The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
Woodstock, the summer of 1969. Roughly two years after Santana is formed, the band jams out on stage to more than half a million wide-eyed spectators. The sound of cheers fuse together with the wails of electric guitars and the pounding of timbales and conga drums. On that day, Santana introduced Latin rock to a massive audience.
“It (Latin Rock) is when you incorporate Afro Cuban rhythms like cha-cha, mambo, meringue … and then throw a rock beat behind it, with an organ, an electric guitar and bass and drums,” said Rudy Ramirez, a musician and ethnic studies professor at the College of San Mateo.
For Ramirez, the emergence of Latin rock and the widely popular debut of Santana was a defining moment of acceptance for his culture.
“It was a moment for me where we were born again Latinos, a proud moment,” said Ramirez.
Today, a curly-haired Ramirez proudly plays his Conga drums and uses his background as an educator to teach people about the history of Latin rock and the impact it has on society while entertaining audiences with a mini concert. That will be on full display 7 p.m.-9 p.m. Nov. 13 when Ramirez presents, “Sounds from the Streets,” with live music by the Mission Street All-Stars at the College of San Mateo. The event is a historical and musical presentation on the emergence of Latin Rock.
And what a history it is. Post World War II, people of Mexican origin were divided; either appearing to assimilating or trying to assert and affirm their ethnic identity, according to a study conducted by the UCLA department of sociology, Ethnic identity among the Mexican origin population. For some first generation American Latinos like Ramirez, the generation gap between themselves and their immigrant parents were conflicted.
“They were foreigners and I was American,” said Ramirez.
Young and caught between two cultures, Ramirez chose not to speak Spanish and refused to go out in public with his parents. He straightened his naturally curly hair and attempted to suppress any Latino traits. If anyone asked if he was Latino, he defiantly said, “No, I am American.”
In the 1960s, the majority of the population was over 88 percent white, compared to the 4 percent of Hispanics, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“We were like the invisible people and it was very easy to feel ashamed, I was very much ashamed,” said Ramirez.
By the mid-60s, the civil rights movement began to affect the political climate of the United States, especially in San Francisco where a new culture was brewing. The streets of the Mission District brought together a culture of people from different backgrounds, race and ethnicities that embraced the notion of civil rights.
These times inspired the music that Santana created, “it reflected the world around them, the struggles, the joys, the sorrows, the passion,” said Ramirez.
On Aug. 16, 1969, Santana played on a 600-acre milk farm, in Bethel, N.Y. and followed up with its first debut album, “Sounds from the Streets” which was recorded at Pacific Recorders, a studio in San Mateo now replaced with a Whirlpool and Spa retailer.
“All of a sudden you have a rock band with three Latinos who incorporate Latin rhythms, Latin instruments … and embraced by the world,” said Ramirez.
“Sounds from the Streets” is 7 p.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 13 at the College of San Mateo Theatre Building 3, 1700 W. Hillsdale Blvd., San Mateo. Proceeds from this event will go to support the Milagro Foundation, helping organizations that work with children in the areas of education, health and the arts. Sponsored by ASCSM, Diversity in Action Group, Center for Student Life and Leadership Development, KCSM 91.1 FM, Campus Copy and Post and the Bulldog Bookstore. Admission is $7 for students/faculty/staff, $10 general. For more information contact Rudy Ramirez at firstname.lastname@example.org or (650) 574-6372.