First of all, to point out Celia Cruz is a queen, in any sense of the word, is redundant. Celia Cruz has done for us Latinos, something no one could have ever anticipated: celebration. She is not only La Voz de Cuba, she is the voice of Latin Americans as a whole. No PR could be better than her music, her laughter and the joy she put forth in having cemented herself as a woman, as an Afro Latino and as a goddess. Celia: The Queen (2008) is more than a movie. It is more than the documented scraps of an age where and when we still had her with us. It is the ultimate celebratory mark that she has made in our lives, de habla hispana or not. The movie focused on her legacy and the cultural impact that she famed, regarding not only herself but nosotros. It is truly fitting that Chicago Latino Fashion Week should choose to celebrate such a strong and noteworthy individual. She had light and glory, but she also had pain. Pain tends to invite itself onto your psyche, a most creative verb. That pain of not being able to return to her home, Cuba, instilled in all of us, the despair of having your roots out of grasp. With that longing came beautiful music, and for us, the living, we thank her and hope her spirit watches over that red island.
The movie was a lesson in Salsa, for those interested and not. I found myself tearing up during certain scenes, wishing she was here and what was saddest was the fact that she always will be. My parents are from Acapulco, which has a long history of Afro Mexican influences and that certain rhythm that stems from the coast. Growing up, I had no idea this wasn’t Mexican music. I knew of the circus drones and appropriated polka of the North, but there really is no other musical styling that could accurately portray my Southern origin, save for Cumbia. Celia Cruz marked my life. I was so happy to see her professional life, unfold before my eyes, in a way that has been reserved for the greats, which she was (is). In fact, as I write this, I can’t help but YouTube her greatest hits and look for that obscure Cruz that can only be found if you’re looking for it. Celia marked my life so much that I used to think, watching her on early to mid 90s Univision, that that was my grandma. My Abue is of the same wonderful disposition, of the same color and thanks to your god, still with us. I’d like to dedicate these ramblings to her, to the woman who taught my sister and I about Celia Cruz, that royal sugar. Of that beat that is not learned but genetic. That style that is not only present, but about us.
This is Latino Fashion Week so, can we step aside and mention her clothes? OH, MY ELIZABETH WARREN (Indumentarian deity) I say that in Caps Lock because no other way, read or spoken, can deliver the elation that was her sartorial scene. I spoke to Arabel Alva Rosales, Co-Executive Producer of this whole shebang, about Celia Cruz and her impact on, not only fashion, but the community as a whole:
Celia Cruz, the queen of salsa and also the queen of costume. [She] opened many doors where Latinos [were not] before and that’s what we think is very representative of what Latino fashion week does.
I also asked her if the innate Latino elegance is what informs upon our ability to marry style with substance:
We enjoy dressing up, right? We learn from a very early age that a little perfume [is part] of the whole ambience that you create. The earrings, the looking good, the hair and everything, I think it’s part of the beauty that our culture brings
Truer words could never have been spoken. After the screening, we packed into Suite Lounge and that is where I could speak to Cesar Rolon Jr., the other Co-Executive Producer of the week, on the topic of our sense of style:
What do you think of the poignancy of the film, as it pertains to her global impact?
That’s exactly what we’re trying to do, at Latino Fashion Week we now just starting opening our doors and two weeks ago we now officially represent all Latino Fashion Weeks, in the [US] and other countries so when you look at Celia Cruz what she was compromised of, how the world loved her, how she took the world by storm, we’re trying to do the exact same thing with Latino fashion. That’s why its by Latinos for everyone.
His take on the Latino sense of style, whether one is born with it or it is learned characteristic, was a bilateral one:
I think both. I mean, we’re taught the level of sophistication, we’re taught the level of respect. We’re taught that [when we leave the home] we’re [to] look well.
Celia Cruz, as I have always understood, is in all of us, a part of us and she instills that level of sophistication, that we’re taught. From sperms in our father’s balls, to customers at the bar, we are never without a bit of saccharine.