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Culture, Identity, and Our Shared Destiny

Amidst the recent surge of violence globally and the seemingly insurmountable challenges that have been dominating the discourse, I find myself belatedly reflecting on Hispanic Heritage Month. It’s been two years since I returned to my hometown of Albuquerque after spending a quarter of a century living and working in diverse environments like Philadelphia, Tegucigalpa, and the Washington, D.C. area. I consider myself fortunate to conduct my organizational consulting and executive coaching work, which reaches leaders and organizations on both coasts, across several states, and even in Europe, all from the comfort of my New Mexico office—a state that has been home to my family for 14 generations.

Every week, my husband and I eagerly attend ChatterABQ concerts, where the directors skillfully curate a captivating blend of classical works from the traditional repertoire and thrilling compositions by emerging talents, all brought to life by world-class performers. Just two Sundays ago, we were treated to the enchanting performance of Cecilia Violetta López, an opera soprano whose beautiful voice graced lyrical masterpieces by Edith Piaf, Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin, and others. To our surprise and delight, she and her fearless accompanist, Nathan Salazar, even delivered a moving rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep”—a nostalgic blast from the past.

In the latter part of the program, Cecilia transported us to the heart of traditional Mexican mariachi music, serenading us with rancheras and boleros made famous by legendary Mexican vocalists like Pedro Infante and José Alfredo Jiménez, and later popularized in the US by Linda Ronstadt. Many of these songs struck a chord with me, and I found myself overwhelmed with emotion, tears silently streaming down my cheeks—though I hoped no one noticed. It was a profound experience, evoking memories of family gatherings with my parents and relatives, and it left me feeling reinvigorated and connected. You see, those who know me well understand that while I love playing Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, and Villa-Lobos on the piano, I’m equally moved by the soulful tunes of Mexican mariachis.

Cecilia Violetta López’s journey is nothing short of remarkable. Growing up, she labored alongside her Mexican family, hoeing beets in Idaho. It was her mother who introduced her to the art of singing, and together, they used traditional Mexican songs to make their arduous agricultural toil more bearable. In college, she discovered opera, which ignited her passion, and she eventually realized she could lend her trained soprano voice to traditional Mexican music. With a graceful presence, an alluring voice, and an extraordinary vocal range, she seamlessly intertwines her personal narrative into her performances, sharing her journey with a heartfelt charm that resonates with the audience. Her ability to merge her Mexican heritage and opera soprano talents is a testament to her courage, persistence, and high artistic achievement—an inspiration to us all.

I want to expand the scope of my reflections beyond the celebration of Hispanic heritage and delve into the profound power of culture and identity. Many years ago, during my studies in Spain, I discovered the work of the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset. His words, which I’ve translated here, have always served as a wellspring of inspiration for me:

“Life is a collection of challenges to which we respond with a set of solutions that we call ‘culture,’ and given that many solutions are possible, so are many cultures. What has never existed is an absolute culture, with answers to all problems.”

Ortega y Gasset’s wisdom encourages us to embrace and inquire about all cultures, recognizing that each has developed unique approaches to the inherent challenges of life. In my younger years, I needed to hear about the value of diverse cultures. Today, as I observe the events unfolding locally and globally, it’s clear to me that we are still grappling with this fundamental truth. Perhaps our greatest contemporary challenge lies in expressing ourselves while embracing our diverse identities and cultures, making space for others in dialogue, appreciating different perspectives and ways of life, and equitably sharing the abundant resources of our planet. Indeed, our collective survival depends on our ability to navigate this path.

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