An Interview with Guero Loco, or Mr. GL
I had to make a decision, I didn't like the idea of performing in night clubs at night and then doing community-based performances during the day. I felt that there was a huge conflict, but it also represented the conflict that I was going through as a person and as an artist; hold on to the old GueroLoco or fully embrace the new Mr. GL that I knew could do so much more. So we cancelled the night club gigs and stayed focused on educational and community side.
Please share with us a bit about your background and how you began your three-part career.
I'm currently a bilingual educational hip hop artist, and for the past 4 years I've been traveling around the US and Mexico performing for students and speaking to them about the importance of learning other languages. Before that, I spent over a decade in the Spanish hip hop and Reggaetón movements as a radio host and award-winning rapper, performing all over the US and touring internationally in Mexico. Spending 2 years in the classroom as a bilingual educator helped to show me the importance of education for our students. It also helped me realize that I could do more with my talents and my music.
How did you become interested in learning Spanish?
As a kid, I thought it would be cool to learn another language but I didn't really believe that I could do it. I grew up in Indiana in the 90's with 0 Spanish speaking relatives, so at that point, I didn't see a lot of reasons to learn another language. One of my high school teachers, Tom Alsop, really motivated me with his teaching techniques. He used games, skits, and music to get us learning Spanish. It was a different approach than I was used to, and I responded well. The next semester, Mr. Alsop wasn't my teacher and I gave up on learning the language. At the end of that semester, I earned an F because I didn't do what I was supposed to do. Fast forward 4 months, and the Marine Corps told me that I would be going to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA to learn the same language I failed, in a pretty intensive 6-month course. It gave me a solid foundation with the language, but what really captivated me and got me learning were the Latinos & Mexicanos that I met once I returned home to Indianapolis from the Marines. They motivated me to the next level to learn the language and accepted me into their communities.
How did you become interested in music?
I had been rapping since I was a teen, but I really started to focus on becoming a songwriter when I decided to rap 100% in Spanish. One of the Spanish rappers in my group challenged me to rap all-Spanish and told me he would help me do it. I had to become more disciplined and thankfully it turned me into more than just a freestyle rapper, and I became a songwriter. For Mexican and Latin music in general, it goes back to a couple years before that, when I began working for the first Spanish radio station in Indy in 2001. I started immersing myself in the different music styles that exist in the various cultures that identify with the Spanish language. From there I really got into Latin hip hop and Reggaetón and started a radio show with the first Latino I became friends with in Indy, Victor aka el Padrino. We were on the air for 1 year doing the best we could to bring these new sounds, and some classic rolas, to the community. Hip hop en Español became an everyday part of my life.
How has blending your passions for the Spanish language and music benefited others?
At this point, I hope that it has motivated a whole bunch of students, educators, and parents to see the importance of language learning, and the power of learning with music. I hope there's a few more positive thinkers and doers out there. When I'm not making educational songs like the Spanish ABC Rap and songs to conjugate the Verbos, I try my best to have positive messages in my music. Learning other languages and learning about other people is something personal for me. I just hope that people can see how other people being kind to me, and me trying to do the same, changed my life in so many different ways. Music can be used for good and for not so good, it depends on how we use it. Right now we're in a time where we need music; to be there for us, to help us learn, and to help us to express ourselves and what's happening in the world and the communities around us.
What motivated you to share your talents with others?
I think just knowing that this was the thing I could be doing to have the most positive effect possible. People in other countries are learning 3-5 languages before they're out of high school. As a nation, many times we're losing out to those countries and our students are losing out to those students. The world is globalized beyond the point of no return. We need to be able to compete at a higher level and we should be putting a stronger emphasis on language learning in the US. "English Only" doesn't work, it's setting us back. Besides the language side, I hope that I can motivate on a personal level too. A lot of the things I talk about are simple things that took me a long time to learn.
What did you learn while touring Mexico?
Mexico is where I learned that I really wanted to make the transition to being an educational hip hop artist. But every time I go to that beautiful country, I end up learning so much. The first time I toured there was in 2006, it was the first time I got "super star" treatment. But it also made me really miss just being able to be normal and hang out with the people on a human level, and not just because they see me on the tv and the concert promotion. In the summer of 2013, I was planning a much-anticipated return tour to Mexico. We had a lot of night clubs booked and they were paying, but then we started getting contacted by schools and community organizations that had heard about me and I found myself being torn. I had to make a decision, I didn't like the idea of performing in night clubs at night and then doing community-based performances during the day. I felt that there was a huge conflict, but it also represented the conflict that I was going through as a person and as an artist; hold on to the old GueroLoco or fully embrace the new Mr. GL that I knew could do so much more. So we cancelled the night club gigs and stayed focused on educational and community side. The Don Bosco school in San Luis Potosi is where I first spoke to students about learning other languages. From there, I knew that this is what I needed to be doing. The entire tour ended up financed by community-based businesses in Indianapolis who believed in what we were doing. Another important aspect of visiting Mexico has been the extreme kindness and hospitality that I've been shown whether there touring or just there as normal me. This can also be said of my visits to El Salvador and Cuba. The people show so much love to strangers, and many times it's those who have the least who make sure that you're taken care of. I think if more of us experience this, we'll see how important it is for us to do the same in our country.
Continue reading to see how Mr. GL successfully uses the arts in the classroom...