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…

As a teacher, how did you implement the arts and other methods within your classroom?

I’m really big about using alternative teaching methods to get the kids learning that don’t always learn best with the more traditional methods. I was one of those kids. Many of the most successful teachers I know are using out-of-the-box teaching methods to get their students learning. Music has so much power to be a teaching tool. When I was at Belzer Middle School in Indy, I worked with kids who were immigrants or the children of immigrants. We found that when we could get them reading, learning, and writing about what they were passionate about, their overall performance and participation went up. For many of these kids it was the DREAM Act, anti-immigrant laws, and other issues affecting them and their families. We would have them research, do debates and write about their own feelings. Not only did this help us with our educational goals, we also wanted to make sure we were empowering the kids by giving them a safe and open space to talk about their feelings.

How do you believe bilingual education benefits students?

Well honestly, I haven’t found one negative yet. To this day, no one has been able to explain to me one negative drawback to learning another language. The scientific and social research is there, showing the awesome benefits of being bilingual or multilingual. I believe the US is in a unique position to fully embrace bilingual education for our Heritage learners and also for the gringo kids like me who are just starting to learn another language. I think we need to take some serious steps toward blending our bilingual classrooms with our traditional Spanish learner classrooms, and be fair about it too. There is room to do so much more and, at the same time, change the stigma that ESL and dual language classrooms can sometimes have. Speaking another language should be celebrated, not looked down upon. By erasing that line, and knocking down that wall, our kids can start to learn from each other. At the same time, they’ll be forming relationships with each other that may last a lifetime. Those who know Spanish well will be leaders that can help and guide the others, while simultaneously boosting their own self-image and love for their heritage language.

What advice do you have for other teachers who are looking to maintain their drive to educate younger generations?

Just remember that educators are our first and last line of defense for the future of our country and the world. The more educated we are as a people, the more successful we’ll be. It can be frustrating, but we have to find the ways to get our students understanding that. I’m not being cliché, I really mean this… the good educators are the super heroes of this country, whether they realize it or not. Going into the 5th grade, I thought I was dumb and definitely knew I wasn’t like the other kids. Through the 3rd and 4th grade, I was dismissed as the disruptive “bad” kid. But in reality, I just learned differently. Mrs. Dorothy Davis realized that and put me in advanced classes where the work was more hands on and thought/discussion based. In that moment, she 100% changed the way that I saw myself. If my teacher told me I was smart then I had to be, is how I saw it. It took me over 20 years to track Mrs. Davis down just to tell her “Thank you”. I was shocked when this amazing, life changing educator told me that no one had ever reached out to her to tell her the impact she had made in her classrooms. It bothered me and it made me realize that our educators don’t hear it enough. Many times, they’re literally with students more than they or their students are with their families throughout the week. The potential impact that one educator can have cannot be overstated. Keeping them motivated and giving them the tools that they need is vital to the future of our nation. So, if you’re reading this and you know that you’re giving your students your all, even if you haven’t heard from them yet, just know that you are making a huge impact on their lives. Don’t get too beat up by it all, stay positive, and take the time for self-care when you need to.

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.

Do you have a preference between performing your educational music vs. your personal music?

Definitely my focus is more on the educational music. But now I’m working on ways to make the two come together. My first educational songs were conjugating the Spanish Verbos with reggaeton tracks. We made 15 present tense verb songs, but then the teachers started asking me for past tense conjugation songs. I tried to do something similar to the present tense Verbo songs but the preterite has a lot more syllables. So I got to thinking and it hit me. If I make a song about my past and how I learned Spanish, then I’ll mostly be using past tense verbs. That’s how “Como Aprendí el Español” was born. It’s a track with a strong hip hop beat and me rapping about how I learned Spanish. A lot of this interview is in the song actually. In the first verse alone, there are 21 past tense verbs that teachers and students can use to decipher the song with classroom handouts. I have a feeling that I’ll still be making both styles, with plenty of edutainment combos, for quite a while.

Just remember that educators are our first and last line of defense for the future of our country and the world. The more educated we are as a people, the more successful we’ll be

As a parent, what advice do you have for parents who are looking to support their child’s education at home?

Use the free and fun resources that are available. When I first began to know more Spanish, it was difficult to even find DVD’s with Spanish dubs or subtitles. Now almost all of them have both. We’ve progressed a little bit. There are plenty of resources online also, especially on Youtube where kids are watching cartoons and learning the target language at the same time. As you’ll see, many of these resources incorporate songs and music to help the kids learn. Use the music that is out there also, whether it’s mine, or music from other artists, or a combination; use the music. The human brain is addicted to rhythm and repetition. Think about the things you’ve learned with music, or the song lyrics that you can still remember from your childhood. That’s the power of music. Netflix, while not free, is also becoming a powerful tool for bilingual kids edutainment. Also, use as much of the target language as possible. The awesome thing about kids is that they adapt easily. English will come to them quickly once they start school, just out of social necessity. But the more that you use the target language in the early years, the better chance they have of it staying with them for life.

What advice do you have for those interested in learning languages later in life?

DO IT!! Don’t get discouraged, just keep practicing. The science says that it gets more difficult to learn another language as we get older. But with drive and some self-motivation, you can definitely do it. More difficult doesn’t mean impossible. It may require you to spend a bit more time immersing yourself in the language and visiting other countries, but from my own experience that’s a pretty good thing.

How would you describe how being bilingual has benefited your life?

It completely changed my life. Before I met Vic and then started working for the radio stations, I was fresh out of the Marines and had no real direction for my life. The Mexican and Latino communities in Indiana turned my whole life around. Almost any and everything that has made me successful, goes back to me learning the language that I failed in high school. From almost all of my jobs to the personal relationships that I’ve built. Whether it’s standing up for our human rights, or fighting for a bilingual education for everyone, I’m just trying to give back the love that I’ve been shown while trying to pay it forward as much as possible. Shout outs to everyone fighting for bilingual education!!

For more information about GueroLoco aka Mr. GL’s music and school tours, go to He will also be a featured speaker at the 2018 California Association for Bilingual Education Conference in March.

Patricia Griselda Pérez
Author: Patricia Griselda Pérez

Dr. Patricia Pérez holds an A.A. from Ohlone College: B.A. and M.S. degree from California State University, East Bay and an Ed.D. from the University of San Francisco. She serves as an educator, consultant and teacher coach, which provides professional development, curriculum development and multicultural awareness services to local and international educational institutions and corporations. Dr. Pérez is fluent in Spanish and began her career as an elementary school teacher in a bilingual classroom. In the past two decades, she has developed a wide range of experience working at every level of public education, providing support to educators and directly to students. Her interest focus on promoting educational excellence through equity in order to overcome institutional barriers that confront underserved students of diverse backgrounds. Dr. Pérez is also an accomplished writer and has published in the areas of multicultural education and organizational management and leadership. She is a contributing author to Multicultural Education in Practice: Transforming One Community at a Time and Collaboration and Peak Performance: A Multidisciplinary Perspective for Emerging Leaders.

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