Sunday, November 8, 2009

"Imagining" Salsa

Taylor’s intriguing, and well-written, blog has inspired me to elaborate on the theme of “imagined communities.” Taylor discusses Stalter’s article about the Third Avenue El Train. Because the train ran so close to apartment buildings, it seemed to bring the people of the city closer together. The train “reinforced urban community” and created an “imaginary connection” between people” (323).
Benedict Anderson coined the phrase, “imagined community,” when discussing the concept of a nation. He believed that a nation was ultimately a socially constructed community. While the people of a nation are extremely diverse and have no real interaction on a regular basis, they feel unified with one another and believe they are part of a collective.
When thinking about this more, I realized Anderson’s ideas relate very much to themes I am exploring for my thesis. My thesis deals with salsa during its heyday, from the late 1960s throughout the 1970s. Salsa music has ultimately fostered “imagined communities” among Latinos residing both within, and outside, the United States.
Many working-class Latinos in the US lived in New York City (particularly in “el barrio” or the Bronx) during the time period. While Puerto Rican immigrants (or “Newyoricans”) comprised a large portion of these Latinos, there were many other migrants in the city from other parts of the Caribbean. All Latinos, regardless of where they originated geographically, struggled with similar social issues. They could not receive high paying jobs, they lived amidst much violence and poverty in urban neighborhoods, and they often struggled with their identities.
While it is true that many Latinos dispersed throughout New York did have direct contact with one another when they went to salsa clubs and danced together, obviously not all Latinos could know, or communicate, with one another. However, simply listening to salsa records alone in their homes fostered an imagined sense of communion among themselves and other Latinos.
Some of the greatest salsa songs aroused social consciousness for all urban Latinos. Drawing upon inspiration from the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, salsa artists made Latinos aware of their marginalized social position and called for unification. Lyrics to particular songs described living conditions in the barrio and the struggles people faced on a daily basis.
Not only did salsa music appeal to Latinos in the US, but it was also enjoyed by Latinos living in other countries. Salsa became extremely popular throughout Latin America. For instance, Conjunto Libre’s song, “Imagenes latinos,” called for pan-Latino solidarity among working-class Latinos of all races. Some of the lyrics are: “Indians, Hispanics, and blacks, we’ve been mixed into a blend, with the blood of all races to create a new future;…We’re Latin American, from the center, north, and south, with a present of struggle and a future of light.” People of Latin heritage living all over ultimately saw salsa music as a link to their common roots. Therefore, the music forged a kind of imagined, transnational community. It was the essence of the Latino soul.

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