The Importance of my Spanish Playlist at my PWI

As I walk down the gorgeous, unmistakably autumnal Middle Path that is now an essential part of my daily routine, earbuds in, I am met with faces mostly dissimilar to mine. 

This sensation, at first a source of culture shock and discomfort, has become commonplace enough for my getting used to — it’s not always my favorite thing to have this constant physical reminder that I’m “different” from so many of my peers, but it’s become a new normal. 

As a Latina — a low-income, curly-haired, Hispanic Hermione Granger — who loves her school but also loves her culture, there are different ways I’m attempting to make peace with this. 

One of the ways I’m most grateful for is my Spanish class, SPAN 321, where among other things, we get to analyze Spanish poetry, something I used to watch my father do growing up and a habit I inherited from him. 

I never took a Spanish class in high school because everything I’d have learned would have been review. Even though our Latinx population was relatively sizable (about 20 percent of our demographics), there were no upper-level classes or enough heritage speakers like me to warrant a class for us at my school (at least, not in the years that I was there). 

But upon my arrival at Kenyon and enrollment in my first advanced Spanish class ever, I was thrilled to get to interact with the language of my family, my home, and half my brain in a formal, academic context. 

And it just so happened that one day, our task was to analyze “Eva” by Silvio Rodriguez, an artist with whom I’d become acquainted in the car, via CDs from the 1980s, my father’s sing-alongs, and our enthusiastic discussions of the meaning behind the letra, Genius-style, lyric by lyric. 

Even though I’d never heard this particular song before, nostalgia drove me down a rabbit hole of all the old classics, from Rodriguez’s number-one-most-listened-to-on-Spotify “Ojalá” to his more obscure “Te Conozco,” all the way to the playlist I’d made for an ex-boyfriend years and years ago in an attempt to familiarize him with the music of his culture and mine.

I’d grown up on ‘70s and ‘80s Spanish music, the Latin American hits of yesteryear, and covers of boleros and banda, much more familiar with those than with the “new stuff” my cousins back home danced to at their parties, or that my Latinx friends had on their playlists. 

This was my parents’ music, what they grew up on. More than anything on the radio, this was what dominated our car stereo, what my brother and I learned by osmosis before we even thought to dissect it. Eventually, though, we adopted this music for ourselves, learned all the words, and readily sang along.

It’s kind of like a little cultural time capsule. Now that I walk everywhere instead of being driven every which way by my father, those 20 minutes four or six times a day in the car blasting Sin Bandera are gone. It had been a hot minute since I’d really listened to the music — my personal playlist consisted more of Lizzo and the weird alternative folk music my friends made me playlists out of.

But in that Silvio Rodriguez day in Spanish class, something in my brain clicked. I spent the rest of the afternoon (when I should have been doing homework) frantically searching all the titles I remembered, typing in album titles to my Spotify search and carefully curating only the songs I could remember all the lyrics to just by looking at the title, attempting to connect the catchy choruses in the obscure parts of my head with the melodies que les correspondían, that matched them.

The playlist ended up being 63 songs, a number I proudly displayed via text message to my dad, despite my knowledge that the list was nowhere near comprehensive. Sure enough, he responded, “¿Y dónde está esa otra canción?”  

My family is one of the most important things in the world to me, if not the most important. Even though I’m 650 miles away from them, my walks are now filled with the music we share. Every time I rediscover an old favorite or find myself humming No se tú or Te vi venir on the way to Peirce or Ascension, that distance becomes just a little smaller.


Image credits: Ella Mushere, Valeria Garcia-Pozo