Article by Miranda Caravalho
Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana – MACLA is a squat building on the tail end of the SOFA District in San Jose that’s painted in shades of steel grey and fluorescent pink. In the first half of the building you’d find the headquarters for MACLA’s programs, from which over 30,000 children, families and young adult get indispensable experience in visual, performing and literary art. But if you go past the first set of doors and onto the second, you’ll find MACLA’s studio with their current solo exhibition: Carlos Rólon’s Classic Tracks: Migrating Rhythms.
Enter the room. It’s not big, but it’s very open, with white walls and vaulted ceilings. But most of the white has been covered up by a mosaic of vinyl record covers, affixed to the wall in lines of faces and names that tower up to make a barricade. They’re mostly Spanish artists. Perhaps you recognize some of these album.
The room can be easily experienced in about twenty minutes. You can circle slowly around the murals and the checkerboard walls of record covers, or maybe stand in strange reverence in front of the sculpture made from working speakers. Or maybe you stray to the back of the exhibit and discover the small party that awaits there.
It’s a traditional travel cart with a spinning disco ball hanging from the woven roof and casting moving fish scales of light across the walls. And below that, embedded into the wood of the cart, is a turntable. There are more covers in small shelves, Ray Barretto, Roberto Blades, and De Todo Un Poco. It’s a weird intimacy, as if you’ve broken into someone’s house for the sole purpose of leafing through their music collection. Eventually you find the record that’s already placed on the turntable – Prince’s Purple Rain.
Play it. Turn it to side B and put it on the blank space in between “When Dove’s Cry” and “I Would Die 4 You”. With such a small space the music fills the room in a massive wave of sound. Others might stop to look, and some might even twist their faces slightly at the sudden noise. Or maybe you’re alone, just you and Prince.
I hope thats the case. I hope you’re alone with the music as your eyes drift again across the towering walls of album covers. These are the songs and artists brought from the culture of migrating immigrants. Every album has countless memories stuck to them like ghosts. A record that may mean nothing to you may have been someone’s first dance at their wedding. It could’ve been what their mother sang to them as a child, or what they heard through a open window as they left their home for the very last time.
When you’re immigrating you’re leaving everything you’ve ever known behind. But the things you’re able to take with you – your music, your clothes, your food and your language – that becomes the type of home that lives in your blood.
My grandmother is a first generation immigrant that spent time as an infant in a Japanese internment camp. Her parents refused to teach her or her siblings Japanese, and when their radio was on it was almost always playing country-western music. With the politics of the time they thought it would be best to keep their heads down and make a new life for themselves.
But when I was a child, she used to take me to the annual Cherry Blossom Festival held in San Jose, where I’d eat shaved ice and pet the dogs under clouds of pink petals. And even now she still makes inari sushi better than any restaurant I’ve ever been to. It’s impossible to miss – she’s definitely held onto something.
And what about you? Do you remember the meals your family made, the ones you learned to make yourself and for your loved ones? Think about the words you spoke to each other, the ones of sorrow and joy, and the stories told to you at night when you couldn’t sleep. And maybe it was a rainy morning, or starry night, or a warm afternoon like the one it was right now – but there was music, wasn’t there. Whether it was a radio or the tinny headphones of an old walkman, it was there and it left a shadow on your heart.
That’s not what’s playing now, though. Right now the synth of Prince is fading, and before the next track starts you lift the needle and put it back in its place. And with nothing else to explore you walk back out into the day, the words that song in your head making your mouth shift into long-lost shapes.