When I listen to salsa, there's something more than just the lyrics or beats that I get from it.
I sink into a cloud of nostalgia -- remembering my childhood, my family, certain events that I will always with carry with me. When I hear salsa music, especially when I am in cities where the Latin culture has yet penetrated, my smile stretches from ear-to-ear, and I begin to get those tingling feelings that I get when I am falling for someone.
My Spanish may be a shit-show, and my ability to remember the title of songs may be severely disappointing during trivia, but my love for salsa isn't materialized through facts. My appreciation for salsa music didn't come from a 1-week lecture on Latin music, or from salsa dance classes. Growing up, when there was salsa, there was happiness, family, love, and celebration.
When the sun would crack open it's eyelids from a night of stars, my mom would turn the knob on the stereo's volume and blast salsa music. Every Sunday morning she'd open all of the windows, doors, and begin to dance while cleaning. The choking smell of bleach would settle after she'd make us breakfast -- bubbling hot bacon, scrambled eggs, and sometimes cinnamon rolls when she had a few extra bucks to give us something special and sweet.
While my mom would scrub furiously and take breaks clapping to the music's beat, she'd sarcastically shout, "okay, I'll just clean this house by myself!" My sister and I would give each other looks and drag our teenage groans into different areas of the house to get it sparkly clean, and mother-approved. But salsa made the work bearable, and it reminded me of teamwork and woman-power.
When I was a little girl and still living in East New York, my family would walk over to my abuela's sister's house for a family gathering that we had every single weekend.
We had cousins, aunts, uncles, friends, and neighbors come over to dance in the drunk of the night. The air was a collection of roasted pernil (pork shoulder), cigarette smoke, and salsa music. The older men would play dominoes, the older women would play BINGO, and us kids would seek to wreck the neighborhood with our mischievous antics, all while the booming salsa music rolled onto the streets.
When I went away for college, and I was homesick, I decided it was time to learn how to cook authentic, Puerto Rican dishes.
Cooking came easy for me, and it was my way to connect with my family and my memories. When the pan would crackle with oil and sofrito, and I had salsa trickling from the speakers, I'd think of my abuela's tired hands preparing traditional foods like pasteles, pernil, and sancocho. In the music and food that I prepared, I felt as if I had my family in the room.
All kinds of memories would follow me as I listen to salsa music. I remember the time we'd grieve over the death of family members. I remember the time when one family reunion, we were in shambles because one of us was terminally ill.
But I also remember happy moments when my mom would sip on a bottle of Corona, dip her toes into the sand, and play scratchy salsa music on her old mini radio. I remember seeing my aunt dance for the first time, and I told myself, "I want to dance just like her." And I learned. I think of the times when the family fell apart so many times, but we were brought together by our strong love for each other.