For as long as I can remember, Latin music has played a central role in my life. My childhood revolved around the sounds of bolero hymns and salsa classics. More specifically, Latina women in music have shaped me to become the proud, expressive Mexican and Guatemalan woman that I am today.
This Women’s History Month — or should I say Herstory Month — I reflect on my top three favorite Latina musical artists and how their songs have affected my life.
1. Celia Cruz - “La Negra Tiene Tumbao”
Celia Cruz is “la reina de la salsa” and her music played a huge role in shaping my early childhood. I was the only person out of my entire friend group who idolized this Afro-Latinx Queen, who eventually helped shape my confidence as a Latina. Her song “La Negra Tiene Tumbao” represents that confidence I once lacked in my life. My favorite line from this song is when Cruz sings, “si quieres llegar derecho mejor camina de frente” which translates to, “if you want to make it straight, it’s best to walk forward.”
These lyrics remind me to always keep my head held high and be confident in any path that I take. It is a song that pays homage to those who are underrepresented as women, and more importantly Afro-Latinx women. Her song carries out the message of celebrating and accepting your identity, worth, and beauty no matter what others may think of you.
2. Marisol “La Marisoul” Hernández - “Como Dios Manda”
The lead singer of La Santa Cecilia, I discovered Marisol Hernández — Marisoul — during quarantine and became instantly captivated by her voice and her story. A Los Angeles native, she is a bilingual, bicultural, curly haired, morena Latina woman like myself. Her music is a hybrid of Latin culture, rock and world music, drawing inspiration from Pan-American rhythms like bolero, cumbia, rumba, tango, jazz, bossa-nova, and klezmer music; the rhythms that filled my very own childhood. Her music speaks of the Latinx and undocumented immigrant experience, social justice, and Latinx cultures of past and present generations.
But a song that I fell in love with the most was an original piece from her band’s 2017 album “Amar Y Vivir,’' entitled “Como Dios Manda.” This song tells the story of Marisoul’s heartbreak and how she connects it closely with nature’s beauty. She sings, “como dios manda el hielo con el frío. Es lo que yo deseo estar siempre a tu lado vivir siempre contigo.”
Not only does Marisoul make heartbreak sound poetic, her voice is also one like I have never heard before: powerful, chilling, and moving. She is a woman I admire and see a bit of myself in, not fitting the molds of flashy, slim, straight haired, white passing Latina singers. She is different from society’s standards, just how I have viewed myself throughout my life, and that is why I look up to her so much.
3. Linda Viera Caballero “La India” - “Vivir Lo Nuestro”
La India is a salsa legend that has been part of my life since the very first steps I took dancing to salsa music. When I think of powerful women in the music industry, I think of India, receiving two Guinness World Records for the most number one singles — 10 in total — on the Billboard Tropical Song Airplay chart for a female artist and an additional title for the most number one albums — six in total — on the Billboard Tropical Album Chart. Her song “Vivir Lo Nuestro” is not only her number one song, but one of the very first Spanish language songs I learned as a young girl. I remember attempting to belt out her lyrics as a child, “voy a detener el tiempo y mantener a mi lado, nuestro amor que es sagrado.” My four-year-old self soon realized that no one can come close to imitating her unique voice.
In a 2016 interview with Centro: Center for Puerto Rican Studies, India reminds her fans that, “if you are a woman [in this musical genre] you need to give 150 percent of yourself, not 100 percent, because it is always harder being a woman...you have to put your heart and soul into a [salsa] career that is dominated by men...this is what you call talent and this is what I represent.” Thanks to La India, I understand how important salsa is to all women from my motherlands, my identity, and the lively culture I live and breathe each day with complete adoration.
This is only a small glimpse into the iconic women of Latinx music, what they mean to me and my identity as a Latina woman. For this Women’s Herstory Month, and the many more to come I say: ¡Viva la mujer!