This is such an experience, actually listening all the way through my Brown Girl Mixtape, which I confess I had not done previously. So this section of Letters to a Young Brown Girl is/was me, throwing a Hail Mary. Yes. It’s also, I think, the most “raw” section of the book. It was the last section I wrote, and I did it rapidly. So I was writing in a state of exhaustion, running out of steam, but that right before the finish line adrenaline kicks in. You just take a deep breath and go. Hail Mary.
I don’t have the proper vocabulary for music or musicology. When I wrote these Brown Girl Mixtape poems, I did not have a plan or set method. I just wrote, I suppose duende style. What is moving me. What about it is moving me. What is this song, artist, voice, lyric evoking. What is its vibe, its energy — so tone, mood.
Why these songs? I also do not have a tidy answer for this.
What songs do I remember meaning something to me once, when I was an adolescent, American suburban Pinay who wanted to be a woman, when woman meant glamorous, sexy, fashionable, worldly. And when I returned to these songs decades later, I wanted to unpack that adolescent longing.
What songs do I remember hiding inside of, and then sharing with my girlfriends on the boombox, when I was in college — for I was perpetually in college, all of my 20s, so much of the 1990s, dropping out of school and coming back again, only to drop out again. Piling into a house with other Pinays, with other WOC, struggling to pay rent, going to protests, to arts and spoken word events populated by POC artists and activists, lots of tobacco, clove cigarettes, weed, and red wine on hand, was like the anti-Friends. These shared spaces were a lifeline.
What songs do I remember, sustaining me, keeping me company, when I learned how to live alone for the first time in my life, working full time, going to grad school full time, single most of the time, answering to nobody and apologizing to nobody for the first time in my life, in downtown Oakland, figuring out who I was trying to be ready to become.
What songs have I been newly introduced to, as an established author and professor, happily married and homeowner for over a decade, going gray, burying my father. From the quiet of my own home, having set some stern boundaries à la Maxine Waters reclaiming time, looking outward, towards community, thinking about who might be listening.
So this mixtape then, as a place of interiority/loób as an individual self-reflective person, and as a tenuous we.