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One Latinx’s Journey To Finding His Identity And Culture

A conceptual illustration of Ricardo Salazar singing. A papel picado banner is placed behind him, and music notes and piano keys surround him in the foreground. His family members are also illustrated near his heart.
Lauren Ibañez
NPR Next Generation Radio

Lee en español.

This story is part of a series by NPR’s Next Generation Radio program, which explored the theme: What Does It Mean To Be An American?

Growing up, Ricardo Salazar would unapologetically blast traditional Mexican music from the back of his parents’ car. For Salazar, music became the way he was able to express himself and connect to his identity as an American and a Mexican. 

For Salazar, his identity wouldn’t be the same without recognizing he is both a United States citizen and Latinx.

“What it means to be an American for me means…  to be free, but also means to struggle,” Salazar said. “Maybe [it’s] not my personal struggle immediately, but my family’s struggle to get here. So, we are a family of immigrants. And I am proud to say that out loud.”

Salazar questioned his identity growing up but realized there is more to what it means to be an American.

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the twin towers, Salazar said he could remember hearing the news and not being able to fully grasp what had happened; however, he did have an understanding that everyone was united despite questioning where he fits in American society.

Ricardo Salazar is standing in front of four hanging vinyl records and looking at the camera.
Credit Andrew Mendez / NPR Next Generation Radio
NPR Next Generation Radio
Ricardo Salazar poses in his home studio next to a wall decked out with vinyl records. Salazar formed a band with his family, which helped him further understand his identity and culture.

“ ‘Am I really an American? Because my family is not from here, and we still practice a lot of our customs and cultures,’ ” he said. “But then catastrophe hits. We’re all banded together. I’m an American.”

Despite grappling with his identity, music always helped him grow.

Salazar remembers walking to his parents’ room, crawling into their bed and asking his mom to play music. They would sing songs from Juan Gabriel together, and it ultimately made him pursue music.

Ricardo Salazar is standing in front of his home while his mother kisses him on the cheek.
Credit Andrew Mendez / NPR Next Generation Radio
NPR Next Generation Radio
Ricardo’s mom, Angelina Salazar (left), gives her son, Ricardo Salazar (right), a kiss on the cheek as they stand out front of his home in Reno, Nevada. Ricardo remembers the times he would crawl into her bed and they would sing Juan Gabriel songs together.

“I always knew that I was Mexicano because of the music, because it’s all around us, at get-togethers, and parties, and quinceañeras, and bodas, and weddings, family gatherings…” he said. “You hear that music, and it’s really distinctive, so my connection with that is a connection to my roots.”

His parents and grandparents were musicians, which inspired Salazar to join the middle and high school’s bands. Around his junior year, he decided to form a family band.

They would load up their beat-up truck and play at parties, quinceañeras, weddings and local gigs. It was a way for them to grow as a family, but for Salazar, it became a passion.

His passion connects him to his culture, but it also allows him to be free. His culture and identity are interchangeable with music.

“It’s American to write about and express about who you want to be with and who you want to love, regardless of what society thinks about you, regardless of what your culture says about you…” he said. “So, pushing that envelope in what it means to be an American is important to me, and I do that through music.”

Ricardo Salazar performs in front of a crowd with his mom.
Credit Courtesy of Ricardo Salazar
Ricardo Salazar performs with his mom, Angelina Salazar, at Millennium Night Club in Sparks, Nev., in May 2018. Ricardo said music is synonymous with his Mexican culture.


This story was produced by Andrew Mendez, a student at the Reynolds School of Journalism. Andrew participated in NPR’s Next Generation Radio program, which held a weeklong radio bootcamp this spring. Each reporter explored the theme: What Does It Mean To Be An American?

Andrew Méndez is a former bilingual student reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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