Editor’s note: Originally published at Juanny-Depp.com. The author has given us permission to republish his piece on Latino Rebels.
On June 28th, I found myself on a flight from San Francisco to New York, knowing my life would never be the same. For months, I’d planned this move. Yet, somehow, thousands of feet in the air, questions lingered.
Where am I going to live? What am I going to do out there? What is Poland Springs?
The fact is, I ran away from my family, my friends, my job and my girlfriend, in order to embark on a pilgrimage to the mecca of a culture I felt estranged from my entire life.
My parents are Central American immigrants, who made a life for themselves in Northern California, where I spent my entire life. My parents were part of a wave of Latino immigrants to the West Coast, whose tastes in music are heavily influenced by the salsa explosion of 1970s New York.
In California, the beautiful mixture of sounds, names, and cuisine known as Chicano culture permeates all facets of daily life. Think, Carlos Santana and Selena, Mexican restaurants and city names like Palos Verdes and Los Baños. The 31 Mexican states and 120 million Mexican people, their collective weight can be felt from San Diego to Redding. California is stolen Mexican land and will always be implicitly Mexican.
Growing up, I felt neither here nor there, torn between cultures and languages, countries even. I was born in Palo Alto to a Honduran mother and Salvadorian father. My first language was Spanish, a secret I kept from myself until I saw the home videos from my second birthday party.
We bounced around the Peninsula for years until we chased the American dream all the way to suburban Sacramento.
As I grew older, my parents stressed the importance of English. My mother, with the thick accent she’ll never shake, she knew how this world looks at you when you speak differently, when the words refuse to roll off your tongue the way they do for the news anchors and CEOs. So, I spoke English.
When I was five years old, I told people I was 80% American 10% Honduran and 10% Salvadorian.
I told people to call me “George” instead of “Jorge” after my name had been butchered by teachers and classmates for years. I listened to rap music and rolled my eyes when my parents played their favorite songs.
I squinted my eyes when I saw my parents watching novelas, that part of Latinx identity they never talk about in college courses. Reggaetón had its run of global prominence and I listened closely but silently, with no one to share it with.
Even still, America taught me an important lesson at an early age. Even with my love of U.S. history and American pop culture, to the outside world I was Latino, a Mexican.
I ended up friends with the cholas and cholos. I hung out with the Mexicans in red, taking on their beef with the other side blindly, innocently. I enrolled in Spanish for Native Speakers classes. I argued with an emo kid in front of the school library for telling me to go back to Mexico.
Soon, I found myself in Santa Barbara, at my dream school. That’s when things got weird. Those icebreaker events and dorm room encounters still make me cringe. At 17, I was on my own, lost in a college town that often felt more caught up with the endless summer than forging and fostering culture. Boat shoes and board shorts. All this as I’m taking Latin American studies courses, opening my eyes to a wealth of knowledge I had been searching for my entire life.
Los Inca, los Maya, los Aztec, los Olmec. Tupac Amaru and Simon Bolivar, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. The Brown Berets and the Young Lords.
Tired of alienating myself, I transferred back up north, to San Francisco, my favorite city in the world. I was back home, or creating one at least. I started a writing career then a DJing career. I lost a girlfriend then found myself with a new girl, wanted to lose her too, wanted her back, thought I was going to have a baby with her and then decided to run away. I ended my days with copious amounts of alcohol. There was still something missing, a void to be filled.
I looked for culture. My culture, whatever that meant. I read about the Fania All Stars, that collection of talent in the Sixties and Seventies that comes around once every couple of generations. Hector Lavoe, Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, Willie Colon, Ruben Blades. The Mt. Rushmore of Salsa. They had all convened in Nueva York.
I remembered watching “Miracle’s Boys” and “Kids.” I felt more there than here. I checked my Instagram and looked at my music library. Mixes from Venus X and Virgil Abloh, songs from LSDXOXO and Ynfnt Scroll.
For me, New York became the Mecca. The pilgrimage I had to make.
New York is my Holy Land.
So, I packed my bags and left.