Morrissey: Patron Saint of Latino Youth?

Morrissey: Patron Saint of Latino Youth?

Written by V.Q. Wallace, Posted on , in Section Inspirational

If You Go To A Morrissey Show In Southern California, You Will Wonder About This

What makes me, an Irish white dude, think that it's ok to talk about Latino youth as though I have any stupendous insight? That's the thought that's plagued me every time I have pondered the strange connection between Morrissey and Latino youth.

I would occasionally ask Latino friends of mine, growing up, 'Do you like Morrissey?'

'Pfffft... of course. I love El Moz,' they'd say.

I remember when Morrissey headlined Coachella, all of my Mexican friends had to get to the very front of the crowd to see him. They spent all day there, missing out on many other bands that they liked playing on other stages.

I didn't get it. It's always been a little bit of an obsession for me.

Morrissey (founder of The Smiths, in case you didn't know) has always been an outcast. Even at the height of his fame, he felt like a man ripped straight from another century. In a world of misanthrope poet outcasts like Rimbaud or Baudelaire, Morrissey would have stuck out as a different kind of melancholy weirdo. He is supposedly asexual. And either way, his male and female fans seem to want to protect him more than to sleep with him or to be like him, as is often the case with other rock stars.

If you can think of a conventional rock star cliche, chances are that Morrissey embodies the opposite characteristics.

There are many seeming contradictions among Latino culture and Morrissey's message. As a kid growing up in Southern California, I can say with cautious authority that Latino culture has a machismo problem. Latino men, perhaps due to a Catholic upbringing or other deeply embedded cultural issues, are expected to embody the very definition of conventional masculinity: be strong, be tough, work hard, do not ask too many questions.

By contrast, Morrissey is somewhat androgynous. When he tells us 'Now I know how Joan of Arc felt' in Big Mouth Strikes Again, I get the feeling he doesn't just mean that he feels persecuted. After all, there are plenty of other historical figures who endured persecution who he could have name checked.

There are contradictions that get at something very obvious about why I fail to misunderstand the connection that Latino fans have made with Morrissey. One of my favorite things about living in Southern California is the tacos. Of course, it can be very superficial as a way to take the pulse of an entire culture, but I feel like appreciating a culture's food can teach you a lot about a group of people. It's why Anthony Bourdain's shows work. 

Here's what I have learned: I love tacos, be they carne asada, pollo or al pastor. Two small corn tortillas, some grilled meat, cilantro and onion, a little bit of salsa, and you're done. There are few things so simple, beautiful and delicious. So, when I think of Latino culture, one of the first things I think of is the taco trucks in my East Los Angeles neighborhood.

But then, here's one of those contradictions. Morrissey is perhaps the most ardent anti-meat activist the world has ever known. He named a song and an album Meat is Murder, after all. Surely, this veggie grazing loudmouth must have isolated some of his Latino fanbase by so fervently arguing against the inborn delight of traditional tacos. And here's where my logic breaks down, you see because Latinos in the US are 8% vegetarian, compared to Caucasians at 7% and every other ethnic group at even lower rates.

Seeing the number makes me feel pretty stupid. The next logical step I get to is even more dumb: is there so many Latino vegetarians because of Morrissey?

I won't entertain that line of thinking. At least not in this article.

Sadness As Style

So what is it about Morrissey that Latinos love? Is it as simple as style, as is so often the case with rock stars? 

Let's start with the hair. Morrissey borrowed elements of his style from rockabilly culture. He looks like James Dean if James Dean was a little less cool, and really depressed. Still the greaser culture of the fifties holds large sway over many young Latino men. Southern California is a car culture in general, and hot rods and a certain type of Latino kid were made for each other. But Morrissey really only adopted certain aesthetic elements of the look. He certainly isn't a car guy. I feel that this connection goes much deeper than style.

We like to think of the US as a culture of inclusion. We pat ourselves on the back and call ourselves the Melting Pot. However, if you talk to many immigrants, you will find that while most of them are happy to be here, they often face challenges that non-immigrants simply wouldn't understand.

So, that's the first component to what I believe is the true connection between Morrissey and Latino youth. Feeling different.

Most rock stars are different, but Morrissey is different in a different way.

Bowie seemed like an alien. Elvis seemed like the Devil. Morrison seemed like a trouble maker. Pete Townsend just didn't care. They all embodied things that made them stand out, but no rock star has ever been different the way that Morrissey is.

An immigrant population forms tightly bound communities. It is how cultures are preserved. I would guess that it may feel like sometimes the only place you can turn to would be to the people who understand what you're going through, the people who share your values and traditions in a country that doesn't really know anything about them. In a country that, just as I demonstrated above, can sometimes reduce your culture to tortillas, meat and some fixings. Latinos must help each other.

So maybe that tells us where the real appeal is. Naturally, not everyone is going to fit into a group.

As we mentioned above, Latino culture encourages a conventional type of masculinity. But what if you don't really relate to that? What if you don't want to have babies, or maybe even to have sex? What if you don't want to be tough? What if you feel a little bit sad, like, all of the time?

Well, for starters, you wouldn't feel very in tune with Latino culture.

Morrissey is probably the poet laureate of alienation. He doesn't fit in with the group. You'd see him, and think, there's a guy who doesn't fit in with regular people. He looks cool. But then you'd talk to him and you'd think, that guy doesn't fit in with anybody.

The pressure to assimilate is strong in any culture. It creates outsiders. Outsiders need an advocate, and who better than a man who has romanticized alienation? He wears the curse of his eternal loneliness on his sleeve.

Appropriating the look of 1950s tough guys is a form of armor. If you look tough, maybe no one will mess with you. Never mind the fact that you feel afraid and you aren't sure whether any of your friends would have your back, because they feel afraid too. It's complicated caring so much.

Delve further into Latin music and you will find examples of a similar kind of embattled sensitivity. Mexican singers are often romantic outcasts, singing plaintive songs about feeling real emotional pain.

Morrissey is the next logical step in a musical path for people who carry around a sense of melancholy. Of not fitting in anywhere except for at a Morrissey concert.

I think that is the real reason for Morrissey's appeal. People want to belong. So it's natural that there would be a group for people who don't feel like they belong in any other group.

Lack of fitting in can make any teenager's life a living hell at school. Kids can be vicious.

As Morrissey sings, 'I am human and I want to be loved, just like everybody else does.'

So, the unsurprising conclusion to this meandering path is that Morrissey appeals to Latino youth for much the same reason that he appeals to everyone else. It's just that maybe Latino youth need someone like Morrissey a little more than some other young people do.