This story is part of a series by NPR’s Next Generation Radio program, which explored the theme: What Does It Mean To Be An American?
Growing up, Ricardo Salazar would unapologetically blast traditional Mexican music from the back of his parents’ car. For Salazar, music became the way he was able to express himself and connect to his identity as an American and a Mexican.
For Salazar, his identity wouldn’t be the same without recognizing he is both a United States citizen and Latinx.
“What it means to be an American for me means… to be free, but also means to struggle,” Salazar said. “Maybe [it’s] not my personal struggle immediately, but my family’s struggle to get here. So, we are a family of immigrants. And I am proud to say that out loud.”
Salazar questioned his identity growing up but realized there is more to what it means to be an American.
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the twin towers, Salazar said he could remember hearing the news and not being able to fully grasp what had happened; however, he did have an understanding that everyone was united despite questioning where he fits in American society.
“ ‘Am I really an American? Because my family is not from here, and we still practice a lot of our customs and cultures,’ ” he said. “But then catastrophe hits. We’re all banded together. I’m an American.”
Despite grappling with his identity, music always helped him grow.
Salazar remembers walking to his parents’ room, crawling into their bed and asking his mom to play music. They would sing songs from Juan Gabriel together, and it ultimately made him pursue music.
“I always knew that I was Mexicano because of the music, because it’s all around us, at get-togethers, and parties, and quinceañeras, and bodas, and weddings, family gatherings…” he said. “You hear that music, and it’s really distinctive, so my connection with that is a connection to my roots.”
His parents and grandparents were musicians, which inspired Salazar to join the middle and high school’s bands. Around his junior year, he decided to form a family band.
They would load up their beat-up truck and play at parties, quinceañeras, weddings and local gigs. It was a way for them to grow as a family, but for Salazar, it became a passion.
His passion connects him to his culture, but it also allows him to be free. His culture and identity are interchangeable with music.
“It’s American to write about and express about who you want to be with and who you want to love, regardless of what society thinks about you, regardless of what your culture says about you…” he said. “So, pushing that envelope in what it means to be an American is important to me, and I do that through music.”
This story was produced by Andrew Mendez, a student at the Reynolds School of Journalism. Andrew participated in NPR’s Next Generation Radio program, which held a weeklong radio bootcamp this spring. Each reporter explored the theme: What Does It Mean To Be An American?