It’s Friday! And it’s Memorial Day weekend, which means a three-day weekend (for my boyfriend at least; I’m on a permanent three-day weekend until my research sabbatical ends)! So I’m feeling especially festive and in a mood to listen to some music from my middle school days, when I discovered pop music from Mexico.
One of my favorite party tunes comes from Yuri, who was known as “the Madonna of Mexico” in the 80s. Here’s the official video for “Que te pasa?” which is gloriously cheesy with her bleached-out, teased hair, her acid-wash denim, a pink bodysuit topped with a black tutu, and tons of neon:
Songs like this were a revelation to me when I was a brown-skinned tween, seemingly the only Mexican girl around, and going through a mighty awkward stage. My hair, which had once been so straight it couldn’t hold a curl, started getting a little wavy, and so I plastered it down with hair products so to tamper it down…to the point where you could grab a section of my hair and it would stick straight out because it was so stiff. Also, I couldn’t do the classic waterfall bangs no matter how hard I tried. To top it off, I had huge, red Sally Jesse Raphael glasses and braces. I had a crush on a white boy named Jason and at a sleepover, my friends called him up to see if he’d go out with me (I’m not even sure what that would have meant back then…where do you “go out” when you’re 12?). I was quietly listening on the other line as he scoffed and said no. UB40′s “Red, Red Wine” was playing in the background, and to this day when I hear that song, I shed a little tear for my miserable seventh grade self.
Around that same time, my mom took me on a trip to Chihuahua, Mexico, to visit some family friends who’d moved there. Their daughter, who was a year younger than I, was one of my first best friends and I was excited to reconnect with her. She introduced me to all the popular Mexican pop music of the era: Timbiriche, Flans, Fandango, Pandora. I couldn’t believe it! Here, united for the first time (for me, anyway), were two things I loved: Pop music and the Spanish language/Mexican culture. Mexican people like me, but who were cool!
I brought home several records–yes, this was still the time of records–and was thrilled to discover that I could see many of these groups perform on a weekly variety show called Siempre en Domingo (aka Siempre es lo mismo). I would pop a VHS tape in the VCR and when a group I liked came on, I was ready to record and savor every precious second, because before YouTube, this was how we’d do things. Also, I learned that the Mexican neighborhoods of the big city nearby had record stores where I could buy these same songs (my mom, not knowing that I would like any Spanish-language music, had never taken me previously).
These all provided a cultural lifeline for me at a critical time. Suddenly didn’t feel so alone and different–and the pain of Jason’s rejection soon eased–thanks in part to the power of cheesy Mexican pop from the 80s!