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Let's embark on a musical journey together.

Sit back in a comfortable position and prepare to close your eyes. 

Take a moment to think about a simple melody- perhaps one that resonates from your earliest memories or a rhythm that once coursed through your veins.

Can you hear it? 

If not, feel free to reach for your headphones and search for it on your device. 

I won’t hold you back. 

Close your eyes and get lost in the music.

 

Are you back? 

What emotions did it stir within you? 

What vivid imagery did it conjure? 

Take a moment to savor that experience; I want to hear about it when we meet again. 

Would you like to explore my collection of songs? 

There's just one condition: when you listen this time, let your mind take flight. Don't concern yourself with understanding the lyrics or dissecting the sounds. Instead, surrender to the music's embrace, allowing it to wash over your entire body. I'll listen alongside you, and who knows, maybe - just maybe - I’ll envision a world not so different from yours. Perhaps we'll discover familiar faces waiting for us on the other side of the beat. 

Go ahead…

press play.

Welcome back.

The genre you’ve just heard is called cumbia rebajada, a subgenre of the main musical style known as cumbia, which originates in Colombia.

 

I first encountered cumbia when I was just a child, in the streets of Reynosa in Tamaulipas, Mexico. It seemed harsh and jarring to my ears. It brought to mind memories of sweltering heat, the scorching Texas sun beating down and leaving my skin parched and sticky. I associated it with an unquenchable thirst for ice-cold water, the relentless mosquitoes of humid summer days, and the discomfort of my mother's red van with its oppressively hot gray felt seats that transformed it into an oven even in February. It reminded me of the sensation of my black rubber school shoes melting onto my feet as I waited for my mom to pick me up from Catholic school, a feeling of exhaustion and effort.

Anytime a rhythm resembling the guacharaca cane broke through the static of the radio, it was quickly met by my mother's sharp hand, swatting it to a stop. This was the way it was. 'Cumbia es de pura gente del barrio y de los nacos.'   I heard her speak about this music with such disdain and never quite realized that she was critiquing a culture that she herself learned to hate out of protection.

She was born and raised in Reynosa, Mexico, a small border town that once thrived with life and economic exchanges with its neighboring cities in the United States. Now, Reynosa is known more as a place where people meet violent ends at the hands of drug cartels than a hot spot for nightlife. Just three hours to its west lies its much larger and more popular sister city of Monterrey. Monterrey is known for its industrial and economic prowess, but beneath the surface of its bustling commerce and business acumen, there lies a vibrant history of counter-cultural movements that emerged in the 20th century; notably, “la kolombia” culture.

Locally marginalized musicians and dancers from Monterrey adopted and transformed cumbia to develop a sense of transnational belonging that ties them not only to Colombia, the place of origin of the genre, but also to the U.S. The term “la kolombia” refers to various cultural elements, like music and dance, that have become a part of people's everyday lives and influence how people form relationships, bonds, and their aesthetic preferences. In this way, cumbia proves to be crucial in shaping a sense of identity within pop and la kolombia culture found in northern Mexico.

The story that runs in my family of how cumbia rebajadas first came to be is that a young DJ was playing a vinyl set for his friends in the neighborhood when his record player broke, causing the cumbias to play at a lower RPM than usual. Unexpectedly, the partygoers much preferred the slower pace as it immediately filled the room with a sense of mystery. The enjoyment of this music became an identity that belonged to the lower and working class, giving them a place in cities that were sharply divided by socioeconomic status. The sense of mystery and self identification that the first listeners of cumbia rebajadas found is the same sense of mystery and self-identification I held towards the Kolombianas.

The need to self-identify   is what resonates the most within me. Cumbia rebajadas contain in their lyrics a cry for life that is born from dispossession. There is a reflection of the clandestine in the warped wailing and cheeky rhythms that often sing of a yearning to return to a supposed home or place of belonging. One of the most iconic rebajadas, 'Lejania,' puts it plainly: 

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2

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 "Yo siento el llamado que me

Hace la tierra mía

Y un amor que cada noche me desvela

Que se ocupa del momento que me queda

Y en mi pecho floreció una

Cumbia de la nostalgia

Como una lágrima que se escapa

Cumbia del alma"

"I feel the calling

of my homeland.

And a love, that keeps me awake every night

that consumed me from the moment I left.

And in my chest, blossomed a

cumbia of nostalgia 

like a tear that escaped,

a cumbia of the soul."

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Now, nearly twenty-four years later, the sound of cumbia—once synonymous with oppressive heat and lowly thugs—has transformed into a nostalgic melody that I no longer find uncomfortably sweltering or mysterious. There is a newfound sense of warmth and comfort in my memories of the Mexican sun burning holes through my shoes. Even the static from the car radio ceased to be a marker of poverty; instead, it became a preferred interruption to my music. 

I can’t quite remember the day or circumstances under which I rediscovered my love and connection for this genre of music, but I do remember viscerally understanding on a February morning that every second I spend far from home is a second that I spend returning to it. It's a curious sensation to depart from a place and return, not physically but mentally, and to discover that something has accompanied you on this journey there and back. It’s an even more curious sensation to realize that what you feel is dispossession and what has accompanied you in your dispossession is a form of music that has always belonged to the dispossessed. As a Mexican-American who has experienced a literal and metaphorical dispossession of land and identity, my art explores and reflects my experience. Through all the transnational factors that have left imprints in my story, such as climate change, migration, and politics, I have found a sense of possession in cumbia, which compels me to ask the following questions:

What are the movements and voices of the dispossessed, specifically the dispossessed along the US-Mexican border? And how do I expose the biopsychosocial problem of dispossession in a poetic framework? Both questions come from the broader, more simple question: What do we inherit beyond our skin?

1. Translates to "cumbia is for people from the hood, ghetto people."

2. Also referred to as "la colombia" or "cholombianos"

3. Self-identity refers to the way in which I define myself to the other. The nationality, ethnicity, and culture that I claim based on my connection to it. The act of self-identifying on a superficial level comes from a need- created by oppressive systems- to define and categorize people in order to control them. 

4. Excerpt from the song Lejania by Lisandro Mesa that translates: "I feel the call that my homeland makes to me… And a love that keeps me awake every night, that takes care of the time that's left for me…And in my chest, a cumbia of nostalgia bloomed like a tear that escapes…Cumbia of the soul"

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