Who am I? And why does it matter to Notes From Her?

I almost died when I was born.

My mother was in labor with me for 56 hours and there were complications in how I was being birthed out of my mom’s womb. Both my mom and I were losing oxygen-if it weren’t for being born on the other side of the Mexican-American border and the resources of decent doctors and technology-my mom and I probably would not have survived. But God had different plans, and I was supposed to come into this world to make a difference

After I was finally born, my dad remembers I was the loudest baby there with the loudest cry. He joked I had good lungs and would be a great singer someday. I grew up singing before I learned to talk. A song was always on my tongue and music was always on my heart. I loved to perform at family gatherings and carne asadas and sing for my family songs from Disney princesses and Selena. Additionally, I used to love to watch the news and weather channel and pretend to report the daily weather to my parents. All someone had to do was say “Xochitl, sing me a song or tell me a story.” And I was on.

Once I got to college, I knew this would be my only chance to finally pursue music and singing the way I always dreamed of as a little girl but got sidetracked when I became busy being involved in other things throughout middle school and high school. Quite honestly, CSUN was my last choice in schools I wanted to go to. I thought I’d go away somewhere else. I got into many of the schools I worked hard to get accepted into, but as the daughter of two working-class teachers, financial aid was not kind to our situation. CSUN became the only school I could afford, and therefore my last choice of a school became my saving grace. I didn’t even get to audition for the music department because I didn’t think I’d be going to CSUN-it’s by the miracle of God that the chair of the voice department at the time, Dr. Sannerud, accepted my late audition and I was accepted as a music major.

Being at CSUN was a difficult transition at first. I was a working, commuting student driving from Santa Clarita and transitioning into my new life as a young adult where many of the friends I grew up with moved out of state and away to college. I dreamed of studying music, and while I went to school in the same valley I grew up in and was my home, I still felt like a foreigner especially in the music department. I was not used to classical music and felt I didn’t have a lot of knowledge on classical compositions, music theory, choral experience, sight-reading skills, and vocal technique like some of my classmates. That first semester, I felt I didn’t really connect with my colleagues on a deeper level. I was a Chicana 18-year-old trying to find my voice in the rigorous world of classical music. Every week-my highlight became my voice lessons with Dr. David Sannerud, the same professor who accepted me into the program. Had it not been for the voice lessons I had with him, his wisdom, guidance, and encouragement, I most likely would have dropped the music major and pursued something else. 

I am so glad I persevered and continued to study music. I received a great education and straight A’s in high school from every subject except music, because my school didn’t have a strong music program, so suddenly in college-it was like starting at square one when it came to music! I studied hard in music theory, sight-reading, got into my first opera and the top choir at CSUN (Northridge Singers), and grew in my voice as a Bachelors of Music Vocal Performance major. CSUN music department became my true home away from home (even though I was still living at home but would be gone from 8am-11pm for class and opera rehearsals) and the amazing department that helped shape me into the musician I am today. I am so thankful for CSUN Music and how it helped jumpstart making my dreams come true!

I could never shake off the itch I had to pursue something else as an additional career or passion to music. I was always very interested in several things growing up. I loved law (and was even in a law and government magnet program at my high school), public speaking in speech and debate, sports, activism, language, culture, Chicana studies, and so much more. I knew I wanted to pursue either a double major or major and minor in addition to my music degree. For those who don’t know, pursuing a music degree is like practically having a double-major already or a second job. Rehearsal hours are long, you must practice your music constantly, on top of homework, gigs, and performances you have around the clock. Pursuing a minor was not encouraged, but I was determined to get the most out of my education.

I went back and forth in what I should minor in. Chicano Studies? Linguistics? Gender Studies? Literature Creative Writing? Law? What? I researched so much and came across the Spanish-Language Journalism Minor. It was a minor in the journalism department that included an interdisciplinary approach to multimedia journalism including Spanish classes, Chicano and Central American Studies, and journalism classes.

PERFECT. I had found my minor. It was an education that would mix practically everything I was passionate about.

I emailed the advisor for the minor, Dr. Jose Luis Benavides, and we met in order for him to tell me more about the minor. We formed an instant connection and declared a minor in Spanish language journalism. After this, I had to find a way to incorporate the minor into my very busy class schedule. I took an introductory journalism class over the summer and enrolled in the core classes for the minor the following year which was Spanish Language News Environment and Spanish Media Writing. It was my junior year in the Spanish-Language News Environment class that my wheels started to turn with ideas I already had ruminating under the surface.

I always desired to find a way to combine my passion for music and journalism to effect social change and bring awareness for social issues. I have always been a writer. 0ne who writes to heal and one who writes to heal others. I have also always been a woman with a big voice-both in singing and speaking. I always thought if I wasn’t pursuing singing, I’d pursue a career in broadcast journalism or reporting.

I did not want to sacrifice both; therefore, I needed to find a way to make the two become one.

While doing this, ever since I became involved in the classical music industry, I noticed that I was one of the only Chicana girls I knew in the classical music department. I longed to find an international opera star gracing the stages of the Metropolitan Opera to look like me or have my similar background. I was desperate to find people in my Latino community who like classical music or finding people who would go to the opera or classical music who weren’t upper class white people. I am not criticizing that it is wrong that the music industry, especially the classical music industry is predominantly dominated and curated by upper class, older white people, but I am merely pointing out the obvious fact that the classical music and opera stages lack the diverse representation in age, gender, and ethnicity or the storylines and compositions that reflects the population, social issues, and present-day world around us.

Life imitates arts and art imitates life; therefore in order for music and opera to thrive as a poignant commodity and healing process for people, we need to include stories and people from all walks of life.

For years, I had this thought ruminating in my mind. How could I combine both my journalism and music skills? I knew I had to complete a project. But how? What kind of a project and by what means? For months I couldn’t get this thought process out of my head and struggled to find the angle or medium I would complete this process and for what purpose. Would it be another type of degree? A program or internship? A project? A Research analysis? What? I prayed day and night for God to reveal to me what these ideas meant. I talked to Dr. Benavides, friends, family, and countless mentors about my thoughts and ideas and we’d constantly end up int the same starting point as before that lead to somewhere but we were unaware of where. I was always sensitive to how to change this world, sensitive and emotional by the political and social turmoil around me in Trump’s America. How could I make a difference? What did this all mean for me? I was searching everywhere.

And one day, I found what I was searching for. It came rushing to me like a deluge in my mind’s imagination. Without much more time thinking about it, I was ready to unleash it and bring this idea to fruition. 

And that is how Notes From Her was born.

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