Morrissey's Mexican-American Mystique: Behind the Obssession With the Smiths Frontman

The Smiths frontman gets mucho Moz love from Latinos.

October 15, 2012, 10:53 AM

Oct. 15, 2012— -- British singer Morrissey is known for having one of the most devoted (if slightly obsessed) fandom around. His loyal Latino following, particularly among Mexican-Americans in California, has inspired forum discussions, trend pieces , TV segments--even a documentary.

Many theories have been proffered as to why the Smiths ex-frontman's music is"stuff" Chicanos like. Some say it's his greaser style and quiff'd hair, whichhave roots in cholo culture, while others point to his charismatic performance style and liken it to Latin crooners like Raphael and José José .

Morrissey has embraced and made overtures to his Latino fan base in number of ways over the years, including penning songs (like " Mexico" and "First of the Gang to Die") and appearing in full Chivas regalia during a concert at the Hollywood Palladium in 2009.

Marina Garcia-Vasquez, co-founder of the New York City-based Mexican cultural site Mex and the City and Californian of Mexican descent, thinks it's the British singer's own background (as an ethnic Irish) and the sense of alienation in his songs that resonates with fans.

"The sense of being an other and identifying as other," she explained. "Of Mexican-American youth feeling ostracized or not a part of a homogenous American culture and really kind of understanding that sentiment in Morrissey's lyrics, which are always very gloomy."

Her group began hosting a "Mexican Morrissey" dance party at Manhattan's Lit Lounge in April. The monthly Moz fete—which will next take place on November 7 — features Smiths' tunes and solo songs, as well as Spanish-language covers, Latin pop, and other music of the era like Joy Division.

"We wanted to do our own party and it made sense for us from the Mexican sub-cultural level," Marina said. "All of our friends thought it would be great and wouldn't be stepping on the toes of the mainstream Morrissey nights. So we just did it as a one-off event and everyone was so excited about it that we decided to make it a monthly."

On the lines outside Morrissey's sold-out Terminal 5 shows this past Friday and Saturday evenings, Latino fans' opinions on his Moz's Latin mystique varied.

Llamil Mena Brito, 28, a writer from Mexico City who came specifically to see Morrissey, echoed Marina's sentiment and said that it was Morrissey's strong sense of empathy that first drew him to the Brit.

"I think it's this sense of inclusion for Latinos—and he's a guy who precisely talks about being excluded and I think that's beautiful," said Llamil, a self-proclaimed fanático since age 12.

"I've read about it and asked Los Angeles friends, who are also fans, and it's not that he sings to us Mexicans in particular. There is a song about Mexico, but it's always been something very natural and intimate," he mused.

Llamil has seen Morrissey every time he's played Mexico since his first show in 2000. The Terminal 5 shows were his eighth and ninth times seeing the singer. He will also be attending Morrissey's Las Vegas show on November 23.

"His ballad couldn't be more British so it isn't similar to the Mexican ballad in that sense, but it does have a very beautiful, human conscience and that's something we Mexicans love: Que te canten bien."

Cesee C., 36, a Queens native of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent who started listening to Morrissey as a 13-year-old, wasn't aware of a die-hard Latino fandom—besides her own.

"The melody of the music and his lyrics are really beautiful—that's what appeals to me, I don't know why it would appeal to any other Latino," she said.

San Diego-native Sergio Valencia, on the other hand, was very familiar with the cultish elements among Moz's Latino followers.

"It's a diehard fan base [spanning] from old to young," he said.

Sergio was on a business trip in D.C. and came up for the Friday show. He's seen Morrissey live eight times. He tries to catch a show whenever he travels and has gone as far as England to see him perform.

"The first song I ever listened to was a Smiths song," he recalled. "My brother picked me up from 5th grade and he was blasting "This Charming Man" in his car and I saw the 8th graders were all impressed so I guess he kind of had me from there."

Jessica Ruiz and Ernie Diaz came up from Miami, Florida for all three of Moz's local dates. (He also performed to sold-out audience at Radio City Music Hall on Wednesday night.) Jessica, a fan since age 12, introduced Ernie to his music when they started dating about a year ago.

"He's a great lyricist and knows how to really transmit those feelings of sadness," Ernie said. "He seems to pin down situations that you've been in before."

As vegetarians, they also admire Morrissey's animal rights activism.

"He's very passionate in his beliefs—in his politics and his writing—and you have to respect that," Ernie said.

The Radio City show was both their first times seeing the singer live. Jessica had tickets to a 2008 show in Florida but he cancelled and hasn't been back since.

"You idolize this person for so long and then you finally see him," she said. "Words can't describe. You get the warm and fuzzies and you cry, of course, you cry a lot."

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