Ask a Mexican on Hispanic vs. Latino/a and "Crystal Blue Persuasion"

Is it just me, or has what to call our friends from south of the border become a partisan issue? While taking in both political conventions over the past couple of weeks, I've noticed that Republicans invariably use the word "Hispanics" while Democrats are far more likely to say "Latino/a." What gives? Is there some nefarious semantic plot afoot, such as when right-wing commentators dropped the "ic" from "Democratic?" Or is there a more innocent explanation? How do Hispanics and/or Latinos refer to themselves?
Ensuring My Future in Brown America

Man, I can write a whole book on your pregunta — and I did! It's called Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America — so let me be brief. While you over-generalized a bit — Latinos from the East Coast tend to call themselves "Hispanics" regardless of political affiliation, while Republican Latinos usually call themselves vendidos — you're on to something. It's not just a political ideology litmus test but also a gabacho one, and it boils down to is this: Any gabacho who calls brownies "Hispanics" is usually clueless about them, while any gabacho who calls us "Latinos" is a fellow traveler of the Reconquista. Voilà — there's your explanation to why the GOP favors "Hispanic," while Dems like "Latino"! A gross generalization, yes, but apply this rule to the gabachos, Democrats, and Republicans in your life, and I guarantee you'll be pleasantly surprised!

What is the relationship of the Chicano culture to the song "Crystal Blue Persuasion?" I've seen Tommy James and the Shondells perform it numerous times and never got goosebumps or teared up or anything. But Chicanos always request that song. Why? What is the connection? Did Tommy James have a Chicana heina on the side and it's about her? Was it a 1970s drug, a bottle of wine (like Boone's Farm)? What? Dime, por favor!
MC Cuervo

It's rare I break my pseudonym rule, but I'm doing it for MC Cuervo, whose real name is Danny Valenzuela and co-hosts along with Ricky O the Latino Soul Party every Friday night on KUVO-FM 89.3 in Denver and worldwide on It's an awesome show spinning the best oldies but goodies and new Latin Soul tracks — puro Desmadre, so tune in! Anyhoo, I'm surprised that MC Cuervo doesn't know his Chicano-soul history: Though it's true that hippie-dippy gabachos Tommy James and the Shondells recorded the first (and best) version of the bestseller in 1969, multiple soul groups with a Chicano fan base quickly covered it, as did Latin soul pioneer Joe Bataan. From there, it lived on in muchos oldies-but-goodies compilations, including Art Laboe's Dedicated to You and Oldies but Goodies anthologies, in Thump Records' Old School Love Songs album, and even that Barrio Oldies series with the pink covers that everyone's cholo cousin had a pirated version of in the 1980s. It got a new lease on life in 1990, when A Lighter Shade of Brown incorporated it into its classic "On a Sunday Afternoon," and just got major play on Breaking Bad. But the question remains: Why do Chicanos love the song so much, and how did it transition into the pantheon of Chicano-favored oldies but goodies? It's basically a Mexican song — the bongos and the acoustic guitar arpeggios come from Latin America, while the dreamy electric guitar and dramatic organ riffs sound like "96 Tears" (another Chicano classic) after a couple of bong hits, and the horns and harmonies straight out of Eastlos. Perfect cruising music and perfect love song equals a canción that's more Mexican than Vicente Fernandez's mustache.

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Gustavo Arellano
Contact: Gustavo Arellano