my aunt janet kept her music cassettes on the small round table she kept in her room of the house that she and my mother squatted in. i’d watch her sit as she listened to one album and then rotate the rest of the cassettes throughout the day. it was 1988 and at age 12 (admittedly, i still don’t lol) i didn’t understand a goddamn thing blasting from the small cassette player. but i was always captivated by the melodies of the songs.
janet would try to translate some of her favorite songs from eddie santiago, tito nieves and frankie ruiz as i studied the artwork of these albums. whew. the outfits either gave you easter sunday color block real esa or cute matching short-sets from the avenue. and the cassette cases were just as colorful. some of the cases were orange or green. the english singing gurls gave you the standard black.
during my adult years, as my relationship with the majority of my family was either limited because of geography or my constant need to run from memories i had yet to process, i spent most of my holidays at my aunt carmen’s house. she was the oldest of my mother’s sisters and the most nurturing. her house was always filled with the music of marc anthony, jerry rivera, and celia cruz. she would make sure i was fed and liquored up then ask me to dance with her. i would always say, “i don’t know how to dance salsa.” she would always reply, “get up and dance with me.” she always guided my movement on the floor of her small living room.
my aunts janet and carmen both died due to complications of cancer. janet passed six years ago and my carmen just last march. i didn’t come to realize it’s the significance of their love of salsa music that left an indelible impact on my life and the history i now remember of my family. a much broader history that now inspires a sense of reconnection with my family i thought i’d never yearn for.
janet and carmen loved music. merengue, bachata and reggaetón. but it was their love of salsa music that i remember the most. their love for a genre that many have deemed “dead” or “dying” (ya know, how folks typically talk about latin-freestyle music) now feels like a quiet act of resistance.
here is a playlist of the songs that i remember them singing, laughing, and dancing to. these are some of the songs i miss janet translating for me. these are some of the songs i miss reaching out to my aunt carmen’s extended hand as she asked me to dance with her.