The Mexican on “Latino” vs. “Hispanic,” and “Crystal Blue Persuasion”
Dear Mexican: Is it just me, or has what to call our friends from south of the border become a partisan issue? While taking in both political conventions over the last couple of weeks, I’ve noticed that Republicans invariably use the word “Hispanics” while Democrats are far more likely to say “Latino/a.” What gives? Is there some nefarious semantic plot afoot, such as when rightwing commentators dropped the “ic” from “Democratic?” Or is there a more innocent explanation? How do Hispanics and/or Latinos refer to themselves?
Dear Gabacho: Man, I can write a whole book on your pregunta—and I did! It’s called Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America—so let me be brief. While you over-generalized a bit—Latinos from the East Coast tend to call themselves “Hispanics” regardless of political affiliation, while Republican Latinos usually call themselves vendidos—you’re on to something. It’s not just a political ideology litmus test but also a gabacho one, and it boils down to is this: any gabacho who calls brownies “Hispanics” is usually clueless about them, while any gabacho who calls us “Latinos” is a fellow traveler of the Reconquista. Voila—there’s your explanation to why the GOP favors “Hispanic,” while Dems like “Latino”! A gross generalization, yes, but apply this rule to the gabachos, Democrats and Republicans in your life, and I guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
What is the relationship with the Chicano culture to the song “Crystal Blue Persuasion?” I’ve seen Tommy James and the Shondells perform it numerous times and never got goosebumps or teared up or anything. But Chicanos always request that song. Why? What’s the connection? Did Tommy James have a Chicana heina on the side and it’s about her? Was it a 1970s drug, a bottle of wine (like Boone’s Farm)? What? Dime, por favor!
Dear Readers: This question comes from Danny Valenzuela, who co-hosts along with Ricky O the “Latin Soul Party” every Friday night on KUVO-FM 89.3 in Denver and worldwide on publicbroadcasting.net/kuvo. It’s an awesome show spinning the best oldies-but-goodies and new Latin Soul tracks—puro desmadre, so tune in! Anyhoo, I’m surprised he doesn’t know his Chicano-soul history: While it’s true that hippy-dippy gabachos Tommy James and the Shondells recorded the first—and best—version of the best-seller in 1969, multiple soul groups with a Chicano fan base quickly covered it, as did Latin soul pioneer Joe Bataan. From there, it lived on in muchos oldies-but-goodies compilations, including Art Laboe’s Dedicated to You and Oldies but Goodies anthologies, in Thump Records’ Old School Love Songs album, and even that Barrio Oldies series with the pink covers that everyone’s cholo cousin had a pirated version of in the 1980s. It got a new lease on life in 1990, when A Lighter Shade of Brown incorporated it into its classic “On a Sunday Afternoon,” and just got major play on Breaking Bad. But the question remains—why do Chicanos love the song so much, and how did it transition into the pantheon of Chicano-favored oldies-but-goodies? It’s basically a Mexican song—the bongos and the acoustic guitar arpeggios come from Latin America, while the dreamy electric guitar and dramatic organ riffs sound like “96 Tears,” another Chicano classic, after a couple of bong hits and the horns and harmonies straight out of Eastlos. Perfect cruising music and perfect love song equals a canción that’s more Mexican than Vicente Fernandez’s mustache.