Dr. Ricardo Montelongo

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Music, identity, and misperception

As I start my first blog, I thought it would appropriate to muse about something that is important in my personal and professional identities.  Directly in front of me is an autographed poster of Carlos Santana’s album artwork “Supernatural”.  Next to it is a vinyl copy of U2’s “War”, which I’m proud to say was given to me by my older brother when the band was just getting noticed.  “Keep an eye on this band” I remember him telling me in the early 1980’s.  Just below it are the soundtracks of my college youth, New Order’s “Technique” and Depeche Mode’s live album “101”.  As I type this, I’m wearing a Joy Division t-shirt with an image of its iconic lead singer Ian Curtis, who’s suicide is one of those all to familiar “what if?” tales of a gifted singer gone too soon.  Looking over my shoulder, there’s a framed signed and numbered poster of M83’s 2016 Houston concert produced by a local graphic artist commemorating the opening of a local live music venue (which I snatch one of the last prints for just $20!).  In the background on my Spotify, I’m listening to my recommended daily mixes featuring the likes of Stereolab, Lush, The 2 Bears, and Talk Talk, just to name a few.  It’s a good morning in my home office!

However, my music interests reminds me that what I listen to often goes against what others think I should listen to when I am just being myself.   As a Latino living in Texas, one of the things about living in this part of the country is experiencing this weird, wonderful, and sometimes surreal thing called “bi-culturalism”.  In my daily lived experiences in this part of the country, I am keenly aware that many individuals I interact with see me first as a “Mexican”.  Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely proud that my cultural identity is noticed and I am proud to be Latino.  However, I often sense that being bicultural or multicultural is something others have a hard time recognizing.   Navigating the worlds contained just in the state of Texas is something that has always tried to understand and fulfill.  I vividly recall this navigation largely occurring in the rural town of Somerville, Texas where my Mom’s side of the family resides.  As a kid, I was fortunate to attend many family reunions and weddings where conjunto, two-stepping, and disco (well, it was in the late-70s/early-80s) co-existed within the DJ table.  My cousins and I never got bored since we were constantly dancing a cumbia one minute, doing the Cotton-Eyed Joe the next, followed up with the hustle (again, disco was big in the Orozco family!).  My curious self always made noticed that we just weren’t Mexican-Americans listening to Little Joe y La Familia, we were a large family whose background and identities were represented by the wonderful tapestry of American music.

Jump forward to the current, my cousins and college friends all contributed to who I am now with regards to an important part of my identity – post-punk, new wave, goth music aficionado.  Which goes to my point about what others think my music tastes should be. A couple of months ago, I attended a concert by the band The xx by myself.  Once I arrived to my single seat by the aisle, two young college age women were sitting next to me.  After a few minutes, one asked me if I was all alone and I answered “yes” but I really was a fan of the band.  Her friend joined that conversation and asked how did I know about the band, which I showed off my knowledge of their repertoire (e.g. “‘Intro’ is the coolest two minutes of music ever!”).  The conversation was good and soon, one of the young ladies made the comment in her nicest voice, “I didn’t know someone like you would like this band!”  At the time, I brushed the comment aside since the show was about to start, but when I heard it, it did make me wonder.  What was the meaning behind her comment?  “Someone like me”…was that a remark about my age?  My profession (I did say I taught at Sam Houston State University)? Or something else?

I have a good college buddy who has similar musical tastes.  When we were undergraduates, we connected with each other through our shared interests in alternative bands popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s like New Order, The Cure, Nitzer Ebb, Ministry, Xymox and others in the same dance-goth genre.  As two Latino men, we at times go against the grain.  The past few years, we have attended some of our favorite bands from this era together wearing our t-shirts from other similar bands and when we do, we often look around and wonder if other individuals are asking “what are these two big Mexican dudes doing at this concert?”  Yes, we sometimes are two old brown specks in a young sea of hipster white, but our love of this music allows us to be who we are and to debunk how others perceive us.  Usually after a couple of beers, we’re the ones giving shade back since we actually know the lyrics and make fun of those who think they know the band.  My musical tastes allow me to further navigate a world that sometimes does not think we belong for whatever reason.  However, my presence in that world allows me to let those who question to realize that yes, some Latinos do love new wave, post-punk music.  We are full of surprises and we are often in spaces where you think we do not exist.  Once there, you should take that information with you to debunk those stereotypes that you likely have about myself and other diverse groups.  We do not just exist in one space, we exist in many.  When you least expect, we just might pop up in the most unlikely space to remind you that we are more similar, than different.

At the M83 concert mentioned earlier in this post, I noticed a Latino family sitting near me.  I thought it was awesome that the concert was a family outing.  Mom and Dad were there, their teenage and pre-teen kids, and most surprisingly, their grandpa.  After a few minutes, I kept wondering what if they were all there on the request of their grandfather?  What if this man, probably in his late-50s or early 60s, saw the band on his iTunes and proceeded to download one of their albums?  Maybe after, he was soon a fan. I connected with this group because in a way, I saw myself.  Three generations of Latinos all together to hear a good band.  It took me back to those days in Somerville where music brought together entire families and crossed boundaries.

With this first blog post, I hope to share my thoughts to cross boundaries and to put to words my thoughts and ideas on the areas that are highlighted in my blog title.  Ideas are constantly floating in my head.  I hope to share them often using this tool to connect.


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