Thanks to Alice’s review of Margarita Engle’s Drum Dream Girl, we’re inspired this week to feature another woman from Latin America who’s used music as a tool for social justice. In the case of Drum Dream Girl, we learn about the Chinese-African-Cuban drummer, Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, who broke gender divisions in Cuba during the mid-20th century when drumming was believed to be a man’s purview. For this post, we want to draw your attention to another real-life woman, Suni Paz, an Argentinean singer and songwriter who has similarly used music as a tool for social change.
Much like Millo, Paz seems to have been born a musician, and one with a natural talent for teaching and sharing her music with others. Earlier in her life, during the 1960s and ‘70s, she used her music as a tool for engaging in social protest, singing in support, as Smithsonian Folkways describes it, “of United Farm Workers movement, dignity and freedom for Latina women, amnesty for Latin American political prisoners, and education for Latino children in the United States.” Later in life, she adapted her social consciousness-raising music to better suit children and classrooms, spreading her joy of Latin American culture and language among audiences spread throughout the Americas. A unique collaboration with two authors, Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy (whom we deeply admire), introduced her moving music to many more young people.
I return again to Smithsonian Folkways for their apt description of how her emphasis on social justice and social consciousness music serves the needs of young people everywhere: “She urges the importance of awareness and self-awareness for all people, especially children. She believes that we must teach children who they are because they have the right to know about their traditions and roots. Knowledge of their culture will encourage pride in their heritage and inspire them to build upon these traditions.”
From Paz’s own website, we learn more about the philosophy and motivations driving er work: “She chose her name, Suni, which means ‘ever-lasting,’ from the Quechua language, so as to be able to disseminate the rich indigenous cultures of the Americas in lyrics, rhythms, and instruments such as the charango, caja, and bombo. Paz is a last name that is found in every Latin American country. Its meaning is peace. To find inner peace and share it with others is Suni’s quest in life. To sing and play rhythms, creating a bridge between cultures, has been her trademark. Out of need to have some themes addressed, Suni began writing her own lyrics and setting to music some of her concerns in order to give a voice to the silent and forgotten ones.”
In producing music on behalf of those who cannot raise their own voices, and by highlighting the richness and breadth of Latin American cultures and languages, Paz has become a moving force in our society. She is one of those rare individuals whose life mission has created a wealth of resources upon which we can draw to inspire Latinx and Latin American students living in the United States (or anywhere, really) to be proud of their heritage and history. Her music demonstrates and reinforces that Latin American culture and language are assets and strengths. How uplifting and inspiring to hear such “música con consciencia”!
For those interested in sharing Paz’s work with students, see videos of her performing “Banderia Mía” and “Los Vecinos” on the Smithsonian Folkways website. Let us know what you and your students think of her work. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do!
Image: Photograph of Suni Paz reprinted from Smithsonian Folkways.