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Radio Pulgarcito: Exploring Salvadoran Culture and Identity Through Vinyl

9:56 AM PDT on March 27, 2018

    [dropcap size=big]R[/dropcap]adio Pulgarcito is a radio show created by three Salvadoran artists in Los Angeles who combined their love for vinyl and Salvadoran music together. Linda Tovar, Gabriel Vidal, and Oscar Santos met through mutual friends in L.A.’s music scene. “Oscar told me ‘Oh, you know who else is Salvadoran and has vinyl from El Salvador?' and that’s what pretty much ties us together — the music from El Salvador on vinyl.

    (Photos by Jessica Flores)

    They were all individually collecting vinyl at the time and began sharing their collection with each other. While sharing, there were many instances when they simultaneously discovered new music and Salvadoran musicians. The discovering lead to researching, and the researching lead to wanting to share it with the world. They decided to combine their collection to create something that honors their Salvadoran culture. And it’s not just your typical Central American cumbias that you’ll hear, but an assortment of genres that most wouldn’t classify or even know that Salvadoran musicians produced.

    I sat down with the three to talk about the importance of creating Radio Pulgarcito, and how it’s connecting them — and listeners — to Salvadoran culture and identity.

    How was Radio Pulgarcito created?

    Linda: As Salvadorans and musicians, Oscar [kept] saying “We’re going to do something. I don’t know what it is but it’s going to be something.” [It started] as a music project but also, we just knew that as Salvadoreños, we had to do something for our people and to really just be proud — more reason to be proud of being Salvadoran.

    Gabriel: It was dope because the way we started was actually through conversation and [telling] stories of our families. Just plática of us learning where our families come from, what’s our connection to music and specifically to El Salvador. Our stories were different, but we learned that there’s definitely that commonality. The creative flow was going so we were like, “What is this? Should we make episodes?”

    Linda: It started as a playlist and then we were like, “Let’s have a radio show! Let’s do a podcast!”

    What’s the production process like?

    Oscar: I’m more of the computer nerd and I’ve also done mixing, so I do that. But we also do it as a team. We’ve each had moments to be on the mic to give shout outs and [say] funny stuff but we’ve also brought up some real shit because a lot of real shit’s been going down. Its given us a chance to voice our opinions on what’s going on with the Central American community. It’s very collaborative.

    Linda: We all come with our records and for the most part we’re hearing the music for the first time ourselves. Sometimes maybe they’ve two have heard a song before that I haven’t, but at a certain point none of us have heard the songs before. We’re constantly being introduced to music or reintroduced to music. That’s what I love about vinyl’s, they’re tangible. The fact that I can hold something and it’s so unique.

    How is Radio Pulgarcito a way for you to stay connected to your Salvadoran culture, ancestors and roots?

    Gabriel: The original intention Radio Pulgarcito flourished was to honor our roots, the resilience of today, our families, ourselves. Every time we come together we also reclaim that our cultura, our community, and families are very multidimensional. For example, sometimes I think the common perception of Salvadoran music are cumbias, which is beautiful. But the thing is that Salvadoran music is not just cumbias. In our collections and even our mixes you can hear that it’s cumbia, salsa, funk, disco, rock, psychedelic, indigenous folklorico. It’s just so much and that’s something that I really appreciate about Radio Pulgarcito, that we can really share that and honor it.

    What have you learned about yourselves and your culture while doing this project?

    Oscar: We’re learning that as musicians or just people obsessed with music as DJs that we are part of a lineage that goes all the way back to Central America, even if we weren’t born there or even if we were. Central America actually made a lot of really beautiful music, but we have to think of the realities of war which capped that and didn’t let it come over here [to the U.S.]. Salvadoran music doesn’t have the same cultural impact or there isn’t even that many as Mexican or Cuban which has traveled way more than Salvadoran music and a lot of that is because there was a moment where it just never left El Salvador. I think this is similar for Guatemalan and Honduran music, where there were a lot of civil wars in the 80s. Being able to say that as a musician I come from a tradition of musicians, even if I don’t know them or see them. It’s like we’ve been connected, ripped, and now we’re trying to sow it back together.

    'There would be people within the Chicano movement that would embrace me, but then there would be other people that were like “Well, that’s not part of your history.”'

    Linda: For being a country that was war torn, it’s been therapeutic in a sense because I never really felt like I belong to a specific culture growing up, especially being Latina and American. I always wanted to belong with the Mexicans or the Chicanos, and sometimes I would feel like I wanted to belong to something. There would be people within the Chicano movement that would embrace me, but then there would be other people that were like “Well, that’s not part of your history.” So [I thought], “Well, what is part of my history?” It’s been therapeutic in piecing an identity for myself because I’m constantly growing and with this project its helped me feel like I belong somewhere. I feel like we are creating an identity. Being able to physically have a vinyl and saving it from being destroyed or forgotten, it’s nice to be able to relive that music.

    Gabriel: My first Salvadoran and Central American records were cumbias but aside from that, simultaneously what I had come across digging in the crates was a lot of revolutionary leftist jams, folkloricos, cantos del pueblo and that was a deep connection for me. It’s a way to pay homage to my parents because they had a very life and death departure from El Salvador, and a lot of it are untold stories or lost stories of their times and youth in El Salvador because it was ripped away. Every time I find a record, it’s like I’m searching for my parent’s story; things that they can’t tell me because it’s just too painful or things they just don’t want to taint my mind and heart with. Radio Pulgarcito has been a really healing and celebratory experience for me. Reclaiming my Salvadoran identity with pride while sharing it with the world. And sharing it with others who sometimes don’t understand or sometimes feel conflicted about Salvadorans because growing up in a Mexican neighborhood it was like “Eww you’re Salvadoran!”

    Linda: And sometimes it wasn’t even their fault. It was like their parents or uncles who’ve had experience with Salvadorans and were taught that way.

    Gabriel: It’s just a way of breaking that down, not perpetuating separation and actually just showing others our culture in a way that’s like, yeah we can learn from each other, respect each other’s music and culture, and find unity.

    Have you showed this project to your parents? What were their reactions?

    Gabriel: They’re fucking proud.

    Oscar: For this last holiday season, I just put everything that we’ve made on CD for them. I didn’t really get to talk to my parents much about it but my cousin’s wife was super into it and was talking to my other Tio and they were both like “Remember this song? who wrote this one? no I think it was this.” There were these CDs in my parent’s that were basically mixed CDs that have been around for a long time called Buenas Epocas. So, I’ve heard some of the songs we play as a kid. It’s been nice to share with my family because maybe there are songs that they’ve heard before but then there are a bunch where they’re like ‘oh I’ve never heard this one before…what is that?” It’s nice to share it with them even though it was theirs because they were living there, but we get to bring it back to them.

    Linda: My mom for Christmas was like bring your turn tables so I spun a little bit. It’s been nice to hear stories from people who follow us on IG who’ve shared that with us saying “I’ve never felt more Salvadoran!” or stuff like that. We’re like one big DJ force that curates an experience for people.

    How do you feel when you listen to Salvadoran music?

    Oscar: It’s nostalgic because I’ve grown up listening to some of these songs and as musicians, it’s nice to know that we’re continuing the tradition. It’s a wonderful feeling of reconnection.

    Linda: Not to sound like a Salvadoran cliché but [I feel] muy orgullosa de ser Salvadoreña! It’s fun to just be in the moment with both of them. It’s dope that we get to do this and have this “freedom” to be able to share it. Because it’s a luxury, I’m not going to lie. Growing up I knew that we were financially challenged, so to be able to be artists and live off of our art, I take it to the heart.

    Is there anything else you’d like to say or want people to know about Radio Pulgarcito?

    Oscar: I just want to say that my heart goes out to all the people who are going through all this terrible shit with TPS being revoked or DACA, or even if they don’t have neither one of those.

    Linda: Or just struggling. [Actually], not struggling because I hate using that word because we’ve just gone through so much and we just keep going. That’s not struggle, that’s perseverance — all the people who are out there grinding for something.

    Oscar: And hopefully Radio Pulgarcito can be their grinding soundtrack, or their enjoyment soundtrack.

    * Follow Radio Pulgarcito on Instagram and Mixcloud.

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