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Mi Querida Tierra, Mi Querida Música: My Beloved Land, My Beloved Music

September 13, 2013

By Magaly Cordero

Magaly Cordero and family

Soprano Magaly Cordero (left) with her family – three generations of Ramirez/Cordero ladies.

I was practicing for the upcoming VOX 3 Collective concert of Latin American song, Pueblito, Mi Pueblo, when my mother ran to me. With tears and awe in her eyes, she exclaimed, “I can’t believe you are singing ‘Siboney!'”

I was surprised by her reaction. Why is my mother, a native of the Dominican Republic, so touched by this Cuban standard? Has Ernesto Lecuona‘s music been adopted by all Latino-Caribbeans? What made my mother’s reaction so remarkable was that I did not share it initially. Sure, “Siboney” is a beautiful song. Certainly, I have fallen in love with all of Lecuona’s music that I have sung. However, with the exception of “Siempre en mi Corazon,” I did not grow up listening or knowing his music. His music does not incite a visceral reaction of home for me. However, upon listening to Lecuona’s songs, I did have a strong sense that it is somehow familiar, a part of me. I connected to it quickly as I yearned for a deeper understanding of my heritage.

I was born to a Cuban father and a Dominican mother in Miami, or La Pequeña Habana. Spanish was my first language. I grew up stumbling to the rhythms of salsa, merengue, bachata, and son. I am in constant search of the perfect ropa vieja, arroz con pollo, or congri. Whenever I hear someone with a Cuban accent in Chicago (where most Latinos are of Mexican descent), I instantly want to engage them in conversation. Today, one of my greatest passions and aspirations is to raise my daughter bilingually, so I speak to her exclusively in Spanish.
My Latino heritage is a major part of how I grew up and who I am. However, as someone who has only lived in American soil (including Puerto Rico for three years), I often feel that my connection to my roots is vague or incomplete at times. I want to know more, and I want it to be an integral part of my everyday life.

Lecuona's AndaluciaThis is where the music comes in. When I sing the music of my fellow Latinos, I feel a kinship to their melodies, rhythms, and lyrics. Sure, I don’t have to fiddle too much with word-for-word translations or diction when I sing in Spanish, so that helps. But there is something else happening, too. Singing the music of Latino composers gives me a glimpse into what they saw, what they experienced, and what they loved. Moreover, I have the sense that this is my music. I am not just relaying a story when I sing these songs. I am telling my story.

Lecuona’s “Andalucia” vividly describes a beautiful land and a deep yearning for its “suelo encantado” or “enchanted soil.” Similarly, “Siboney,” which refers to a Cuban village or even the entire country in general, expresses feelings of loss after leaving a beloved land. My mother has not stepped foot in her homeland for over 36 years, so I grew up seeing this special form of mourning. Though it is hard to define exactly, I also share a sense of loss. Like these two pieces, I have the same desire to visit and breathe the air of my father’s homeland. Unfortunately, due to current political situations, I may never be able to do so. Its music will have to do for now.

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