WHO GETS TO DEFINE LATINO CULTURE?
Last time I wrote a story about how people in my mostly Mexican immigrant neighborhood define me and my culture. This week I wanted to share a story about a band from Mexico that mixes Hipster and Mexican American culture together to re-introduce it as authentic Mexican culture for consumption by Hispters and Mexican Americans.
Los Master Plus is a pair of kids from Guadalajara who have leveraged social media and Hipster culture into cumbias and their Mexican upbringing to carve out a very particular niche for themselves in the U.S. Recently at a show in Los Angeles at The Conga Room, I had a chance to chat with El Comache and Larry Mon, as they call themselves.
What I found the most interesting about our conversation is how the two think about their music not only in musical terms, but in terms of their image, and how that image is perceived both in Mexico and elsewhere. They don’t consider themselves hipsters — sunglasses, mustaches and silver sneakers be damned — but they did recognize that their cumbia covers of popular U.S. songs speaks to a very particular audience: pochos.
Los Master Plus remake songs that are uniquely American — King of Leons’ “Sex on Fire,” No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak,”Snoop Dogg’s “Smoke Weed Everyday” — into cumbias. Larry Mon even does a cute little hybrid hip-hop cumbia dance, replete with hip rolls. So they take exported American culture, Mexican-ify it, then sell it back to fans who end up being mostly pochos living in the U.S.
When I asked them what they thought about pochos, or Mexican Americans who grew up in the U.S. primarily, their answer really surprised me. Not just because most of my conversations about Mexican American identity with Mexican nationals involve scorn, but also because it was thoughtful.
“Pochos are part of a phenomenon that is easy to understand: it’s natural to mix two cultures. Some people say one culture more than other, or ‘That’s not Mexican,’ but I think it is,” said El Comanche. “As long as you feel love for the country, it doesn’t matter if you don’t live there — maybe you’ve never lived there — but you feel connected to your roots and that’s cool.”
At the show most of the audience was made up of pochos. There were some white hipsters, and even more cholo-type folks in attendance, but the majority of the pochos there knew what was up. They danced cumbias, too, and exploded with joy when the opening chords of the cover songs began to play — because they knew what to expect, by knowing what not to expect — and their reception of this Mexicanized American culture was ebullient.
So, it would seem, that the definition of culture can escape us from either side of the border. Is it an “authentic” cumbia if it was originally sung by Snoop Dogg? Does music count as “Latin” if it’s based on a Kings of Leon song? Are Hipster mustaches more authentic than Mexican ones? When you start asking such absurd questions, you begin to realize how absurd the objections are in the first place.
Los Master Plus, to me, represent the ultimate answer to the “What are you question?” — which is to say, a series of questions about what “culture” is and how the answer changes depending on who’s asking. I feel like it’d be a lot better for everyone if, instead of trying to determine authenticity, we just enjoy the music.
Copyright 2013 by Sara Inés Calderón.
Sara Inés Calderón
la vida es dura, pero es bella