The songs you grew up listening to at weddings, quincerneras, backyard boogies and cruising with your family and homies.

“Don’t Let No One One Get You Down” By War.

Okay so you never heard of Warwell you better get familiar quick. If you are not originally from California’s Central Valley and if you don’t have a squad of old school Chicano homies, then this music is probably not in your inner circle. Perhaps you’ve heard of War’s popular songs “Cisco Kid” and “Slippin into Darkness” that are in constant repeat on mega 97.9.

The band originated out of Long Beach, California in the 1960s. Known as a multi-ethnic group consisting of black, white, and Chicanounprecedented for that time, and still is today.

Their songs lament and meditate on the mundane experiences of the working class. “Cisco Kid” is considered an anthem while other songs like “Don’t Let No One Get You Down” speak to its audience directly giving advice to the harsh realities of what to expect from the world. When you hear “War” think of brown pride, junior high, cruising, and frosty Coronas. Your prima Faith’s red lips, silver hoops, and your Tia Olga’s there’s a thin line between love and hate tattoo. Remember your family’s first apartment on Rinaldi and Houston next to Double D mini-mart where your dad picked up tall cans after work.


“Sabor a Mi” by El Chicano

“Sabor a Mi” is about an internal lovea love that will transcend over time even if the lovers part ways. “A Taste of Me” means the flavor of me, the blood of me, the trace of me, and the imprint of me. The song conveys the different ways lovers will be eternally connected. You are reminded of the John Donne poem “The Flea” and think about blood and juices mingling together. You remember how Luis tasted the first and last time you had sex. You wonder if you’ll always carry an imprint of him, your best friend and lover who allowed another man to call you a bitch.

When you were young this song played at every Mexican wedding you attended. And when you listen, you are reminded of your tios and tias swaying hip to hip in a tight embrace.


“Suavecito” by Malo

Known as the Chicano national anthem, “Suavecito” was released in 1972 when Chicanos were struggling for basic rights and recognition in the U.S. The song became a symbol of unity. “Suavecito” means “soft” or “smooth” in Spanish. (Inspired by band member Richard Bean’s poem on a high school crush.) Eduardo Arenas, a famous bassist in Los Angeles says Suavecito is “like a universal thing, you don’t grow up wanting to listen to it — you’re already listening to it.”


“You’ll Lose a Good Thing” by Barbara Lynn

Barbara Lynn made waves in 1962 with this hit. Not only could Lynn wail, she could play the piano and guitar an unprecedented feat for an African American female singer during the 1960s. A song that speaks to the older generation of Chicanas living in the 1960s and 70s. When you lived with your Nina Terry in your last semester as an undergrad she’d karaoke Lynn on her patio staring into the night sky. You’d watch through the patio window she’d close her eyes and belt the lyrics to her dogs Chookie and Corazon. You’d watch as she swayed her head and pointed her fingers and imagined that she was singing to her ex-husband Ernie.


“Your Old Standby” by Mary Wells

Known as the first lady of Motown. The song is about a woman in love with a man who only comes around when his old lady breaks up with him. In Chicano culture we refer to our significant others as my old lady or my old man mi vieja or viejo. Ms. Wells speaks to the reality of love. She conveys how love often makes a person desperate.


“Please, Please, Please” by James Brown

You like the yearning and vulnerability in his voice as he repeats please over and over again. The way James Brown sings captures what it’s like to be vulnerable at your core. There is something to be said about Chicano male pride in this song. You imagine this song speaks your father Tommy’s pride, when your mother filed for divorce, and left him. When you and your father get together you pump a dollar into the jukebox at pool hall called Froggies and hit play next. You watch his lips move and hear him sing softly. You imagine he is thinking of your mom and begging her to forgive him but you know that is a dream, he is to machismo to ever say I’m sorry.


“Por Tu Maldito Amor” by Vicente Fernandez

Before you play this track grab a cold Modelo. This is not a recommendation but a command. You cannot listen to Vicente Fernandez without a beer. Make sure the volume is at maximum. Break out the subwoofers and turn that shit up. You need to feel his voice, you need to feel the sorrow. Vicente’s lyrics are deeper than a Shakespearian sonnet. He speaks not only of love, loss, and tragedy but also to the oppression and displacement of your people.


“Tristes Recuerdos” by Ramon Ayala

I hope you still have that beer, if not, grab another cold one. Ramon Ayala is another Mexican staple. “Tristes Recuerdos” is played at every family event, birthdays, weddings, funerals, and quincerneras. You grew up listening to Vicente and Ramon Ayala in your grandma’s kitchen. This song is about a man who is lamenting on a past love a love that is lost to him. You think of your ex-boyfriend Carlos when you hear this song, when he said sharply with glossy eyes only pochos listen to Ramon Ayala. Sadly, you don’t think of your grandma’s kitchen, you don’t think of your grandma dancing in her red apron to Ayala. No you think of Carlos and how he reminded you that your family would never be Mexican enough.


“Por Un Amor” For a Love by Linda Ronstadt

Linda Ronstadt came out with an album called Canciones de Mi Padre (songs of my father) in 1987.  You identify with Ronstadt because she is Chicana and like you she doesn’t look Mexican. When she sings “Por Un Amor” you can hear the pain in her voice. You can hear the torment of her beloved. You wonder why the women suffer so much because of love in Mexican songs. You wonder if you’ll always suffer because Mexican men will always be machismo. You are not the suffering dutiful forgiving woman.

You want to refuse to be her. Dump Carlos for calling you a bitch, for calling you fat in front of his friends. For never saying thank you when you cooked him dinner and cleaned his house. You don’t have to be your grandma and marry a borracho.


“Si Una Vez” If Once by Selena

Is about a woman who regrets giving her love so freely to a man who does not appreciate it. What you love about this song is the fury in which Selena sings it. There is a lot of repetition of “Yo” that creates tension and emphasizes her rage and passion to this man. You love her tone in this song and how she approaches the lyrics, there is sharpness like snakebite after each lyric.

Your grandma introduced you to Selena in the early 90s. She’d record Selena’s performances on VHS tapes and you’d watch them together. You watched your grandma cry for the first time in 1995 when Selena died at age twenty-three from a gunshot fired by her best friend. She captured the hearts of Mexicanos in Mexico, which no Chicana had ever done before. Selena was born in Texas, the same state where your great-grandpa Filiberto met your great-grandma Emma. Like you, Selena’s first language wasn’t Spanish but she learned Spanish at a later time. Your grandma Carmen always said to you mija you have to learn Spanish but you never did.


“Living For The Love of You” by Isely Brothers

Remember the time you offered to take your cousins who look more Mexican than you to Orange County. You made plans to visit two colleges, Chapman and Costa Mesa University. They complained on highway 101 when you changed the radio station from classic rock to your mixed CD. You borrowed the old school jam CD from your father. He’d downloaded the music and placed the songs in a specific order. You skipped to the last track, your father liked to end his night cruising with this song. The coastal air felt fresh and salty and full of possibility.

You noticed yourself being pulled towards something more, you felt excited but sad, to drive forward willingly, you felt compelled to remember your neighborhood and dad, who introduced you to old school songs. When the song started, your whitewashed cousins complained, you ignored them and turned the volume louder, you turned the volume to the max till you didn’t hear their voices anymore.

Here is a link to Ramon Ayala’s “Tristes Recuerdos,” which was not available on Spotify.

About the Author:

Hi my name is Jackie Huertaz. I have my MFA in creative non-fiction from California State University Fresno. I’m a member of the Chicano Writer’s and Artists Association and was an assistant associate editor for the Normal School Magazine and San Joaquin Review. I teach at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, California. I write about family, the working class, and Mexican American identity.