Perhaps the most devastating news out of Latin America over the weekend was the senseless murder of legendary Argentine singer-songwriter Facundo Cabral, gunned down in an ambush in Guatemala while en route to the airport after performing there, with the bullets supposedly intended for his concert promoter.
Cabral, who was 74, was a cultural institution. But for many he was perhaps best known for a song he recorded more than 40 years ago, since recorded around the world in many languages, called "No soy de aqui, ni soy de alla." In Spanish it means "I'm not from here, nor from there."
For Cabral, who lived a famously itinerant life, the words had their own meaning. The song itself, which is lovely, is a celebration of life's simple joys. I've known it for years. But it had not struck me until this weekend, when searching for the lyrics, how that line - I'm not from here, nor from there - has resonated as a motto for immigrant identity.
The song's title has been used, among other things, as the title of an academic paper on trans-generational cultural identity and as a headline for other immigration-themed articles. One poignant piece that used it was a post on the Latinaish blog from last year that told the story of a man named Mr. Lopez, an English-speaking Salvadoran American forced to choose between sitting with his Latino co-workers and his white Anglo co-workers at lunchtime:
He ended up sitting with the Mexicans because he felt that if he didn’t, they would see him as a traitor and think that he felt superior to them (because he speaks English and they don’t). Also, Mr. López knew the Anglo guys couldn’t care less where he sat. The thing is, he wants to stay on everyone’s good side, because he is the unofficial interpreter and is constantly being called away from his work to translate between co-workers.
He doesn’t mind this, except that in casual conversation, the Anglos complain about the Mexicans to him, and of course, the Mexicans complain about the Anglos to him. He just listens and nods, neither agreeing or disagreeing, feeling that he is neither here nor there.
Neither from here, nor from there. The song may not have been written about immigrants, but those words apply to so many in this way, speaking volumes to Latinos and others whose cultural and national identity is split.
From the lyrics to the song, here is the refrain:
No soy de aquí, ni soy de allá
no tengo edad, ni porvenir
y ser feliz es mi color
I'm not from here, nor from there
I have no age, nor future
And being happy is the color of my identity
Rest in peace, Facundo Cabral.