Emilio Guzmán

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Emilio Guzman, a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, begins by briefly explaining how he ended up there and his areas of academic interest. He describes his family’s transition from Guerrero, Mexico to Winston Salem, North Carolina, as his parents migrated a few years before he and his little sister also moved to the United States. Guzman discusses the importance of keeping his Mexican heritage alive, incorporating this culture into his experience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and beyond. Through campus organizations such as The Carolina Hispanic Association (CHispA) and Qué Rico, the Latin Dance Team, he has befriended other Latino students, who identify with nationalities and ethnicities spanning the Western hemisphere. Guzman reflects that music has been a very large part of keeping him connected to his homeland, or patria, through the lyrics that speak of “real life” and that it is sung in his native language, Spanish.



Kimiko Nicole LeNeave: It’s Wednesday, April 9th. I’m Nicole LeNeave and I will be interviewing Emilio Guzman on the University of North Carolina’s campus. Okay so, first question [laughter]. So if you could talk about how you ended up at UNC, what you are studying, and that kind of thing?
Emilio Guzman: Okay. So I’m from—I live in Winston Salem, North Carolina, and, I transferred to UNC from Guilford College as a sophomore. So yeah— high school; Guilford; sophomore year here at UNC. What else?
KNL: And like, what are you studying here now?
EG: Oh okay. I’m majoring in Chemistry and minoring in French. So, and I’m premed so I’m hoping to get into med school next year.
KNL: Cool! And then I know that you are originally from Mexico, so how did your family and you end up in the states?
EG: Okay, so my dad left Mexico—we’re from Guerrero, the state of Guerrero, a small, little town called El Tamale. My mom is from another town called (01:45) but so we lived there. My dad moved to the USA, or I guess “immigrated”, in ’95 and my mom in ’96. My sister and I came to the US in 2000… So, yeah [laughter].
KNL: How old is your sister?
EG: Um… my sister, currently she is nineteen.
KNL: Then did y’all just go straight to Winston Salem when you came to the states?
EG: Yeah. My dad came to Winston Salem pretty much straight form Mexico because my mom’s brothers were here. Since we had family here, then it was much easier to settle in Winston than somewhere else.
KNL: That makes sense.
EG: —and then my mom followed the next year.
KNL: Yeah. So I guess as far as your experiences at UNC, once you’ve been here, have you found ways that you have connected with the Mexican culture that you left at home?
EG: At UNC, well I guess it’s not so much like “Mexican” culture but more the “Latin” culture. But I do have Mexican friends here. And through CHispA, I was able to find people and make friends; because when I transferred I didn’t know anyone. Like I was here all by myself. No one from my high school came here. So CHispA was one of the venues through which I made, you know, Hispanic friends, and in classes as well, you know. There aren’t many people in science classes who are, you know, Latino, so I try to find those people and make new friends. I guess, well it’s kind of funny, because a lot of my friends are not—the ones that I hang around now are not Mexican, they are all from Miami. [laughter]
KNL: Like Valentina! [laughter]
EG: Yeah like Valentina… eh…. and quite a few of them are Cuban. And, yeah, Cuban. I have Nicaraguan friends. I have a Mexican friend who I met; we roomed for a semester, before he graduated. But yeah, so far that’s how it’s going.
KNL: Okay the focus of the project that I am working is about music and dance and that kind of thing, so have you found that there’s been ways you have connected, I guess, even with “Latin culture,” as an over arching concept, through those two things
EG: Well, like I said, through CHispA you know, most of the people who are members of CHispA are Latin—are Latino. So, I believe that a lot of the Latino students at UNC are of Mexican descent. So through their events, especially during festivals and events that involve music and culture and everything, they play a lot of music in Spanish. And, that’s something that I enjoy because I listen to music in Spanish all the time. Yeah, all the time: when I go to class, or when I get up and I feel like listening to music I’ll turn on my computer and play some music in Spanish. And I’m also part of Que Rico, the Latin dance team here at UNC, and that’s just been amazing because I like to dance. I’m not the—like I don’t dance that much, but I like it; I like the atmosphere. I like learning new dance, especially the tropical music from the Caribbean; like salsa, bachata, and merengue. Especially now, here in the US that’s more, I guess, custom to listen to and dance to than say folk music or Mexican rancheras, or I don’t know—but I guess since it’s more danceable, more rhythmic. I think that’s why I like it. But yeah. I find Que Rico to be, and listening to music in Spanish almost everyday, to be something that I cherish and that I—its part of my culture and I don’t think I could imagine going, you know, a week without listening to music in Spanish. It’s also a way that I stay in touch with the language, I’m listening to it everyday so I don’t lose practice. Because here most of the time I speak English, so listening to music is a good way to practice my Spanish as well.
KNL: Yeah. I would definitely agree with that; that’s like one of the biggest ways, for me, of learning Spanish as a second language—just listening to it every day. Was is like that when you were kid too? And you were still in—
[Interruption from passerby]
KNL: When you were back home did you listen to music that much, as if you needed it or is something more since you’ve been NC.
EG: Back home as in?
KNL: Back in Mexico, when you were there?
EG: Okay, so I moved— I came to US when I was nine, so I had most of my childhood there. So, I mean, yeah I listened to music there all the time in Spanish. It was mainly Mexican music. I didn’t know about bachata or reggaeton or salsa. Maybe a little bit of merengue, but it was mainly Mexican music so, you know, Mexican pop or rancheras or banda, what else, cumbia. Cumbia is a big one, especially in the state where I’m from. A lot of people like cumbia, so they play it at parties and everything. So yeah, I think, once I moved to the US that was the music, or the music was a way to stay, you know, connected to Mexico, to back home, because there are certain songs or certain types of music that when I listen to them it reminds me of home. There’s certain songs that remind me specifically to one day that like when I was in the US, like recently after arriving, and but yeah songs that remind me of home as well. It’s pretty amazing how that works. I don’t know how but…
KNL: No it’s true. It’s really cool.
EG: You’re just able to connect music and events in your life.
KNL: Do you know certain songs that relate to certain life events that you can remember?
EG: [Pause] Let me see, well, for when I listen to Los Tigres del Norte, they sing a lot about immigrants and you know being in Mexico and coming to the US. And so many of the songs that are from them, I’m able to, like, relate back to Mexico. Maybe they’re talking about someone, or singing about someone who is in Mexico and they are about to come to the US and cross the border, it reminds me of, like, I was there, I was in that situation, and just like it says in the song “now I’m here”. And, they sing about how life in the US is for some immigrants, so that also some of the things that remind me of my own, I guess, journey. There’s one particular song that reminds me of a day recently after I got to the US in Winston Salem that’s by Maná.
KNL: Oh, I like them! [laughter]
EG: I think it's either the song "De Pies a Cabesa" or "Arde el Cieo." I always get those two mixed up, but when I listen to it, I know which one reminds me of that particular moment. And that's when it was pretty much winter, or for me, cause it was so old. I arrived in September, so it was like ridiculously cold for me. Even though, now, September is, you know, an okay time of year, but I was in—so my dad had signed us up for school, my sister and I, and we were in the car and I believe it was either – I think it had snowed so it wasn't in September but later on. Nevertheless, it was cold, so when I listen to it, I like to listen to that song in the winter, because you know, of the cold and everything. But we were in the car, and I remember watching, observing everything around me in the car. So for me, I relate that song to that specific moment because we were listening to that song. S. Yeah.
KNL: So you know how you mentioned your dad being there and stuff, so then is music a big part of your family, like, different family events and holidays and that kind of thing?
EG: Um, not so much, but—because my family is not a big party family. You know, we'll have parties and for everyone to come but it's more like we like to celebrate but it's more, just, low key, just us, the family. Now it’s usually just our immediate family, if it's someone's birthday we will go out to eat or something. But yeah, when I was younger, I remember having birthday parties and we'd invite our family our friends and they would come and we would play music. All the music was in Spanish; cumbia, merengue, bachata, and all that. So yeah. When it was like a big get together, music was a big part it. I mean there has to be music at a party; otherwise it's not a party, you know? Pretty much everyone is from Mexico, so what we play is what people like so. Yeah, and even now, I think if we were to have a, sort of like a party, so like I’m graduating so I know that my dad would love to have a party at home, but I think we would only play music in Spanish. You know, Latin music. So yeah. Music is a big part of my life and my culture.
KNL: And then I guess, so kind of backing up a little bit, you were talking about how with coming to UNC or being in the states or even involvement with Que Rico and stuff how you were exposed to music from other countries more. What kind of, hm, I don't know—I guess for me it's always exciting to discover some sort of new music so is that experience like that, in learning new dance styles or that sort of thing.
EG: Sorry, so do you mean like just music in English or music from any other place?
KNL: I guess both. I didn't really think about it that way.
EG: Well, I’m have been living so long here. I mean you learn to listen to all of the music that comes out of the us so growing up, elementary, middle school, high school, or even now I listen to a wide range of music: hip-hop, R&B, rap, a little bit of country music, not so much though but I like certain songs. And yeah, I don't know, I like it. I like music in general. I play it when I study and everything. So, I don't know. Since I like listening to a lot of different kinds of music I also listen to music from other countries. So like, now that I’m learning and have been taking French, I listen to French music as well. I don’t really know what else for this question—
KNL: I guess, so okay, we can narrow it down. So you were saying even when you first moved - I know you were still a kid, I mean you were only nine and that's still young – but most of what you were listening to was specifically from Mexico. Like Los Tigres del Norte is very specifically from Mexico, um, but then salsa or bachata, even a lot of bachata artists, I feel like are from the States, or most of the really popular one here that I know of are from New York, and Miami, and stuff. [Pauses] Oh gosh, sorry I totally lost my train of thought. So, I guess with that, with your involvement with Que Rico, if we're going make it really specific, how has that kind of shaped your musical side or even the way that you see yourself as being Latino in the states. Cause there is a lot of differences between someone that is from—that's Mexican or someone who's Dominican or Argentinian, and those are all very different places, but yet here sometimes there still that like broad category. So do you think that impacted you in a way that you identify yourself?
EG: Well I definitely, first and foremost, identify myself as Mexican. Because I have a strong, I guess, root or strong foundation because I was raised there, in Mexico, you know, for nine years. So, I don't know, I’ve always tried to keep my culture as part of my identity. But it's not, as I’ve learned about new music, different places, maybe salsa, merengue, a lot of tropical music, I guess I started—or I became more, I guess, more rounded—a more well rounded person; more diverse. Especially coming here where there are Latino students who come from different places, so there aren't only Mexican friends that I have so, I guess, being in Que Rico, has helped me appreciate more the music. Because like, learning how to dance makes you appreciate the music more because if you can't dance to it you get frustrated and you're just like "ugh I hate this music". But definitely being part of Que Rico has helped me become a better dancer and made me like music more so like, I listen more to salsa and bachata and merengue as well as well as Mexican music. But, I guess here especially, at UNC, not a lot of people listen to, or at least I don't know, normally they do not listen to music from there. It’s more like what's popular you know. So all like the Caribbean, tropical, music is what's there now. I guess that's what I listen to, but in my own time, I listen to some Mexican music, because well I’m from Mexico so I like the music, you know, but not everyone likes the music--like corridos, But I like corridos. They talk about life, where as like a lot of, well a lot of the Latin music talks about life and that's why I like it instead of you know hip hop that talks about... I don't know... I don't know! [laughter] random things, nothing that has a lot of meaning, and that's why I think that music in Spanish has a lot more meaning than music in English because of those topics that they sing of... yeah...
KNL: Do you think, then, that music in Latin America or in Mexico or in the Caribbean or anything, does it have a different meaning culturally than in the United States, for instance? For most people from there do you think it means something different or have a different role? Does that make sense?
EG: Yeah. I think it varies on the person. It depends on what you are interested in, what you are looking for in the music. When I listen to the music I don't only listen to the beat or the rhythm or everything. A lot of people are like oh, I like how that sounds even if the lyrics, um, they don't pay attention to the lyrics. Usually the lyrics flow with the music, but I pay attention to the lyrics, so. That’s what adds meaning to the music.
KNL: Oh, definitely.
EG: But, yeah like I said, it depends on the person, cause not everyone looks at it in the same way. Some people are like oh you know I listen to it because it's danceable or it sounds nice, but yeah...
KNL: You were talking about how, I guess, keeping that cultural identity is important. So having that mixed identity. Why do you think, or do you think, that people still keep the identity of their heritage, or where their family is from?
EG: Yeah, I think it's important because then they can relate to the people who live, you know, in those countries. So I guess for me, I relate to the people in Mexico even though I’m not living there anymore. Um [pause] there's a bee [laughter]. Okay sorry what was the question again?
KNL: Okay, yeah sorry, there's a bee and I’m just very distracted by the bee [laughter]. If keeping a cultural identity outside of just having or taking on an American identity in moving to the states, but having an identity in where ever you came from, even if you're first or second or third generation American. Is it important to have the heritage of your family?
EG: Yeah. So. Yeah. Like I was saying—like I said it helps you stay connected and lets you know where you come from. If, you know that your parents came from Mexico or you came from Mexico, then listening to the music helps to reinforce that. Helps you to say “oh yeah this is my culture”, and I don't like everything about my culture but it's, well, overall I like it so I listen to the music it's—I don't know. Like I said it brings back memories and emotions as well. So yeah, lots of emotions. I don't know. I mean it's important. I don't know—it helps you like feel, I guess, more complete, you know, because you may look a certain way then and if you act different way than where you come from, I think that there is an imbalance. It helps keep things, you know, in check. Not only the music, but the food and everything that is involved with the culture. The food keeps you, you know, like I like being Mexican because I like eating certain kinds of food you know. I think if weren't for food and for music I would be like “ugh my life sucks”.
KNL: So then I guess, do you also like using music or food or dance or those "cultural things," do you think that that is a good way to share that with other people? or, being in the States now, do you think that it should be shared to people that may not necessarily claim that as their background?
EG: Yeah. I know I share my culture, my music, my food. I think it's important because, I mean, especially here in the US where there's so many people from so many different places, you kind of like have to learn about other people. You can't just like mingle with them and not know about their culture, you know, and what they like or what their cultural likes are, or what they like to do. So yeah. I definitely am for sharing my culture. I play it in my apartment. My roommates are white, so they listen to it, and one of my roommates especially. We've been rooming for two years now and I’ll hear him playing music, Latin music, in his room.
KNL: So you've converted him! [laughter]
EG: yeah... [laughter] so, you know, it's interesting. Just as I learned to like American music and French music, I think its good for everyone to, you know, take some time to listen to the music—the music from other places and to appreciate it.
KNL: Yeah.
EG: Because music—it’s really nice; it’s really cool. You know? And yeah…
KNL: Is there any, like, last things or is there a question that I asked that you want to clarify or anything else you would like to add about music in your life, or coming to UNC or coming to the states or anything?
EG: Do you have any last questions?
KNL: I’m trying to think [laughter] because it's like I know you, so a lot of questions that I have I could have talked to you about things in the past so I feel like I’m repeating myself with questions. Okay, so I guess, projecting more towards the future, so like wanting to go into medicine, or something, or because that's what you're thinking of doing right?
EG: Yeah.
KNL: And being in more of a corporate setting instead of, well a university is kind of a strange thing because we are kind of in this little bubble. It seems like everyone wants to know about everyone, and learn about new cultures, and learn new music, and food, and try all these new things. But do you think that it would be different for you once you graduate and, I mean you'll still be in school—in med school—but do you think that will change the way that your interacting with music. For instance, with Que Rico—that's part of UNC. CHispA is the same way.
EG: Will, I know that for me it's not going to change, much. I’ll still listen to the music. I’m not going to ever shy away from it because I’m in medical school or whatever. It’s just something besides a university. But maybe, I guess, maybe sharing that music might be a little bit harder. Just because on a day-to-day basis because as people are in medical school, they're like constantly, you know, studying and making sure you're learning everything you should, so it might be hard. But I think that once you make friends and you start sharing and you start getting them to like what you like and they also do the same for you; it contributes to their likes and everything. I don't know. I don't think it would be too different from how it is now, but it may be a bit harder because it—won't trying to take a certain path, you know? But either way, I think that you get together with people and you play music and you teach them because people are curious and they're like "Can you dance to this? Can you show me how?"
KNL: Yeah—like me! [laughter]
EG: [laughter] Since I know how to dance and I can teach others—yeah like you, teach you how to dance—because it's fun! and I was in that situation when I was first learning. Bachata and merengue were fairly easy, or easier than salsa, so that when I joined Que Rico I knew the basics of stuff. But getting more complicated was rough. [laughter]. Learning new steps and tricks and everything was a bit of a process. The way that I dance now is not how I danced a year ago, because I’ve only danced salsa for about a year and a half. So I've definitely gotten better, but through practice and through Que Rico, otherwise I wouldn't be dancing outside much if it weren't for Que. And it’s finding groups that can help you, you know, I guess, get better "culturally" at something – like the music and dancing and everything that influences a lot of how you, I guess, process that and like the music and everything else.
KNL: Thank you!