6 Songs to Listen to While Having an Identity Crisis

6 Songs to Listen to While Having an Identity Crisis

Autumn Jefferson
Media Staff

Listen along to this identity crisis soundtrack as you read Caroline's piece.

1. Valió la Pena - Salsa Version, Marc Anthony

At eight years old, plead with your father to turn off the Spanish-language songs blaring from the radio. “English songs only!” you demand, longing to find a sense of familiarity in the lyrics of the songs you listened to. 

The songs he elects to play are almost always salsa songs, songs full of vibrant percussion harmonies, an upbeat rhythm, and most importantly, a powerful voice belting about love, heartbreak, or betrayal. A powerful voice singing in Spanish. 

Spanish rhythms, lyrics, and words that are unfamiliar to you—quite dissimilar from the music videos you recreate with your friends, or the Top 100 hits you listen to in your mother’s minivan. You desperately want to sing along to the lyrics (partially because you think you could be the next superstar), but these words feel foreign, awkward in your mouth and stubbornly stagnant against your tongue. 

So you plead again, itching to listen to “Girlfriend” by Avril Lavigne, “Someone like You” by Adele, or “Jar Of Hearts” by Christina Perri. This is not an uncommon request. Your father almost expects you to object every time you get in the car; your persistence reflects an underlying desire to adhere to the status quo—a rejection of a part of your identity you don’t quite understand yet.


2. La Bicicleta, Carlos Vives & Shakira

On a random Tuesday afternoon, you suddenly gain consciousness about your identity, in the back of seventh-grade Spanish class. You realize that your connection to the vocabulary taught in class isn’t a coincidence, but rather the direct result of your upbringing. You start gaining confidence in the knowledge that you hold, enthusiastically raising your hand to answer vocabulary questions, swaying along to the beat of the songs your Spanish teacher plays in class (this is one of them). Spanish class instills you with an insatiable desire to learn more about your heritage and your family background. You ask your father about where he grew up, what your family traditions mean, and how to cook the sopita he always makes you. While you usually tune out his words, often lectures of staying away from boys and finishing your plate, this time, you listen intently, hanging on to every word, immersing yourself in the retellings of his pick-up soccer games or helping his mom sell loaves of bread in the local corner store she owned.


3. Darte un Beso, Prince Royce

Watch your confidence slowly wither once you escape the small, sheltered walls of your Spanish class. You were merely a big fish in a small pond. While it seemed empowering to know slightly more Spanish vocabulary than most of your non-Latinx peers at your very, very small school, that power diminishes once you enter new spaces. Infiltrate might be a better word to describe how you feel. 

Feel like an infiltrator when you aren’t able to communicate with your own family properly. Feel like an infiltrator when you don’t share the same experiences as your peers, constrained to the idea that there is only one way to fit in. 

Listen to this song over and over, and see how many words you are able to recognize. Feel frustrated when no matter how hard you try, you can’t comprehend more than the chorus. Become ashamed of not knowing what you were never taught. 


4. LA CANCIÓN, J Balvin & Bad Bunny

At sixteen, you sing along to the chorus of the song when you’re in the car with a boy you’re not supposed to be hanging out with, in a car he’s not supposed to be driving, at a time you’re not supposed to be outside of your house. 

You associate Spanish-language music with your youth, with reggaeton, cumbia, bachata hits, and more. It reminds you of late nights with friends, quinceañeras, family parties, and dance practices in your basement.  

You begin silencing your insecurities and lean into the community that surrounds you—one of rich culture and diversity. You learn from your peers, gathering a few slang words (shocking your Peruvian cousins when you call avocado “aguacate," but not “palta”) and recipes along the way (that you still can’t cook but love to order), and allow your peers to learn from you. 


5. Después de la Playa, Bad Bunny

As you enter your first year of college, you use Spanish-language music as an anchoring connection to your roots and identity. You reminisce about what it felt like to exist in spaces where most people looked like you. You now understand what it means to be Latinx in white spaces, that your identity crises are rendered insignificant to the masses—how you are perceived is shaped largely by who others expect you to be. 

You find a home within the Latinx community at your university, watching how the upperclassmen create spaces of resistance and communities of care by being unapologetically themselves. You take note of how Spanish-language music is used, strategically to take up space, as a declaration of presence. Music proclaims our existence and validates our right as marginalized students to exist in a university that wasn’t built for us.  

Music builds communities. It built the community in which you must now find a space (where every party feels like an endless "Mr. Brightside" loop), and it built the community you took for granted at home, (where parties pulsed with music that you could actually dance to,

Your complicated relationship with Spanish-language music, always a spot of sensitivity, transforms into something more powerful. It begins to represent your hometown—a vibrant community of immigrants who poured love and care into you and allowed you to grow and learn. It represents your childhood, where your dad’s salsa favorites or the folkloric cultural music at family parties provided a sense of comfort and familiarity. It represents who you are and how you navigate the world: as a Latina woman. 


6. WHERE SHE GOES, Bad Bunny

Now, you carry that sense of pride in your identity---until you enter uncomfortable new communities. You question how to present yourself to others, what to express or repress based on where you are and who you're with. How will others perceive you if you belt out this song in the car with your friends, finally feeling free to sing more than just the chorus? Do you feel secure enough to rep your flag everywhere you go, or to try to recreate your family’s arroz con leche recipe? Your Spanish vocabulary may be stronger—strong enough to sing along to this song or have more meaningful conversations with your family---but the words still feel jagged and rough rolling off of your tongue, as if they weren’t supposed to be there in the first place. 

You realize struggling with your identity is not something you completely left in the past. It's part of who you are. You are just as much the painfully insecure, inquisitive, exploratory seventh-grade version of yourself as you are the (slightly more) confident, empowered, and proud college student.