n“Ms. Cervantes, what are you doing here?”
“Are you famous, Ms.?”
“Can I get your autograph?”
“Wow! Thank you for singing for us! Best sub ever!”
“You should try out for The Voice/American Idol, Ms. Cervantes! You’d win!”
My students have told me such beautiful things over the years to encourage me and to show me that I am good enough.
But people can tell you the most amazing things to lift you up and motivate you and yet, nothing will change and you will not move forward unless you truly believe these things yourself.
I most certainly struggled with self-confidence, but thankfully, I wasn’t alone, and because my desire to make music was so great, I was able to slowly show the world what I wanted and receive opportunities to express myself in the process.
What I can tell my students who are interested in becoming musicians or artists is this: If you aren’t feeling confident about what you do and that’s why you’re not fully going for it, start with one thing a day that makes you feel more confident and brings you closer to your dreams and let it snowball from there.
It all starts with feeling of joy for what you like to do and then doing it so often that it becomes a skill. You hone your talent simply by joyfully engaging with it on a daily basis until you feel the undeniable urge to confidently share it with others.
A lot of people don’t grow up in a musical family—I certainly didn’t. And not having the tools to progress with your talent at a young age shouldn’t discourage you.
My parents, for example, were immigrants, and because of their citizenship status they were already at a grave disadvantage. But that didn’t stop them. My mom emigrated from El Salvador when she was 14, and my dad from Mexico when he was 18. My dad came here to make money and open up his own business, and my mom came to be reunited with her mother and to also seek refuge from the political turmoil happening in her country at the time while taking advantage of a free public education system.
My dad loved music, but he wasn’t a musician or a singer. He was a DJ, meaning he had great taste, excellent charisma on the microphone and a wonderful stage presence. He really knew how to work a crowd and make them laugh. His record collection took up an entire wall, floor to ceiling, of crates in our garage back when we used to live in Bell Gardens. It took him a while to even have a DJ system complete with turntables, a gigantic PA, records and a crew. But he made it happen by working odd jobs and renting a room in a house, then learning what he needed to learn in order to become a DJ. My dad was very friendly and a loyal person to his associates, so he made fast friends. These friends soon became either his mentors or his crew and he invented what he called “The Stereo Club”. From what he told me, he used to make flyers and print them out, then distribute them everywhere. Then, he’d invest money in a dance hall and rent it for the night. He’d charge at the door for his flyer parties and generate a profit from attendance. After a while, he was so prosperous that he would have several parties going on at a time while he simply oversaw everything, and he made sure to help anyone who was in his crew in exchange for them serving him.
My dad was a natural entrepreneur.
He told me that when he was a kid in Mexico, he would often open up small businesses like selling aguas frescas, candies and all sorts of other merchandise for a profit.
Coming to America, for him, gave him a chance to develop his natural entrepreneurial skills on a grander scale.
Then, he met my mom.
From what my aunts told me, my dad had many girlfriends at the peak of his DJ career. My mom was basically the one who got pregnant and decided to keep it. That “accident,” of course, was me.
But my dad always told it to me differently.
My dad would say, “Mija, you were born from a star. I could feel it. I knew that about you, that you were special.” And so, when my dad noticed from a young age that I loved music and especially singing, he wasn’t afraid to offer me opportunities to express my interests.
I used to love watching Disney movies and singing along to the Disney princess songs, especially Ariel from The Little Mermaid.
I would repeat her vocalises over and over, pretending I was her.
My mom told me that by the time I was about 3, I was singing all the time. It was easy to. My mom and dad both loved music and it was always playing in the house, in both English and Spanish. But I had also taken it upon myself to learn how to operate the VCR in the living room just to be able to watch The Little Mermaid whenever I wanted to.
My mother told me, “First, you would find the videocassette with the picture on it that you knew was The Little Mermaid: How you knew which one it was I have no idea, since you were too young to know how to read. We had so many cassettes but I guess you’d memorized what your favorite looked like. Then, you’d turn on the TV and flip it until you saw the number 3. Again, you didn’t know your numbers but you knew what shape was the symbol that you needed to flip to that would show you your video. Finally, you popped it in and, if you needed to, you’d press the rewind button. After it started playing from the beginning, you’d walk backwards and plop yourself on the living room floor, and start singing. You did this every day.”
At the age of 3, I was intensely attracted to a narrative about a teenaged mermaid who loved to sing but loved the idea of stepping outside of the comfort zone of the life she was born into even more, to the extent that she would sacrifice her gift and make deals with evil witches in order to make her dreams come true...all for love.
I was not born into a life that fully supported my dreams. I didn’t come from a legacy of musicians and singers like many people that I know now. The only person in my family who knew how to play an instrument was my grandfather, and he played the guitar but neither he nor anyone else taught me how to play. There were no programs at school that would teach me how to play the piano or the guitar like I desired. Instead, I had to develop such a burning desire for what I wanted and not be ashamed to let the world know about it in order for me to attract the circumstances that would materialize such a desire.
My dad saw this desire in me, and he put me to the test, using his platform as a training ground for me. I was four when he started putting me onstage or in the center of the crowd and play a song I liked so that I would sing along. It actually became a running joke, because of the particular song choice.
Back in the early 90’s, there was a pretty famous female rock singer named Alejandra Guzman. She was attractive, edgy and on top of the Spanish charts at the time. I loved her song, “Hacer El Amor Con Otro,” and would reportedly sing it around the house, so when my dad played it one day for the audience and brought me up on the stage to sing it in my best 3-year-old voice, it was definitely meant to inspire laughter. For those of you who don’t know, the song is about a woman who has revenge sex outside of her relationship in an effort to hurt her lover but hurts herself more in the process. Here are the lyrics that I used to sing:
“Hacer el amor con otro
No no no!
No es la misma cosa
No hay estrellas de color rosa
No destillan los poros del cuerpo
Ambrosia salpicada de te quieros
Hacer el amor con otro
No no no!
Es como no hacer nada
Falta fuego en la Mirada,
Falta dar el alma en cada beso
Y sentir que puedes alcanzar el cielo”
Basically, my first public performance was a cover of a rock song that was wildly inappropriate for my age, and it completely went over my head that my dad and the world were laughing at me instead of with me…But my dad noticed something else.
He noticed I wasn’t shy. He noticed I truly enjoyed having the microphone in my hand and singing in front of people.
But my dad was conservative. He wasn’t the kind that was willing to push me out there. He wanted me to have a childhood and to organically develop my own interests.
Slowly, I let my own natural desires and interests show up and become apparent for others to see. Because when you’re a child, you don’t often dream consciously unless you see something that catches your attention, and in that case I still believe that what you are attracted to as a child, and what you admire is who you are inside seeking outer validation and expression.
I was always a singer. That’s simply who I came here to be. It was all the other stuff that got in the way of that. It was the conditioned feeling of not being good enough, the suppression of my desires, the teasing and name-calling, the naysayers, and the “practical advice” that got in the way.
I believe that when we get in touch with what we enjoy with a childlike joy, we have found what it is we truly desire. Don’t be afraid to engage in it, to play with it every day, at any moment that you can, because it’s your inner being seeking to be let out. Honor it and watch how, by staying true to who you are and honoring your inner desires, you attract the events that help make your wildest dreams come true.
If you love to write, keep writing. If you love to play sports, keep playing. If you love to sing, keep singing. Never stop. Do it for love. Get out of your comfort zone. Don’t worry about how other people react to your decision to express yourself. The rest will come.