Things That Matter

Tupac Represented For Latinos With Lyrics Like ‘It Wouldn’t Be L.A. Without Mexicans,’ But Here’s Why We Really Loved Him

An entire generation of rappers have come and gone since Tupac Shakur’s 1996 fatal shooting occurred in Las Vegas, Nevada, but the legacy of the slain icon has continued long after his death.

Among many things, history will remember Tupac as someone who almost single-handedly — because of a beef with Notorious B.I.G. — ignited a rap feud between two coasts during the height of the gangster rap era. He’ll also be remembered as one of the most successful rappers in history with a number of platinum albums and thousands of unreleased songs that continue to fill the radio airwaves across the United States.

But while his influence was universal, Latinos were especially drawn to Tupac’s music and made up one of his most loyal fan bases in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, and Phoenix.

Credit: 2Pac/Instagram

Like many other Latinos who grew up in L.A. during the early 1990s, I, too, was completely consumed by Tupac’s music.

He was the first voice I listened to when I turned the radio on in the morning, and the last voice I heard at the end of a day when I fell asleep listening to his music on my Sony Walkman.

Tupac was a lot of things to different people: He was the best friend who had your back the time Jose and his boys tried to jump you behind McDonalds, the friend who urged you to ditch school every Friday, and, of course, the friend who always seemed to have wisdom far beyond their age.

But he was far from perfect.

Like any other popular figure, Tupac was a complex person with undeniable shortcomings.

He was just as likely to refer to women as  b***** as he was to refer to them as queens. He was an advocate for peace between communities of color while firing back at rivals with threats of physical violence.

As a result, his songs reflected the multiple layers of his personality.

“He was an advocate for peace between communities of color while firing back at rivals with threats of physical violence.”

Songs like “Keep Your Head Up” and “Changes” uplifted us whenever we had a problem at home or school. “Hail Mary” is what you listened to when you finally got the nerve to confront Jose and his crew after school for attempting to jump you behind McDonalds. And “Dear Mama” helped us celebrate the way our mothers always found ways to provide for us beyond their means.

But as I noticed then, and continue to see, I was never alone in my love for Tupac.

Tupac, however, made it very clear about who his message was directed to. His music continued the legacy of African-American artists whose music was tailored for African-Americans in inner city communities who were facing multiple forms of discrimination.

Credit: 2Pac/Instagram

Still, Latinos often worked and lived in similar neglectful conditions, which created shared frustrations.

We’ll never know the moment Tupac started to understand the importance of Latinos to U.S. society, but we can estimate that living in Los Angeles gave him an idea, particularly when he paid homage to Latinos in his hit song, “To Live and Die in L.A.,” claiming that it “wouldn’t be L.A. without Mexicans, black love, brown pride, in the sets again.”

For Los Angeles-based poet Angela Aguirre, 29, it was songs like “To Live and Die in L.A.” that helped her build connections with African Americans in her community and helped her understand that his message was also intended for Chicanas.   

“Seeing how hard he rode for the black community empowered me to ride equally as hard for mine,” she explained to me over email. “I had always been an outspoken Chicana, but Tupac’s music came out during my formative years and the politically conscious nature of that music influenced me to be more conscious of the same types of oppression that he spoke about.”

The 1990s, as Aguirre explains, were, in fact, a particularly challenging time for Latinos in California.

Credit: Tumblr

Border security was being tightened up, police were targeting Latinos in inner cities, and state bills like proposition 209 and 187 negatively impacted the economic and social conditions of Latinos throughout the state.

In addition, we were still living in an era where Latinos were often excluded from mainstream conversations of race.

As a result, Tupac’s lyrics often resonated with Latinos because he gave a growing, and often invisible part of the U.S. population, a vocabulary to express frustration, fears, and hopes for the future.

“Tupac was a lot of things,” Aguirre continued, “which is why I fucked with him so heavy. He was so multidimensional and complex as a person and an artist. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t problematic or even misogynistic at times, but because of his upbringing, Tupac was woke before ‘woke’ was even a thing and the most appealing thing about him was his sincerity.”

What made Tupac’s appeal even more far-reaching, I believe, was that his message also impacted Latinos outside of major California cities like, Mikael Rojas, who grew up in state of Washington, and Alejandro Sanchez-Lopez, 28, who grew up in Ensenada, Mexico.  

“Tupac was one of the most important people in my life,” explained, Rojas, a native of Yakima, Washington. “He said it was OK to be a minority and it connected with me even though I lived in rural Washington.”

“….Tupac’s lyrics often resonated with Latinos because he gave a growing, and often invisible part of the U.S. population, a vocabulary to express frustration, fears, and hopes for the future.”

Sanchez-Lopez, who grew up in Mexico, had a similar connection to Tupac.

“I didn’t even know what he was saying the first time I heard his music,” he explained, “but I knew how his voice made me feel.”

That Tupac was able to connect with fans and listeners outside of Los Angeles and other major West Coast cities should come to no surprise given the way his music was able to transcend race, sex, gender, and class. 

For people like Anaheim, California, native, Jesus Cortez, 37, however, Tupac’s song, “Life Goes On,” represented a form of therapy that helped him cope with the death of two of his friends which he lost to street violence.

“That song helped me get me through and helped me maintain my level of sanity,” he explained to me from his home in Anaheim. “I had just lost two good friends of mine to the streets and he said that life goes on even if you lose your homies.”

“My mind was all over the place and I was able to focus and he got me through.”

For Cortez, who like Tupac, was also raised by a single mother, life often presented challenges for him and his family, Tupac’s song, “Dear Mama,” helped him understand that being a single mother and raising a male teenager was no easy task.

Credit: Instagram/@independent_quotes5 and @2pac

“I was growing up with me and my mom and “Dear Mama” hit home because nobody had talked about their mom like that before in a song. We all loved our moms even though they were sometimes flawed. And a lot of us were growing up in broken homes and he made it OK to say ‘I love my mama.’”

“Dear Mama” indeed brought families closer together and allowed men to express their feelings towards their mothers in a vulnerable way, but Tupac’s legacy also inspired a generation of his fans who named their children in honor of his legacy.

Peruvian-American, Ana del Rocio, 31, grew up in California during the height of Tupac’s career and named her son, Tupac Amaru, in honor of the the rapper’s career and his namesake: Incan general Tupac Amaru II, who led revolts against the Spanish.

“What he stood for — revolution, poetic lyricism, and building up mothers and women of color — inspired me so much that I named my first child Tupac Amaru,” she described from her home in Portland, Oregon where she works as a policy director. “I chose the name to honor both the artist and the indigenous Peruvian warrior-chiefs, my ancestors, that Tupac Shakur was named after.”

“I see so many powerful warrior legacies living and breathing in my son every day, and it gives me so much hope for our resistance as a people.”

Credit: http://celebsofcolor.tumblr.com/post/162942657842/kendrick-lamar-for-interview-magazine and http://caballooscuro.tumblr.com/post/74791927343

Del Rocio reminds us that while Tupac may have directly impacted her life in the 1990s, the legacy of his impact continues in the next generation of Latinos like her son, who will continue to carry his name and his message.

In the same vein, Tupac also inspired an entire generation of west coast rappers like, Compton native, Kendrick Lamar, whose autobiographical albums, “Good Kid M.A.A.D City,” and, “To Pimp A Butterfly,” have individual songs, which continue Tupac’s message about black-brown unity.

Latinos, today, are often drawn to Kendrick’s music for many of the same reasons: sincere, heady, and jarring depictions of the human experience. But, more importantly, Kendrick understands, like Tupac did over twenty-years ago, that Latinos are an important part of U.S. society that continue to grow in size and influence as each day passes. 

READ: Cardi B Reminds Us That Latinos Have A Complicated Relationship To The N-Word

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America Ferrera Celebrates 20th Anniversary Of Working On ‘Gotta Kick It Up’ With Sweet IG Post

Entertainment

America Ferrera Celebrates 20th Anniversary Of Working On ‘Gotta Kick It Up’ With Sweet IG Post

It has been 20 years since America Ferrera’s dream of becoming an actor back true. She took to Instagram to reflect on the moment that her dream started to come true and it is a sweet reminder that anyone can chase their dreams.

America Ferrera shared a sweet post reflecting on the 20th anniversary of working on “Gotta Kick It Up!”

“Gotta Kick It Up!” was one of the earliest examples of Latino representation so many of us remember. The movie follows a school dance team trying to be the very best they could possibly be. The team was down on their luck but a new teacher introduces them to a different kind of music to get them going again.

After being introduced to Latin beats, the dance team is renewed. It taps into a cultural moment for the Latinas on the team and the authenticity of the music makes their performances some of the best.

While the movie meant so much to Latino children seeing their culture represented for the first time, the work was a major moment for Ferrera. In the Instagram post, she gushes over the celebrities she saw on the lot she was working on. Of course, anyone would be excited to see Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt hanging out. Yet, what stands out the most is Ferrera’s own excitement to realize that she can make money doing what she loves most.

“I wish I could go back and tell this little baby America that the next 20 years of her life will be filled with unbelievable opportunity to express her talent and plenty of challenges that will allow her to grow into a person, actress, producer, director, activist that she is very proud and grateful to be. We did it baby girl. I’m proud of us,” Ferrera reflects.

Watch the trailer for “Gotta Kick It Up!” here.

READ: America Ferrera’s “Superstore” Is Going To Get A Spanish-Language Adaptation In A Win For Inclusion

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This Artist Has Been Breaking Barriers As A Non-Traditional Mariachi

Entertainment

This Artist Has Been Breaking Barriers As A Non-Traditional Mariachi

On a recent episode of ABC’s game show To Tell The Truth, three celebrity panelists were tasked to uncover the identity of a real mariachi singer.

Each contender embodied “non-traditional” attributes of mariachi culture either through physical appearance or language barriers, leaving the panelists stumped.

When it came time for the big reveal, with a humble smile 53-year-old Timoteo “El Charro Negro” stood up wowing everyone. Marveled by his talents, Timoteo was asked to perform unveiling his smooth baritone voice.

While not a household name in the U.S., his career spans over 25 years thriving on the catharsis of music.

Timoteo “El Charro Negro” performing “Chiquilla Linda” on Dante Night Show in 2017.

Originally from Dallas, Texas, Timoteo, born Timothy Pollard, moved to Long Beach, California with his family when he was eight years old. The move to California exposed Pollard to Latin culture, as the only Black family in a Mexican neighborhood.

As a child, he recalled watching Cantinflas because he reminded him of comedian Jerry Lewis, but musically he “got exposed to the legends by chance.”

“I was bombarded by all the 1960s, ’70s, and ’50s ranchera music,” Timoteo recalls to mitú.

The unequivocal passion mariachi artists like Javier Solis and Vicente Fernandez possessed heavily resonated with him.

“[The neighbors] always played nostalgic music, oldies but goodies, and that’s one thing I noticed about Mexicans,” Timoteo says. “They can be in their 20s but because they’ve grown up listening to the oldies it’s still very dear to them. That’s how they party.”

For as long as he can remember, Pollard “was born with the genetic disposition to love music,” knowing that his future would align with the arts.

After hearing Vicente Fernandez sing “Lástima Que Seas Ajena,” an awakening occurred in Pollard. While genres like hip-hop and rap were on the rise, Pollard’s passion for ranchera music grew. It was a moment when he realized that this genre best suited his big voice.

Enamored, Pollard began to pursue a career as a Spanish-language vocalist.

El Charro Negro
Photo courtesy of Timothy Pollard.

At 28, Timoteo began learning Spanish by listening and singing along to those artists he adored in his youth.

“When I decided that I wanted to be a mariachi, I didn’t think it was fair to exploit the culture and not understand the language,” he says. “If I’m going to sing, I need to be able to communicate with my audience and engage with them. I need to understand what I’m saying because it was about honor and respect.”

Pollard began performing local gigs after picking up the language in a matter of months. He soon attracted the attention of “Big Boy” Radio that adorned him the name Timoteo “El Charro Negro.”

Embellishing his sound to highlight his Black heritage, Pollard included African instruments like congas and bongos in his orchestra. Faintly putting his own spin on a niche genre, Pollard avoided over-saturating the genre’s sound early in his career.

Embraced by his community as a beloved mariachi, “El Charro Negro” still encountered race-related obstacles as a Black man in the genre.

“There are those [in the industry] who are not in the least bit thrilled to this day. They won’t answer my phone calls, my emails, my text messages I’ve sent,” he says. “The public at large hasn’t a problem with it, but a lot of the time it’s those at the helm of decision making who want to keep [the genre] exclusively Mexican.”

“El Charro Negro” persisted, slowly attracting fans worldwide while promoting a message of harmony through his music.

In 2007, 12 years into his career, Pollard received a golden ticket opportunity.

El Charro Negro
Pollard (left) seen with legendary Mexican artist Vicente Fernandez (right) in 2007. Photo courtesy of Timothy Pollard.

In a by-chance encounter with a stagehand working on Fernandez’s tour, Pollard was offered the chance to perform onstage. The singer was skeptical that the offer was legit. After all, what are the chances?

The next day Pollard went to his day job at the time and said, “a voice in my head, which I believe was God said, ‘wear your blue velvet traje tonight.'”

That evening Pollard went to a sold-out Stockton Area where he met his idol. As he walked on the stage, Pollard recalls Fernandez insisting that he use his personal mic and band to perform “De Que Manera Te Olvido.”

“[Fernandez] said he did not even want to join me,” he recollects about the show. “He just was kind and generous enough to let me sing that song on his stage with his audience.”

The crowd applauded thunderously, which for Pollard was a sign of good things to come.

El Charro Negro
Timoteo “El Charro Negro” with Don Francisco on Don Francisco Presenta in 2011. Photo courtesy of Timothy Pollard.

In 2010, he released his debut album “Me Regalo Contigo.” In perfect Spanish, Pollard sings with great conviction replicating the soft tones of old-school boleros.

Unraveling the rollercoaster of relationships, heart-wrenchingly beautiful ballads like “Me Regalo Contigo” and “Celos” are his most streamed songs. One hidden gem that has caught the listener’s attention is “El Medio Morir.”

As soon as the track begins it is unlike the others. Timoteo delivers a ’90s R&B love ballad in Spanish, singing with gumption as his riffs and belts encapsulate his unique sound and story.

Having appeared on shows like Sabado Gigante, Don Francisco Presenta, and Caso Cerrado in 2011, Timoteo’s career prospered.

Timoteo hasn’t released an album since 2010 but he keeps his passion alive. The singer has continued to perform, even during the Covid pandemic. He has high hopes for future success and original releases, choosing to not slow down from his destined musical journey.

“If God is with me, who can be against me? It may not happen in a quick period of time, but God will make my enemies my footstool,” he said.

“I’ve continued to be successful and do some of the things I want to do; maybe not in a particular way or in particular events, but I live in a very happy and fulfilled existence.”

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