonances, for those same suburban streets are now inhabited by the many unhoused people who spend their days literally asking for shelter.
ELG: All right, let's move on to the songs you've chosen for the interview. And this time, it's a little bit different than past interviews, we have three songs, two of which represent various aspects of your origins, or your roots.
Laura Pantoja: My mom is from, she was from the state of Jalisco. And my mom always liked to sing. She wasn't bad at it, she could hold a tune. And she always sang to us. But, I don’t know why, but we always make mental associations… she sang a song by Tito Guízar, called “En el rancho grande,“ that is, “On the big ranch”. -- “Over where I lived/there was a rancher lady/who happily told me/I’m going to make you your underwear/like the ranchers wear/I’ll start them with wool/and I’ll finish them with leather” And she always sang [that] to us since we were very little. So, my mom comes [to mind], I guess because she liked Tito Guízar, who acted in movies, right? He has a song called "Allá en el rancho grande" (Over on the big ranch) and a lot of movies. I think they were movies my mom watched when she was young, and the songs, well my mom really liked to sing that song and I always associate it with my childhood, because my mom wasn’t an urban woman, she was a rural woman.
Laura Pantoja: But since we grew up in Mexico City, we'd listen to the radio in the mornings before school. We'd turn on the radio, you know? We had a television, but in those days we listened more to the radio. And Cri Cri's show was on in the morning, so the kids would get up and sing the songs. And I remember well, the song “La patita”. “The little duck.” I associate that one with my mom a lot as well because it goes: “The little duck goes to market/with her polka dot shawl/she comes back home/and her ducklings say to her/what did you bring me, Mama?/quack quack what did you bring me? Cuara quack quack!” -- Well, that’s what we were like when our mom would come home from the store, --“What did you bring me?” Right?
ELG: Yes, yes! [laughing] Let’s go to the … to the song by Tito Guízar.
INSERT #2 – Tito Guízar – ELG Only
Mid-20th-century Mexico seems to have had an endless supply of impossibly handsome male actor-singers with impossibly gorgeous voices: Pedro Infante, Pedro Vargas, Javier Solís, Jorge Negrete, Pepe Guízar…Tito Guízar was first cousin to Pepe. His given name was Federico; he took the nickname “Tito” in honor of his voice teacher, the Italian operatic tenor Tito Schipa, and he had a modest operatic career in addition to becoming a film star and popular singer. His classical training gave him what may be the most beautifully modulated and controlled voice in a very strong field of contenders.
MUSIC CLIP #1:
Tito Guízar- “Allá en el rancho grande”
ELG: What a great way to start the day!
Laura Pantoja: Right? My mom really liked that… That song reminds me a lot of her.
ELG: Yeah, of course, of course, And something I learned while preparing for this interview is that there are many recordings of this song, of course, by various famous artists, Tito Guízar among them, but each one is a little different. There’s a ton of verses --
Laura Pantoja: Yes!
ELG: -- of the song. And [the artists] choose their own verses to create, in each case, a slightly different variation of the song. I imagine that your mom did the same thing, like, choosing the verses that were most fitting for the moment.
Laura Pantoja: Yes, that’s why I told you about that verse “I’m going to make you your underwear” that I remember. [laughs]
ELG: Mm, yeah.
Laura Pantoja: There’s something [to it] that grabbed my attention as a girl, you know? I imagined that clothing worn by cowboys, people that rode on horseback.
ELG: Yes, of course… yeah, and being a city girl, imagining a bit of country life, village life. So, we could say, that song was doing a bit of intercultural work, no?
Laura Pantoja: Mm-hm.
ELG: Very interesting, that phenomenon of migration from the country to Mexico City, like a, almost like a… A whirlwind of migration. And so, so many were arriving at that time.
Laura Pantoja: Yes, in that era when there was a lot of work in Mexico, in Mexico City, a lot of people emigrated to the big cities in search of opportunity, right?
INSERT #3 - Migration to Mexico Citynt in Mexican history. In the: ver stopped. According to the:
Laura Pantoja: And… and funnily, my mom and dad are from nearby places, but they met in Mexico City. They even had friends in common [back home].
Laura Pantoja: When they got married, my mom said that people laughed at her for the way she talked. For example, those bread rolls that are called "bolillos”, in Mexico City, in the streets of Jalisco, are called “birotes”, right? My mom arrived, she would give me birotes and everyone made a face like, “what?” [cackles]
Laura Pantoja: “What is that?”
ELG: Of course. [laughing]
Laura Pantoja: So, those things. You know, speaking of coincidences, or… My mom was a migrant in Mexico City, and so was my dad. And we are -- my brother and I who live in the United States – we’re migrants in this country. And so, when I spoke about my mom, I said how tough it had been for her, being a migrant in Mexico City. And I remember that my mom was just waiting for the day… For classes to finish, and the next day we’d go to her village to spend the summer.
Laura Pantoja: And it was really lovely because there was water, canals, fields. It was a place where, as a child, you could wander. We were city kids, my mom wouldn’t let us go out, you know? But in my mom’s village I could go anywhere, because everyone knew me and they’d invite us to eat. So, I remember that during our vacations I’d never see our mom and dad until it was time to go to bed.
ELG: [laughs] Yeah.
Laura Pantoja: And it was really great, right? It was very fun.
ELG: Yeahhh, all the kids at ease all day long, exploring the area in perfect safety, right?
Laura Pantoja: Yes.
ELG: It’s like paradise. A kind of paradise.
Laura Pantoja: Yes… and you know I’ve really liked to read ever since… I started reading very young. I'd read anything I could get my hands on. And I remember that in the village there was… I don't remember whose house it was, but I liked to go to this one house because in the small towns they have the custom of leaving the doors and windows open—and you've seen those corridors right? With flowerpots full of ferns and plants and all fresh green?
Laura Pantoja: I don’t know if it was my aunt, or a distant cousin, but under her bed she had a wooden box with all the… Those drugstore-type novels, or, little comic books, called "Lágrimas y risas.", or, “Tears and laughter”. They told the stories that later got made into telenovelas, right? [ELG laughs] For example "El pecado de Oyuki.", or “Oyuki’s sin.” But anyway, she had the whole collection. So, I’d spend part of my vacation getting up-to-date with everything in her collection.
ELG: Yeah, yeah. Oh, how fun! How wonderful! I remember, in my childhood in the state of Oregon, well, every week when we’d go to the market, we were allowed to pick out a comic, something like that, to read for the week. And I loved, loved that…
Laura Pantoja: And that encourages you to love reading, right? I always say that that’s where I got my reading vice.
ELG: Mm Hm. Haha, "vice!" Yes, it's a great vice to have, right?…
INSERT #4 - “Lágrimas y risas”years between:
ELG: Well, okay, so, moving on the the second of your first two songs. Ah, so…the figure of Cri Cri, in a certain sense he's a comic figure, but in truth, he was a man that sang and had, as I understand it, a radio show. Tell us a bit about how you got to know his music, and the role it played in your childhood.
Laura Pantoja: Alright, I liked it a lot, especially because, like, you’d wake up to Cri Cri’s songs, right? But Cri Cri’s songs were also like stories.
Laura Pantoja: First, his character is the singing cricket, and his program had a theme song that went like this: “Who’s that over there?/ It’s Cri Cri/ Cri Cri, the singing cricket”.
MUSIC CLIP #2:
Cri Cri audio signature
Laura Pantoja: -- And so, you knew the program was starting. So, he’d tell you the story, the song about the three little pigs, or the little duck that goes to market, or the ugly doll, or the one about the grandmother. So, they were stories, you know? But I think the good thing for those of us who listened to Cri Cri – his name was Gabilondo Soler. And he was a musician, right? He knew about music. So, he’d teach you real rhythms. His songs have [the rhythms of] chachacha, of jazz, of the blues. I feel like he gave you a certain musical education, [a sense of] rhythm and of taste, right?
Laura Pantoja: So, he contributed a lot. If you have the opportunity to listen closely to Cri Cri, you’ll find all those rhythms from Veracruz, from the north… El ratón vaquero, right? Do you know El ratón vaquero? “The cowboy mouse.” The story, that he got out his pistols…Imagine a child, you’re listening to the songs, but, well, you’re imagining the stories. I would picture the duck with her shawl, but I’d also associate it with my mom arriving home from market and us asking her “what did you bring me?” You know? [ELG laughs] We’d ask my mom that! So, I think he contributed a lot to musical taste and the upbringing of generations. Mothers in Mexico still play Cri Cri for their children.
Laura Pantoja: And there are other singers now, right? But Cri Cri is practially a Mexican icon.
ELG: Well, it also seems to me that, besides contributing to the appreciation of music, of regional music and everything else, I think there’s an element, in various songs of his, there’s an element of social critique that surprised me, like, a lot. And I’m going to suggest that we listen to the song, because this song has like a… a twist ending. It has an unexpected twist at the end. And it made ma, it made me laugh until I cried! – So let’s listen to “La patita.”
MUSIC CLIP #2, “Cri Cri, “La patita”
ELG: Well, I’ll tell you, I’ve never heard a children’s song with an ending like that. The song has such an innocent and light tone, you know? And then, at the end, he goes into a pretty sharp little social critique, right?
Laura Pantoja: Mm-hm.
ELG: Here’s a translation of the end of the song:
are growing and they don’t have shoes,
and her husband
is a lazy shameless duck
who doesn’t earn anything so they can eat
and the little duck, well what’s she going to do?
When they ask her, she’ll answer,
“Eat flies! cuara quack quack!”
-- I understand this is not an isolated example in Cri Cri’s repertoire.
Laura Pantoja: I think that as a social critique he was thinking, for example, that everything at the market is very expensive, I think that the mothers identified with that—
ELG: Yes, of course!
Laura Pantoja: -- with that, and with having so many children, but there’s nothing to feed them today. Well, so, “Eat flies”. Same with the song “The Ugly doll”, right? It talks a bit about being different, right? About respecting our differences. It’s a good point, eh? Someone should write a thesis. [cackles]
ELG: Haha. That's it.
INSERT #5 - Gabilondo Soler and Cri Cri
NOTE: This is not a translation but an improvised dialogue that discusses the same themes in each language.
ELG: Cri Cri!
DC: Cri Cri.
ELG: This guy! You know, there actually are doctoral theses about him.
ELG: I found a couple, and a couple of, like, undergraduate theses about him. So he has gotten academic and scholarly attention, and most of it is in the last 20 years. I think there's been a kind of a turnaround in how scholars regard things like children's art and children's music. They're starting to get the respect they deserve as as literature, and as real music, real art.
DC: Mm hmm.
ELG: And, yeah, I think Cri Cri is just a wonderful kind of poster child for this, for why we should take children's art and children's music really seriously. As I understand it, he himself had some doubt about going into this as a career. He was a musician, a pianist, a singer, a composer, and he got involved with the radio, the early days of national radio in Mexico. And somebody there suggested to him, "Hey, you know, we're trying to find a host for this children's show." And he was none too sure! Because back in that day, children's art really got no respect at all.
ELG: But he went for it, and I think pretty quickly he got a sense of what the possibilities were here, real artistic possibilities and real possibilities of making complex and subtle and delightful communications that really matter in the world. And Laura points this out, you know, she says it's it's what we hear when we're really young, it's what we hear in our family. You know, that's going to be with us for the rest of our lives.
DC: Mm hmm. Mm hmm.
ELG: So, there are 215 songs --
ELG: -- by Gabilondo Soler, Cri Cri. So a lot to choose from here. But we've got this one that she brought forward for us. What do you notice there, David?
DC: The quality of the music is just so high! You know, it's just, the musicianship is there. This is a live orchestra. This is a full orchestra. I mean, playing, really playing. You know, this, it's just fantastic music. There's no two ways about it.
ELG: Yeah. Yeah, and then the singing and the patter, the way he brings the characters in…This was radio, it was primarily radio, coming into people's houses on the "Cri Cri" program at 7:15 every morning.
ELG: I don't know, did you grow up listening to radio shows or... or for that matter, television, which is probably more in tune with with your generation?
DC: It was television. It was during the 90s, and unfortunately, this kind of stuff didn't exist any more by the time I was coming up, so when I was little, that my exposure to this type of music and this kind of program was when my dad, who -- he was born in ‘57 in Guatemala -- he would then kind of share it with me, "Oh, well, have you seen Tom and Jerry? Oh, have you seen, you know, this such and such show," which had music like this, what we would call old school cartoons that I, you know, as a musician now, I really, really appreciate and I really enjoy for the reasons that we're saying, you know, their artistic quality, the caliber of art that was being shared with people was just so high.
I don't even know what cartoons they got going on now, SpongeBob... It just doesn't, it doesn't have the same... It's not the same.
ELG: Yeah, something that is really artistically put together, I think kids really do respond to it differently and perhaps more profoundly….
The thing that really grabbed me with “La Patita is the ending.
He was not afraid to go there and be really pretty satirical in his songs for children. Which is something I think... Satire is a great teacher, right?
DC: Yep. Yes.
ELG: [It] teaches, you know, values, everything in a nice little package. Plus, it's funny. And Laura briefly mentions “El Ratón Vaquero,” the cowboy mouse, which is another Cri Cri song, very well known. I think it's kind of iconic. The story of the cowboy mouse is that he's a USAmerican. He is the stereotype of the macho cowboy, except he's a mouse! [laughs] And he's in a Mexican jail, and he's very upset about this. And he keeps shooting off his pistols and talking in English to his jailers and saying, "Let me out, I don't belong in here." And his jailers are like, "Uh-uhh. You earned your way in here. You're in here to stay. Sorry, guy!"
DC: Oh, no! [both laugh]
INSERT MUSIC CLIP: Cri Cri -“El ratón vaquero”
ELG: It's just such an amazing, little satirical sketch of... it's like international relations in a children's song,
DC: Mm hmm. Mm hmm.
ELG: You know, American machismo, and the Mexicans, just like, "Uh-uh, you screwed up. You're in jail."
DC: Why was he in jail?
ELG: It never says!
DC: [laughs] All right, even better. Okay. All right. [both laugh]
ELG: That's right.
ELG: Alright, well, if not a thesis, it's worth thinking about a bit, because the act of awakening the social conscience is something that begins with the family, right? The sense of fairness, that is the motor for activism, and the motor for, well the work of community organizing that you do, for example. It’s something very worthwhile to think about, I think: How can musicians and those who work in children’s music, how can they help children to develop a social conscience, a conscience about what's fair, and the rights they really have?
Laura Pantoja: It has a lot to do with values, right? [Or,] a bit about the values, but [more] the actions of their parents, right?
ELG: That’s it. Yes.
Laura Pantoja: One thing is what they tell you, and another thing is what people actually do in their lives. And when you’re a child, you pay a lot of attention to that. So, you also have to see how, how your parents act around people in need, or in moments of injustice, right?
ELG: That’s true.
Laura Pantoja: So, it’s like, you’re unconsciously taking notes, right? Of the things that aren’t shared fairly in the world, right? – I remember Día de los Reyes (Three Kings’ Day) in Mexico very well. I lived on a working-class street, but there were people who were teachers, government officials, you know? And there were people with fewer resources. And I remember that holiday well. Well, some kids would go out with their brand-new cars or bikes, their big dolls. But there were a lot of kids that didn’t have anything. There was someone with a bag of marbles, that bag of marbles was enough, because they had something new, a new toy. But, yes, there were kids that just watched the others, and to me that was awful. I remember it well.
Laura Pantoja: It seemed unfair to me. So, there’s a good reason for a kid to hear talk in the house, that parents talk about injustices.
ELG: These things start very early in life, I think. And, okay, the question is, how do we bring that forward and what type of life can we build with respect to injustices, the things we observe, right?
Laura Pantoja: Yes, what we hear, what we see, what we read, it’s all part of it. We’re a product of all that, right?
ELG: That's true. Mm-hmm. Well, that's a good turning point for us to shift our attention to the third song, the one you chose that expresses or represents your hopes for the future. And… it's a super interesting selection. I think I'd like to listen to the song you chose by Silvio Rodríguez, "La maza," and then we’ll discuss it.
Laura Pantoja: Go ahead.
MUSIC CLIP #3, Silvio Rodríguez “La maza”
Laura Pantoja: This song always makes me cry.
ELG: Of course, yeah. It’s powerful…
Laura Pantoja: I really like it for its substance and values, it’s like a philosophical song, right?
ELG: Super philosophical.
Laura Pantoja: The meaning of life and of what keeps you going, right? Or, what’s the reason? I think it’s a lot like life.
ELG: [cackles] Well it’s a lot, it’s a lot like life, because the whole song is organized around a question that never gets answered. Just like life!
Laura Pantoja: For me, it’s a pure song, it reminds me of things I believed and keep believing, you know? And that’s what maintain me and keeps me going, doing the things I like.
ELG: But to me, it's a sign of a certain, let’s say, spiritual maturity, to have this list of values, of things to believe in in life, but, just in the form of a question. He never answers it! The whole song is in the subjunctive and he never answers his own question. And he won't answer it.
And it's… that's like the principal of hope, like the foundation of hope in life, to me it seems really, really deep, because it isn't easy to base your faith to keep going in life, on uncertainty .[laughs]
Laura Pantoja: Of course, well that’s how life is, right? Uncertain.
ELG: That’s right, but the act of learning how to trust in the uncertainty is, it’s a lifelong learning, right? We are constantly messing that up. Or at least, I mess it up.
Laura Pantoja: We all get discouraged and lose our way.
Laura Pantoja: We feel alone in the universe… These lyrics, these songs, every time I listen to them, they make me cry, but they make me feel happy. It’s a contradiction, right?
ELG: Well, the thing is, we have company on the path. Silvio Rodriguez himself keeps us company, on this path that at times can be very difficult. With company, everything is possible.
Laura Pantoja: It’s less difficult, right? Sure, because you’re you, right, with your own contradictions, your own conversations, your silences and everything else. That’s why the sense of belonging and making a community is something that maintains you, right? A lot of that comes from the spaces we’ve helped to create. You too, Elisabeth, right? Surely at the Centro, in son jarocho, in what you do at your school, right?
Laura Pantoja: It keeps us alive, and with the hope that makes our eyes shine, right? And I think it’s something to always be grateful for, that support the universe sent us to be here today and to keep on creating… I don’t know who’s supporting us, but it’s got to be someone out there in the universe, right?
ELG: What a great way to put it, yeah. And, okay, going back to the song for a bit, one thing that really gets my attention, and truly grabs my heart, is not only the lyrics but also the music Silvio Rodríguez uses. The music itself, in its own way, speaks to this, because it uses a harmonic loop, a series of chords in the song, that never closes. It repeats and repeats and repeats, but never rests. So the notes, the tones themselves express this sense of searching, you could say. And –
Laura Pantoja: And of power, no? I mean, the intensity is growing, right? That “what would, what would, what would it be…”
ELG: [cackles] That’s right.
Laura Pantoja: And all that about the harmonies, and everything, that’s from the point of view of an expert, right?
ELG: Well, yes, but I didn’t mention it as a way of boasting about myself, about my knowledge…It’s that, yeah, it catches my attention, because those effects that singer-songwriters use in their music affect us a lot. They affect us on a different level than the words. And the words, yes, we can talk about the lyrics a lot. But the music also contributes a very important element that’s very powerful.
Laura Pantoja: Like when he plays, I don’t know what instrument it is, a drum. He plays boom, boom, boom. Like, that’s powerful, right? I really like that part.
ELG: Yes, me too.
INSERT #6 - Silvio Rodríguez
NOTE: This is not a translation but an improvised dialogue that discusses the same themes in each language.
DC: Okay, so here we have one of the, perhaps one of the most well-known and -studied artists of all, I'm going to say all Latin America, Silvio Rodriguez, which is just such an icon. If we're going to talk about what I like to call "Pan Latin American music," that's music that has gone from one place in Latin America and really has made an impact all over Latin America and the world, Silvio is one of them, for sure. What do you think, Elisabeth?
ELG: I was just going to say... So living here in Santa Ana, in a community that is... There are very few Cubanxs here. Mostly Mexican, Central American immigrants. And yeah, Silvio is huge. He's huge. So yeah, that's kind of a case in point.
DC: Yeah, Silvio. For those who might be unfamiliar, has made a career in a name for himself doing what we call today, music called Nueva Trova. So Nueva Trova music is kind of an analogue in some ways to American singer-songwriter music of, like, the Sixties, right? Where the poetry and the lyrics were very much conscious, lots of social and political critique. This music, Nueva Trova actually had has its roots in an older music called Trova music, which was music made by traveling musicians on the island of Cuba beginning in the Oriente province. And they would go basically from town to town, but usually on a guitar and singing these -- primarily love songs, but it started around the 60s, after the Revolution, to become Nueva Trova as the lyrics became more politically and socially conscious.
ELG: Wow, you know what occurs to me, David, is… so "trova," the word makes me think of the troubadours, which were a European phenomenon, hundreds of years ago, the traveling musician who went from town to town, court to court sharing their art…And it just brings to mind something -- I mentioned this briefly in Laura's interview: the harmonies of the song, a harmonic cycle that goes over and over and over, and the whole song is based on it. Let's listen to it briefly here as as it is heard in "La maza." So here goes.
INSERT MUSIC CLIP:
Silvio Rodríguez “La maza” 2:05-2:35
ELG: And then I just want to play right next to it, something else...
INSERT MUSIC CLIP
“Lamento della ninfa,” very opening
" of Claudio Monteverdi, from:
DC: And it's so cool to see how, you know, these musical techniques, and music in general, just always is building upon itself, and it can happen in many different places across many different times, right? And it's to me, it's a testament of, you know, humans being humans, humans listening to each other and being inspired by one another across centuries.
ELG: Yeah, yeah, that's wonderful
ELG: Yeah, well, it’s… I think it’s a good choice, a very special choice you’ve made, because it leaves open the question of where we’re going [laughs] and why, and what for.
Laura Pantoja: What we believe, right? That can be expressed in many ways. Like you said. And I’ll tell you, almost every time I hear it, it really moves many things in my heart, right? It’s like what they say, that we’re the product of the place we were born, of history, the economy, and maybe we’re the product of music [too], right? Part of a loving upbringing, and all types of upbringing, have to do with the music we got to hear and live [with].
ELG: Yes. And that’s what this podcast is all about! [laughs] Because music opens doors between people and between – between hearts, right?
Laura Pantoja: Yes, it enriches our lives.
ELG: Yeah… Well, this seems like a great point on which to close the interview, because, I don’t know how to go on further from this philosophical, but lovely point we’ve arrived at!
Laura Pantoja: Thank you for all of this effort, to tell stories through the music of the people around you. It’s a good way to contribute to the world, right?
ELG: I hope so. To me… Well, I enjoy an enormous privilege, of getting to hear the music of people I know, and in some cases of people who are new to me, and through that I find a broader, deeper sense of an entire, very special community, which is the community of Santa Ana. So, I’m very grateful for the opportunity. Really.
Laura Pantoja: It’s been a pleasure, eh? Truly.
ELG: Yes, a great pleasure, thank you.
Laura Pantoja: You brought me to many places from my life. [cackles]
ELG: [laughs] How lovely. It’s a privilege for me.
Laura Pantoja: Take care, I’ve got to go to another meeting. I have another meeting.
ELG: Very good, very good. I’ll see you soon.
Laura Pantoja: All right, bye.
Would you like to know more?
On our website at siyofuera.org, 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.
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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…”