In the fall of 1994, I started working on the first ever Spanish-language opera to be commissioned by a major United States opera house – the Houston Grand Opera. The opera was Florencia en el Amazonas composed by Daniel Catán. I considered that my first contact with Latino culture. Looking back, I realize how wrong I was!
Spanish culture has been an influencer in American cultural development since before Plymouth Rock. Forty-two years before Plymouth was settled, St. Augustine had been settled in what is now Florida. Our first currency was comprised of “pieces of eight” – a Spanish financial measure, and our stock market was reported in increments of eighths until late in the 20th century. I had no idea, in 1994, that words like tornado, mosquito, lasso, breeze, mustang, cargo and even chocolate were brought to us from the Spanish language. In 1984, on a Friday night as a college junior, we were watching music videos and Dr. Beat started playing. The rhythm caught my attention. For me, this style of music was new – this rhythm that built up and then released on its listener. Yes, even the release stroked the listener with a driving beat that kept one continually engaged. It was my first experience with the Miami Sound Machine – it was great pop rock. I did not learn until the mid-1990s that the music I enjoyed that night was based on a Latin rhythm, inspired by traditional African beats developed in the Caribbean. After all, Google didn’t exist until 1998!
This month is Hispanic Heritage month – and Fayetteville celebrates the value of all cultures with the International Folk Festival. I can’t imagine ever living through high school without having a romantic rendezvous and the angst of the tsumani of emotions as I sat on my patio, not entirely gung ho in my moccasins, wondering if I arrived on my moped, in jeans, if we might actually dance slowly by the piano to At Last. In 1994, I had no idea that one high school dance involved ten different cultural influences – those nine words and a song from ten distinct cultures. We, as Americans, share so much of other cultures in our everyday life. That is the power of art and culture, it builds bridges between individuals, as well as countries.
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