Angelica Garcia On Embracing Her Identities With 'Cha Cha Palace'

Mar 17, 2020
Originally published on March 17, 2020 8:19 am

Angelica Garcia says she sometimes feels like two people. To understand that sentiment, look at her first two albums. Her first release, 2016's Medicine for Birds, was a bluesy country record: She sang about the South, about Loretta Lynn, about her adopted home of Virginia. Her new album Cha Cha Palace, however, is all about her East Los Angeles upbringing and her Latinx identity.

Garcia's mother — also named Angelica — is Mexican and Salvadoran, and her father is Mexican. She calls herself "Salva-Mex-American," and in El Monte, Calif., the city east of Los Angeles where she grew up, that was the local culture: Grandmas cooking, chain-link fences, jaywalking to the corner store, someone saying a prayer when you went on a date. Then, when she was 17, Garcia's family moved to Virginia, and all of a sudden she wasn't like everyone else. On her new album, you can hear a young woman who is tired of being seen as an outsider, or just not being seen.

"I felt like I would play for an audience and no one in the crowd would look like me," she says. "And it was very frustrating."

NPR's Noel King spoke to Angelica Garcia about embracing her Salva-Mex-American identity on her new album, growing up in a musical family and confronting stereotypes. Listen in the player above, and read on for highlights.

YouTube


Interview Highlights

On her introduction to music through her family

I started singing as a child, really. My mother was also a singer, and her and my aunt and my uncle all used to sing ranchero music — Mexican folk music — and they would perform at rodeos and clubs in L.A. when they were kids. I kind of grew up in this family that all had basically been singing together their whole life, so it felt very natural and very normal for me to join my voice into the harmony and find my place amongst them. I thought it was totally normal; I thought all families brought out a guitar and everything at parties.

On the song "Jícama," about feeling stereotyped and singled out

The lyrics are like, "I see you, but you don't see me / Jícama, jícama, guava tree." And that comes from [something] my grandmother told me, that when we walk in a room we have a guava on our forehead. She was trying to say that we get stereotyped. That came from my time living in Virginia, and a lot of times I felt like I would play for an audience and no one in the crowd would look like me. It was very frustrating; it made it feel hard to connect with people who were listening to the music, like they didn't really get what I was trying to do. And so that's why I chose to be so blunt on "Jícama.": I felt like there was a really big cultural gap sometimes.

YouTube

On the reaction to shifting her music toward her Latinx roots

Something about stereotyping is that it can really be so subtle — and I think people forget that. It can be as subtle as saying, "Well I don't get your kind of music." It doesn't always have to be such a blatant display of racism; it was more like actions that made me feel like I wasn't understood. I just remember people saying, "This stuff isn't as good as what you did before." That's a tough one because it's like, people are obviously allowed to have their opinions. [But] the new music is so rooted in where I come from that that felt like someone trying not to understand.

I feel like our country is kind of confused sometimes about what an "American identity" is. And the truth is that there is no one face. In some pockets, in some communities, you see more of certain types of faces than others, and so the idea is if you're one of the others, then you don't fit in. And I think that's really silly, and if anything it just makes me want to lean into my identity even more and talk about it louder.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Sometimes, singer-songwriter Angelica Garcia feels like two people.

Do you go by Anjelica (ph) or by Anhelica (ph)?

ANGELICA GARCIA: OK. So my Spanish-speaking friends normally call me Anhelica. But it's also my mother's name. So if people know my mom, they tend to call me Angie or Anjelica.

KING: I like that your mom pulled a junior. Women never do that (laughter).

GARCIA: Oh, yeah. She did. She did.

KING: Her mom is Mexican and Salvadoran. Her dad is Mexican. She calls herself Salva-Mex-American. In El Monte, Calif., east of Los Angeles, where she grew up, that was the culture - grandma's cooking, chain-link fences, jaywalking to the corner store, someone saying a prayer when she went on a date and, of course, music.

GARCIA: I started singing as a child, really. My mother was also a singer. And her and my aunt and my uncle all used to sing ranchera music, like, Mexican folk music. And they would perform at rodeos and at clubs in LA when they were kids. And so...

KING: When they were kids? Wow.

GARCIA: ...I kind of grew up in this family that all, like, basically had been singing together their whole life. So it felt very natural and very normal for me to just kind of join my voice into the harmony and find my place amongst them. I loved it. I thought it was totally normal. I thought all families brought a guitar and everything to parties.

KING: (Laughter).

GARCIA: And it was great.

KING: Then when she was 17, her family moved to Virginia. And all of a sudden, she wasn't like everyone else. On her new album, "Cha Cha Palace," you hear a young woman who's tired of being seen as an outsider or just not being seen. This song is called "Jicama."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JICAMA")

GARCIA: (Singing) I see you, but you don't see me, no. Jicama. Jicama. Guava tree, yeah. Daughters and the sons of an ancient seed, yeah. Jicama. Jicama. Guava tree.

The lyrics are like, I see you, but you don't see me. Jicama. Jicama. Guava tree. And that comes from - my grandmother told me that when we walk in a room, like, we have a nopal stapled on our forehead. Or we have, like, a guava on our forehead. Like, she was trying to say that we get stereotyped, you know?

KING: Oh.

GARCIA: And so that came from my time living in Virginia. And a lot of times, I felt like I would play for an audience, and no one in the crowd would look like me.

KING: Oh.

GARCIA: And it was very frustrating. It made it feel hard to connect with people that were listening to the music, or, like, they didn't really get what I was trying to do. And so that's why I chose to be so blunt on "Jicama." It was because I felt like there was a really big cultural gap sometimes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JICAMA")

GARCIA: (Singing) Guava tree. Yeah. I see you, but you don't see me, no. Jicama. Jicama. Guava tree. I been trying to tell you, but you just don't see. Like you, I was born in this country.

KING: In Virginia, people would make assumptions about her or about her music. Sometimes, it seemed like they preferred Anjelica to Anhelica.

GARCIA: Something about stereotyping is that it can really be something so subtle. And I think people forget that. It could be as subtle as, like, saying, like, well, I don't get your kind of music. And then it's like, well, what does that mean? It doesn't always have to be such a blatant display of racism or something. But it was more, like, actions that made me feel like I wasn't understood.

KING: Like what? What's something you remember?

GARCIA: I just remember people saying, like, this stuff isn't as good as what you did before, like, the songs you were singing before. That's a tough one because it's like, people are obviously allowed to have their opinions.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MAGNOLIA IS MEDICINE")

GARCIA: (Singing) God bless Virginia and the Dixieland. I'm not from here. But I still know...

KING: Her first album was bluesy country. She sang about Virginia, about the South, about Loretta Lynn, about her adopted home. This new album is fully about East Los Angeles and her Latinx identity.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT DON'T HINDER ME")

GARCIA: (Singing) I want the cooking that my grandmother made. I want the bed that I was yelled at to make. I want sweat dripping off my face, dripping off my face, my face. Ooh.

I also felt like the new music is so rooted in where I come from that that felt like somebody trying not to understand, if that makes sense.

KING: It does. You're saying the reception to your first album, which was much less about being Salva-Mex-American, was different...

GARCIA: Yeah.

KING: ...Than the reaction to your second album, which has a lot to do with your identity.

GARCIA: Yeah.

KING: People are telling you, oh, I like the first one better. Or, I related to the first one more.

GARCIA: Yeah. I liked it better when you didn't talk about who you are.

KING: Oh, wow. And you say what in return?

GARCIA: (Laughter) It's basically, well, I'm going to talk about it until people get it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT DON'T HINDER ME")

GARCIA: (Singing) Mango peeling in the kitchen at night. Dogs on the street corner start having a fight. And if you stop eating tortillas, maybe you'll lose weight. Ave Maria purisima 'cause I went on a date. Yeah.

I feel like our country is kind of confused sometimes about what an American identity is. And the truth is that there is no one face. And in some pockets, in some communities, you see more of certain types of faces than others. And so the idea is if you're one of the others, then you don't fit in. And I think that's really silly. And if anything, it just makes me want to lean into my identity even more and talk about it louder (laughter).

KING: Did you ever think about telling all the people (laughter) who you knew, like, OK, I'm not going by Anjelica anymore? I'm going by Anhelica. And you're going to have to deal with it. Or was the album your way of doing that?

GARCIA: Kind of, yes. Both. I don't know. Like, I've noticed that I've started introducing myself as Anjelica more, which is cool. And it also just, like, happened without me thinking about it. But I'm open. I'm fine with both.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GUADALUPE")

GARCIA: (Singing) Matriarch since 14. All the grown men bend on one knee. Grapple (ph) with the mysteries. Swimming in questions waist-deep I was looking up to the gods when I started saying, Ave Maria.

KING: Anjelica Garcia or Anhelica Garcia - she goes by both.

GARCIA: Yes.

KING: Her new album, "Cha Cha Palace," is out now. Thank you so much for talking to us today.

GARCIA: Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GUADALUPE")

GARCIA: (Singing) Ave Maria. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.