What does it look like to build alternatives within academia? In this episode I talk with music historian and DJ Alex La Rotta, PhD about readjusting expectations for what academia can look and feel like for our generation. Great conversation about everything from tejano music to classism within the academy to charting our own paths.
Connect with Alex on IG at @alarotta.
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Dr. Carmela Muzio Dormani - aka your host, Mela - is a sociologist, dancer, and creative consultant.
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Speaker 1 (00:09):
Welcome to the Millennial PhD, a podcast about creative survival and beyond. My name is Dr. Carmela Muzio Dormani and I'm a sociologist, dancer and creative consultant from New York. In these episodes, you'll find inspiration, ideas, and actionable tips for building new pathways forward in work and life. You'll hear from artists, activists, creative entrepreneurs, PhDs, and professional pivoters. We talk about radical humanity and practical steps to follow your dreams, even in the context of challenging social conditions. Before we jump into today's episode, a quick reminder to follow the millennial PhD on Instagram, and to please take a minute to rate and a review the millennial PhD on Apple podcasts. Your rating really helps the show reach as many listeners as possible. You can learn more about me and get access to free creative resources on the millennial PhD Instagram page, email@example.com. I hope you enjoyed the episode.
Speaker 2 (01:15):
Welcome back to the millennial PhD, where we talk about art, creativity, and radical humanity in motion. I'm your host, me, and today I'm talking with Alex Loda, who is an assistant professor in the Department of History at Houston Community College. His scholarship focuses on race and popular music in the US Mexico Borderlands, and he is an avid record collector and dj, which we will definitely be talking about today. Alex, thanks so much for coming
Speaker 3 (01:41):
On. Hey, Mala, thanks so much for having me.
Speaker 2 (01:44):
I'm so excited to talk to you because first of all, I love catching up with you. Um, we met through a fellowship, uh, a couple years ago that was really transformative for me career-wise, and I, I, I'm sure it had a strong impact for you as well. Um, and we've gotten to stay in touch and we met up a few times when you were in New York. We did a panel together. Um, we've gotten to talk salsa together a little bit here and there, so it's been really great, um, just to, you know, continue building that relationship. Um, I read off some of the cliff notes from your bio, so why don't we start with, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Speaker 3 (02:19):
Cool. Well, thanks again, Mala. Uh, the feelings are mutual, by the way, and I, I'm, I'm excited to talk about I U P L R, which is the fellowship that you're mentioning that Met got out I U p LR <laugh>, uh, <laugh>, the gift that keeps on giving <laugh>. Um, so, okay, lemme try to give you the basics. I mean, yeah, my name is Alex Loreta, of course, as you mentioned, I'm here at Houston Community College, as you also mentioned, a full-time professor here, um, in the Department of History. It's also kind of a homecoming for me because I'm from Houston. And so, um, I was recently, So let me, let me Okay. Kind of give you sort of the, the basics. Um, I got here. Should I start just like with the, the educational kind of pathway to, to becoming like a history?
Speaker 2 (03:07):
Sure, yeah. Give us the, give us the bullet points and also kind of whatever version of tell us about yourself you wanna focus on. That's, that's, you know, we love to hear it.
Speaker 3 (03:16):
Cool. Um, yeah, so I'm first generation Houstonian. My parents are from Columbia, and I grew up in Houston. And so, um, yeah, kind of born and raised here. I've always, um, Houston's always kind of been a part of my life, and so it's good to be here teaching again and I teaching at community college, which is really nice. Um, in fact, when my, a lot of my family arrived in Houston, they took classes at, at community college, so that was also kinda a nice, like, they're taking like ESL classes, like my father and my uncle took, took, uh, ESL classes when they arrived to Houston in the seventies. And so that's kind of a nice feeling, you know, to kind of be a part of that institution again. And, um, yeah, so I teach history. My fields are like in Latino history, music and social and cultural history.
And currently at HCC Houston Community College, um, I teach US history, which are part of the, kind of like a core curriculum that students have to take, you know, in higher education. And so it's like US History one and two, and then next year I'm gonna be teaching Mexican-American history. And so I'm looking forward to that because that's kind of a little bit more in like, Oh, nice. In my wheelhouse of like my, my specialties as an historian <laugh>. So that's cool. And then beyond that, beyond teaching, so right now this, the sort of the career path of on right now is pretty kind of teaching intensive, but beyond that, I also still kind of keep engaged with like writing. I try to read a lot in things that are going on in my field, especially in Latino, uh, music and social history and, and also staying engaged with like, conferences in the field and so forth.
And, um, yeah. And then so, but the music part of it, you know, that's, that's been kind of a through line in my life for a long time. Um, I decided I wanted to do, when I was thinking about graduate studies and thinking about history specifically, um, one I really enjoyed, like my undergraduate studies, I was a political science major, and I found that I had a knack for reading and for research, and that I, I like, like, uh, reading intensive courses, writing intensive courses. And when I was thinking about a graduate career and what am I do with that, I thought about like, well, music's always been a mainstay in my life. Um, as you mentioned, I collect records and I'm also a dj, and that started when I was a teenager, um, just through my interest and fascination with hiphop and hiphop music and hiphop culture.
And so basically I kind of found a way to kind of marry that into my academic interest. I was like, Well, this is something that I've always loved, and how can I think about music as like an historical subject, you know? Because for a long time, music really hasn't been considered like a serious subject in history, You know, it's like kind of been just, and, and I'm sure you can, uh, you know, you can feel part of that too because I think popular culture, popular studies, um, and in history, which tends to be kind of a conservative field in academia, uh, I think it had been kind of disregarded or thought of to be something as just not very serious. And so, um, but I found works and, um, works of scholarship are popular works people, professors, uh, writers that were thinking about music as an historical subject.
And, um, I kind of found a pathway like just inspirations and others that were doing that basically. And then just was like, Okay, let me try to make this work. I want to <laugh>. I was like reading books from other, like, music historians and I said, They're professors at this university. And oh, okay. They got, like, they got, you know, uh, degrees in higher education. They got their ma they got their PhD mm-hmm. <affirmative>, and now they're professors and they're writing books and essays. I was like, That's what I wanna do, <laugh>. So that's kind of, sort of the short story of that. But, um, that's, uh, that was the inspiration to start grad school. And then that's kind of where I'm at right now.
Speaker 2 (07:08):
Yeah. That's great. I'm, I'm glad you, you got right into that because I, my next kind of one of my questions for you is, was about exactly this, this idea. What made you decide to study music and cultural history as opposed to literally anything else? And just following up from what you've just said about it, when you, when you went into your program, was this the topic that you were gonna focus on from the start? Was there any pushback on that? Or did you kind of go in as a generalist and then find your way to the music and cultural history parts?
Speaker 3 (07:40):
Yeah, that's a really good question. Like, actually, it's interesting, interesting because at the beginning I was thinking about musicology. I thought that, and I, and I thought about that in terms of like pursuing a graduate degree in musicology because what I was interested in doing was, see, I'm not a musician. And that's a lot of time, a lot of people's first questions like, Oh, you must be a musician. Cuz I write, I write a lot about music. I write about what musician musicians do, <laugh> and I talk about the performance of music and I'm very much interested in, in music and musicality, but I'm not actually a musician myself. So it's like, I was like, really? I tell people, like, I tried to come to as close to it as possible. And in any case, music college is a lot of times of course about the study of music, the discipline of music and the practice of music and sort of the various meanings of that, you know, in different kind of fields of humanities and social sciences.
And so I thought about that. But again, having my lack of knowledge of, um, musicianship, I was like, Well, that's not exactly what I want to do. And so I started to, to dig a little bit deeper in that and I thought, well, what if I think about that as a, as a history, you know, in terms like the field. And, um, I came about in my, I I did my master's at Texas State University in San Marcos and Texas State University has this, um, center called the Center for Texas Music History. And I was interested in doing something on like Chicano music, Latin music in Texas. And, um, I had gravitated to a lot of Latin music, especially vintage Latin music. And I was finding it both as an identity and to kind of who I was, but also that there hadn't really been written much about people who were making music in my home state or really, you know, throughout the United States.
Um, and so anyways, this master's program and this particular center that's a, this is a center that's just devoted to people who are thinking and writing about music history in Texas. And I was like, Well, if I'm thinking about Chicano music in Texas, like this is kind of a, a right place for this. And so I became interested in what they were doing there. I learned what music historians were doing and how they were treating music as a, as a, uh, subject of historical study. And then, um, so there was kind of a model there and there was a, a mentor that I had there, Gary Hartman, that kind of helped me kind of refine that vision. And um, so that started as a master's student and I did that and I did pretty well with that. And then I moved on. And to be, to be honest, I thought that was gonna be kind of terminal for me. I was like, just a masters, that's it. I was like, cuz that was gonna be a pipeline to teaching at community college. Cause I was like, you know what? If I get a master's, I can teach at community college and then I can write about music on the side and that's all I want to do.
Speaker 2 (10:25):
Oh, that's really interesting.
Speaker 3 (10:26):
Yeah. So I kind of just thought like that was gonna be it. And I actually did that for a year. I taught at community college back home and I came back to home to Houston and I did that, but I was adjuncting and then I realized like, wait a second, this is totally unsustainable. I can't, can't do this full time. And the only people that they were getting full-time work were, uh, um, the professors with PhDs. And then, um, so I had my men, my former mentor that was kind of pushing me to consider to get a PhD and that at the University of Houston, being back home, I knew that, um, there was a great program there. I was familiar with some of the historians. So I thought like if I was to do it, I would do it here at home, like back in, in Houston.
Cause it was like, I don't really want to go. I was like, I don't know if this is something I wanna go like to apply to a program out of state. You know, I was like, But it's here, it's here in Houston. They got a great program. And so it just kind of like aligned that way. And um, but to get to your question about like, music in history, again, that kind of falls under the kind of the culture category. Like, oh, that's cultural history, you know, and then it's, but it is a lot of times even those that, uh, historians that identify themselves to be cultural historians, they don't necessarily do music history. And so
Speaker 2 (11:43):
Don't get me started on cultural sociology and sociology of culture. Yeah. Which are two different things somehow
Speaker 3 (11:50):
<laugh>. Right, Right. Yeah. What is exactly, Um, so, so that, there's always been some kind of tension I think between like how I identify myself, how I like prioritize my work and where it fits into the field. I think that tension was there from the beginning. And I continue to feel that tension, the difference being that I've become more confident in who I am. And I, and I've kind of learning to master my subject, you know, <laugh> in a better way. And, and I've made strides, I've made achievable gains or goals, you know, over those years. So I'm, I, it was sort of like, uh, an uncharted pathway, but I kind of found my way through it, you know, over time. And so there wasn't an exact model necessarily, but there were other peoples that I found inspirations in. And I think that people, peoples in my ma program to my PhD programs to IU P L R have helped me think about that work and like how it, why <laugh>, why I should pursue it, what is the meaning of it? And as we continue to kind of chew in those like kind of deeper philosophical questions like what is the meaning of this? And how can I, um, pitch this as like kind of a public, uh, um, a public history, you know? And so yeah. Anyways, that's kind of, that's kind of part of it, I guess. Um, yeah, <laugh>,
Speaker 2 (13:08):
Yeah, definitely. I love hearing you tell some of your story because first of all, I feel like you're, you're like a Texas person in the way that I'm a New York person. Just in the sense that like, everybody's like, I did my undergrad at like this school in New York and then I went and did this. I like this school. And like, look where I wound up <laugh>. Definitely see that parallel there. So I feel that I appreciate it, <laugh>. And I also was feeling your story about musicology or ethnomusicology. Yeah. I think I told you that I once had an interview for an ethnomusicology department when I was on the academic job market. Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. No, my field is, is sociology and like sociology of dance. Um, but I applied for this cuz they were like, apply for everything <laugh>. And I did an interview and like, maybe the second question was like, how would you teach music theory?
Speaker 3 (13:55):
Speaker 2 (13:56):
Just like, I wouldn't because <laugh>
Speaker 3 (13:59):
<laugh> I wouldn't, because I don't do
Speaker 2 (14:01):
That. I don't know that. Yeah. So <laugh>, it's just exactly, It's, it's funny. Um, but it's also interesting hearing, hearing you talk about your journey to kind of become more confident and what your stance is kind of like your disciplinary stance. I've also found it interesting that some of the fields that I feel like there, there was some resistance to maybe, um, on the job market. It also seems like then there's almost this tension because then people are like, Oh, wow. Like that's really interesting. Yeah. Um, that's what I felt that with the dance stuff. Um, and, and maybe you felt it with some of the history of music stuff, but that doesn't always translate into the job <laugh>. Yes. It's just like, oh, well. Like, wow. Yes. It might, it might get you the interview. Yes, this is different than what a lot of people are doing, doing <laugh>, but I think people still have a hard time categorizing it and kind of understanding where it fit fits in to some extent. Yeah. Um, which leaves that conversation about kind of building new directions or alternative paths and directions in contemporary academia. Yeah. Cause I do think we're going through a reformulation right now.
Speaker 3 (15:10):
Yeah, I definitely think so too. No, for sure. I mean, I think that's, I think we probably experienced those changes, you know, just even like in recent memory, like we are, we're kind of experiencing those changes because maybe in, in to, to some degree we're, we're pushing for those changes ourselves, you know, and our, and our colleagues and other people like us, Right. You know, that like wanna break out of those, like those conventional standards, you know, about, uh, what are the established fields or subfields of study and like, how do you go about studying those things and, um, what is supposed to be the meaning of those sub fields, Like Right. You know, And I'm like, well, we wanna break outta those models. I think you and and I, you know, I think we do have that commonality and clearly it's a part of our friendship.
Like music has a meaning to us, um, that we try to aspire to in these, in our professional careers. You know, you with performance and me to some degree with performance as well. I mean, it's not, you know, in, in the dance aspect of it, Although with DJing, like as a creative art that I'd long been interested in, like how, you know, there's gotta be a way we, you can find those things together and you're right. Like that can peak a lot of people's interests, but it's not necessarily like a, like a career pathway, right? Like, so we've had, I think we've had to make probably, um, some, uh, some concessions along the way. Like, okay, well I can't do this exactly as I conceived it, but, um, you know, so I have to change things a little bit. I have to, I have to identify as an historian, which is like a little bit rigid and not exactly, I I kind of still have issues sometimes with the field mm-hmm.
<affirmative>, but you know, there, But then I'm like, well, there's other like-minded people like me, and I've found those networks and like, we're maybe helping to kind of change things a little bit from the inside or whatever. But yeah. That, that takes years of like, being in it, Right? Like, Right. I mean, but it's so daunting when you start, you're like, How do I, how do I do this? There's, there's no like clear pathway for this to happen, and it's just like, you gotta kind of, you just kind of throw yourself into it, you know?
Speaker 2 (17:15):
Yeah. I also, I need to hear more about your DJing because first of all Yeah. I don't think we've ever really talked much about it other than the fact that I know that it's something you've done. Yeah. Um, but also just for folks listening, I need, I need to hear <laugh>, I need to hear more. Like, first of all, how and when did you get started with that? What kind of music do you spend? Like Yeah, what, tell me about this, this Yeah. This other kind of practice that you have.
Speaker 3 (17:40):
Well, it's, so I've been doing it, like I mentioned, I think maybe just briefly, I started it, um, when I was about 15 years old, was when I got my first turntables. And, um, a lot of this, and I, I always try to give credit first to my brother for like, really imbuing my sense of musical <laugh> grounding, my musical appreciation. A lot of that was in, at that time period, uh, we're talking like the mid, late 1990s. I was like, really interested in, in hip hop. But see, like I'm from Houston and hip hop in Houston has its own kind of variations, its own color, its own history, which I love and appreciate. But the stuff that I was really trying to get into was like golden era <laugh>, like DJs that were, I was especially interested in DJs that were pro producing beats and what that meant.
Like, I was trying to make sense of like, man, you know, from the vinyl perspective, like DJs that mine beats from old records, you know, and put loops and samples together to create like hip hop. I love that process. Like, that just captivated me from an early age. And then I was like, Okay, so they're, so they're using these old records and like, they're kind of looping these things together. And the scratching too, like, I was very captivated by scratch DJs. Mm. And so that's kind of what, that's what captivated me. And for a long time in the first part of my DJ career, which like, I identified as a hiphop dj, but I say that because I don't really, today I don't nec I've kind of evolved and I've taken on different forms of it, although that's mm-hmm. <affirmative>, hiphop has always been kind of the blueprint of how I think about music and even how I think about studies, how I think about education.
Like a lot of what I do now is actually sort of the bread and butter of that. It has been sort of the blueprint of hiphop and, and I've DJing and the, and so like, it's kind of all evolved over time, but um, over time I kind of then started to build a record collection. I thought about like how a lot of hip hop DJs start to kind of, um, especially from that era start to kind of build a musical knowledge of past forms of music, whether that's jazz, right, jazz, blues, r and b, soul, funk, music, disco, what, what, whatever. Um, and so that's kind of how, that's basically like, I kind of wor started to work my way backwards. So, Right. Like now I have, um, I started to kind of build my musical knowledge, my interest in DJing and, and especially as a vinyl dj.
Like, I was like, okay. And, and record collecting it in that part of the practice of like being a DJ was not necessarily like being some, like a someone who's spinning like contemporary mainstream stuff, but rather, like, I started to gravitate to kind of more niche stuff. Like I wanted to, like sixties, I gotta get, I got into like sixties soul and funk and r b music, you know, And like, I just kind of found myself kind of working backwards. So sometimes I'm a little bit backwards looking <laugh> in my interest in music and in DJing. But it's, it is kind of a niche expression of DJing. That's kind of where I've been for the last decade. You know, decade and a half for DJing. But as far as like a career path or like creativity wise, like, it's just, it's, it's a gone kind of like in, uh, ebbs and flows, you know?
So like right now, to be honest, I actually don't do it as much as I used to. Um, and there's probably a few reasons for that, but, uh, but then I think about it, I'm like, but it's always kind of been like that. Sometimes I'll kind of pick it up, but at the heart of all of it is always still like listening to music. I still have like a big record collection and, um, I'm just not as active with like, performing as much as, you know, as I have been in the past. But yeah, that's, you know, I could chuck that up to like pandemic conditions and stuff like that. Like, you know, people are just now starting to kind of go out and do that stuff again. And so, but since I've kind of taken a break, I'm, I've kind of been focusing basically on other things lately.
And so that's part of the reason why I don't really do it as much. But yeah. Um, all that to say that like, you know, it started with hip hop and I started to branch out to different types of music. I started to fall in love with Latin music. And I know that, you know, you and I have talked about this stuff, like, especially for salsa, uh, Afro-Caribbean music's, you know, like vintage music's, uh, Latin musics, like I have a real affinity for. And I started kind of collecting that stuff and I'll dj that stuff out sometimes. So me being Colombian, like a love combia music, for example. And that's kinda where I wanna go into next. So like right now, what I've been writing about has been like, about Chicano music, Mexican American music in Texas, Latin soul music, Chicano soul music. But I think moving, moving into the next project and where I've been doing lately is thinking about, um, musics from like Afro-Caribbean, Afro Latin musics, and like, the history of that in the United States. And so, yeah, that's kind of like, let's grab my attention lately for like, what I wanna study and write about and what I wanna listen to. But that's like, that's kind of been true of like, my music listening habits and DJing in general. Like, it's kind of evolved and it's always kind of changed over time. And, uh, yeah. Yeah. So that's kind of a small part of that story, but <laugh>
Speaker 2 (22:47):
Yeah. And I, I love hearing you share a little bit because first of all, it's like hiphop changed the world. Yeah. You know what I mean? Yeah. And it just, like, it impacted people all over the place in all these different ways. And even if you're not like a hiphop artist per se now Yeah. Um, or anymore, just like, it's always amazing to me just tracking kind of the impact as like the most important pop culture Yeah. Innovation and phenomenon of the 20th century, just in different ways it came to fruition for people is, is so dope and so amazing.
Speaker 3 (23:18):
And it's wild because it's like only recently kind of being more validated as like a cultural art form, you know, as a like, legitimate cultural art form. It had been dismissed for so long mm-hmm. <affirmative> and like hiphop is pop, hiphop is all forms of like, popular music. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you know, like you can trace almost any variation of pop music and not just like in the United States, like anywhere. Right. But yeah, because it's so infused, it's almost, it's almost unrecognizable to a lot of of people. Like, like I, you know, I, I can have gen a conversation with my, my eldest daughter right now about hip hop, and she knows a lot about it, but I'm like, you know, because it's just like kind of a given, it's like more infused into the music just in general into the mainstream. But that took, that took work, you know? And that took a lot of people think agitating for that to get, to get it recognized. And it's like, man, it's everywhere, but it, it is. And, but that, but that spoke to me as a kid. I loved it. And, uh, and I still do, hip hop is like a part of my life. And, uh, it's how I like see it. It is literally how I see a lot of things is kind of through that mode.
Speaker 2 (24:20):
I also think what you were talking about with, um, the ebb and flow of music in your life. Yeah. Just taking on different types of roles from performance to just having a love for it or Yeah. Um, you know, different kind of practices associated with it probably resonates with a lot of people as well. When I, like right now, and like you said, some of it's attached with the pandemic and how it impacted our ways of moving through the world. Um, like people ask me a lot now as I'm seeing them for the first time in a couple years, like, oh, like, so are you still dancing? And I'm like, Oh, <laugh>.
Speaker 3 (24:55):
Yeah. Like, where, But,
Speaker 2 (24:56):
And even free pandemic, it's always kind of an interesting question because dance has taken on different roles. There were time periods where I was just like dancing and performing regularly as a professional dancer a couple weekends every month. And there were other times where it's a little, it's a little gooey. Like it's a little like, how, who I, what is this in my life now? Who am I in relation to this practice at this moment? And it's transitioned between different styles and different roles in life. And that's just fascinating to hear that mirrored in the way that you're talking about music. Um, and I wonder if you could say a little bit about what engaging with music offers you creatively in these different ways. Like, it's like, there's performing and then there's just enjoying it, um, as you know, as, as, as a hobby or as something to listen to.
Speaker 3 (25:51):
Yeah, for sure. I mean, I was like, just having a conversation with this, with my wife. Like, I realized that music is so, it, it is really like so intrinsic to me and part of my, like, my comfort zone that like, literally, like I'll, I'll listen to class, I'll listen to music in, in my classes before I start, just to kind of get me into like a spirit, just to get me into a mental place where I feel like I can really connect with, with my students because it, it kind of elevates me there, It makes me feel like if, and which is ironic, you think I would've learned that a long time ago, only recently, that I'm like, when I'm not feeling confident, or if I'm not feeling like, um, uh, that I'm not quite mentally where I need to be. I can listen to music and it puts me there and sometimes I can just meditate on the sound and the way that that's like, just, um, vibing with me on, on, on my frequencies, you know, inside of me.
Like, the way that that makes me feel like it, it inspires something deep inside of me. And I'm like, that's, that's kind of always been there. But, um, I think I've, I'm wielding that a little bit more effectively, um, just in, in the classroom. I mean, me, I've always used music in the classroom as, as examples of course. But I think I've become more, you know, to use that word, confidence again. It's become more confident in doing that and just being like, You know what? This is who I am. I love be, I love this. And, uh, I can use this in the classroom. And like, if I just need a minute just to kind of chill out and listen to music, and we can, we can all do that. It's a good conversation starter too. You know, I can talk to students about the music they like, because even though have, they have no interest in the subject matter, you know, of, of the class, you know, we need to find ways as educators to kinda connect and, and build those bridges with students.
And mu you know, music is that kind of universal language. Not to be kind of like a cliche about it or whatever, but it is, you know, it, it really is. I mean, that's, that's a cool thing. I'm, I'm learning more about, like at Houston Community College, we have a very diverse, um, student body. And so, um, I've learned that by playing music, and I'll play it loud, like at the beginning, like, I'll play just whatever I'm, I'm listening to. It could be a funk, it could be like a funk band, it could be like salsa, it could be cumbia. I'll just play whatever. And sometimes I'm just kind of curious like what, how they'll respond to it. <laugh>. And it's great because it's, it's really been, it's, it's given me pathways to connect with people and especially my students and to get them more engaged.
So I'm just becoming a little bit more, um, perceptive of how to use that. But, um, it is, it's just, this is very important to me. And, um, the way it affects my emotions, <laugh> on a day to day, if I'm like feeling uninspired, I can put on a record, you know, and I can like listen to that and just chill out and just be in the moment of it. That's part of the reason why I like records and vinyl, because it's, it's a practice. You gotta like, listen to that record. I gotta turn on my, you know, my turntable, my high-fi, and I'm just like there in the moment, you know, just chilling. And then I gotta turn it off when I'm done. You know, it's like I have to engage with it physically and then emotionally with my response to the music and so forth.
So, but I'm lucky that I have a career that has given me a, a way to think about it. Music. Like I can also speak on it. And, um, yeah, I think musicians and music, like I said, as far as a historical subject, aren't just, haven't really given a been given a proper space. If we think about artists, they have, in many ways, musicians are artists. And for, for whatever reason, there is a disconnection there. You know, I'm like, this is artistry. You know, Even if it's popular music, it's artistry. And they're contributing to like our palette of music, of, of, of art. And, and, uh, and I think we should appreciate that. So in many ways I, I love it to historicize music and to kind of recognize like, this is special. And I think we should recognize that. And especially when it comes, comes to musicians of color, which is kind of really the people who occupy a lot of my studies. Um, I want to kind of give them the space, you know, and, and give 'em recognize that and its place in history and culture and so on.
Speaker 2 (29:55):
But, um, yeah. And you're, you're like major project, um, that was, I think, your dissertation and is now your book project. It's hard to like throw, throw you under the
Speaker 3 (30:05):
Bus by No, no, no. Not at all.
Speaker 2 (30:06):
I'm just like putting you on the spot by bringing up your academic work, but mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, my understanding is that like you've uncovered some musical historical record of a community that really hasn't gotten much play at all. Is that, would you say that that's
Speaker 3 (30:21):
Fair? Yeah. I, I definitely think that's fair. Um, just to kind of rewind and kind of give you and your listeners kind of a little more information, and
Speaker 2 (30:28):
Here's what it's
Speaker 3 (30:29):
About. <laugh>. Right, Exactly. And here's what, It's <laugh> <laugh>, Um, yeah. The, the book project I'm working on now is the, uh, was my dissertation as a PhD student, uh, at the University of Houston. It's about, it is about this kind of niche genre music from San Antonio, Texas, which is about like Mua Tejana, Texas Mexican music. But it is also not just about that, but also uncovering like the black roots of Mua tejana and black and brown musical social convergences in this like, really rich music from San Antonio. Um, I, and it, it fits within sort of the umbrella of Tejano music. And Tejano music is like a lot of, um, constructs of genres that have like these really heavily prescribed, like, um, stereotypes or tropes about what it is, what it sounds like. You have like these very, um, prominent figures. Like someone like Selena Quinan, for example, that's, Oh, I know what teyana music it is because here's an artist that I recognize and, um, there's an opportunity how, however beyond that, and, and I recognize her, she's an incredible force in, in Muana and Muhanna and Latin music and music in general.
However, beyond that part of actually this, it's a way to kind of connect her to basically this sound from San Antonio and South Texas. It was like, well, really hano music. And, and Selena, as you know, her was kind of born out of this fifties and sixties moment that I've kind of zeroed in on. And it wasn't like just one or two like marginal recordings, like some marginal, like some obscure thing actually. It was really rich, It was super diverse. Like it was, um, uh, uh, it was like bi language. It's binational, You're talking about Mexican music and us music and border music, you know, it's, it's all those things. And like, it's just been kinda disregarded as like not being able to fit into the way that we think about genre formations in the US. And, uh, so I, I love it. I think one, also what drew me to it was this, the, this 50 60 sound was like, like the music to me is, is is fantastic <laugh>.
I love the sound because like I said, I got got, I got into kind of vintage kind of pop music, like soul and r and b music from that era. And then I was like, Wait, these are Latino musicians who were like first generation, you know, who were create, who were listening, James Brown. And they're also listening to, um, like Mexican trio music or Mariachi music or Kahu music and like marrying those things together and to make this really kind of cool, like cre eyes, hybrid, hybrid sound. And, and there was a lot of it, it was very abundant. And so I was like, no one's really ever bothered to like interview these people <laugh>. And so I was like, Well, I'm gonna go talk to 'em. And that's a primary source in history, so, Cool. I got that. Yeah. In terms of like the study and, uh, and I have the other primary source as a record collector.
Like, I have the discs, I have the records mm-hmm. <affirmative>, and I know other record collectors that all this stuff basically doesn't really fall into official studies. No one's really ever thought to, um, put it into like a book form or, or, or a study of this type. So, and, and that way I guess it's, um, kind of unique or distinct, you know, that no one had really done something like that before. But there are others like me. And it, it's definitely not a singular effort. I mean, I, it it's an effort that's, I've had to rely on a lot of other people and I wanna recognize like them, especially the musicians and um, others that support and love this music. And I just feel like I have, if I have any part of this, it's just that I, I have an interest in it and I want to help tell other people's stories, you know, the right way. So that's, anyways, that's kind of part of it. Um, but yeah.
Speaker 2 (34:19):
Amazing. And so Google Scholar <laugh> at Kuroda, his contact info will, will be in the show notes, um, for this. So if this, if this is peaking your interest and you wanna talk more about this topic or learn more about it, hit him up. <laugh> just kidding. Give you that plug right
Speaker 3 (34:36):
Now. Thank you. Thank you. I love it.
Speaker 2 (34:37):
I love it. But so anyway, you've built this, this professional life where you live in your home city or a home city of yours. You research and you write about music, you teach, music comes into your life in these different ways. Um, what would you say is a rose and a thorn of your current work setup? So something that you're really loving about it and something that is maybe not so great?
Speaker 3 (35:00):
Oh, I love that. I love that. Because now you're gonna get me started on something where I can just go on and on <laugh>. And I feel like this is like what a lot of what we talk about in unofficial ways whenever we're chatting about like with the ups and downs of our career paths. Um, but, and it is something I think we have a lot of, uh, feelings about. But I'll tell you, you know, I mentioned, uh, me accepting the full-time position at Houston Community College as of recently. Um, I was transitioning out of, and as you know, and I don't think your listeners would know this, but I was transitioning out of a postdoc at Columbia, Columbia University. And, um, at that moment when I was transitioning from, from the postdoc into this full-time position at, at H E c, I was considering, of course, like what would it mean of, to continue this trajectory into academia?
Like define a tenure track line that, that sort of like the golden goose, if you will, of academia. Like, it, it feels like this like unattainable thing that we're always kind of pursuing, you know, um, in terms of the ideal position in academia and how to like really build like a sustainable career path and as an academic, right? In any case. So I thought that I was poised to maybe to find that, you know, I was like, Okay, well if we keep going and if I keep trying to pursue this, I could, maybe I'm on the precipice of like landing this, or on the other hand, because, uh, my home, because being home to me actually means something. And like being, being around my family means a lot to me. I always like really divided about that. You know, it's like, I wanna go back to home in Houston, especially, like, I think, you know, for a lot of us, the pi the pandemic heightened that, right?
We really get a sense of like, what's really important to us, You know, like homes important to me. My, my connection with family is connected to me in a time where we're like in these kind of existential crises and I was like, you know, am I gonna pursue going, uh, a a career track that's gonna take me somewhere else that quite frankly I don't wanna be, you know, I was like, I, I, but I could do it. I think I could, I believe in myself that I could do it and maybe I, maybe I'm good enough to do that. In any case, I'm just setting that up because these are the things that I was thinking about. So, um, I thought like, okay, what are my career options? Going back home, I want to do that. Uh, what my wife and I had a lot of conversations about going back home, um, and what would that mean?
I was like that I've had limited career possibilities. Um, I could go back to my alma mater at U of H, but he can't just waltz in there and get a job. <laugh>. It's like I could maybe, I, I knew that I could adjunct there basically, but I was like, that's not, I just, I can't do that for various reasons, not to, uh, not to shit on that at all, you know, That is, that's the reality, an unfortunate reality that I think a lot of us has to face. But for, for, for a multitude of reasons, um, that just wasn't really a possibility for me. And then I thought, well, okay, then what else? In terms of full time, I'm cool with pursuing community college, but even those jobs are hard to pursue and to, to gain. Right. For sure. Again, yeah. So I think a lot of people are like, Well then just get a community college job. And it's like, that is such a, it's such a, the, it's just a, it's a representation of like the classism I think sometimes in academia like, oh, that's a lesser than career path. And it's probably more attainable than, Well,
Speaker 2 (38:18):
I think folks outside of academia just have, have no idea at all. So I had a lot of people being like, Oh, have you like looked at this like local school? And I'm like, Yeah, exactly. But within academia, yeah, some of the old more old school folks like have, are not up on the times it feels like. Yeah, yeah. Um, and it is like a classes narrative. Like I guess you could just, you know, take a quote unquote step down and
Speaker 3 (38:40):
Go Exactly. Exactly. Just like, uh,
Speaker 2 (38:44):
Sorry, go on. I
Speaker 3 (38:45):
Interrupt. No, no, for sure. I know that's actually really important context cuz that's exactly, um, part of it, you know, it also, it also depends on the audience, like who Exactly. Because yeah, you have family members who are like, well just come home and teach at University of Houston or at Texas Southern University, like Houston area has a few like colleges and, uh, institutions of higher education. It's like, yeah, you can't just waltz in there and just get a job. <laugh>. In any case, I felt very fortunate basically to get, um, the job that I have. I was like, it's a full-time. But there were drawbacks that I was, I was aware with, aware of from the beginning. Like, okay, if I were to then, uh, basically get the full-time position at uh, community college, I think that would be very fulfilling on a personal level.
And it is because to be honest, and I'm not just saying this cuz I feel like I have to, but it is like I feel inspired by the students and I feel like the, I feel like there's a purpose I think to what I'm doing and I feel good about the community that I'm serving. However, the job a being that like, it's a, it is a purely instructional teaching position. So like it's a high teaching load. So in terms of like how we define ourselves as like in the academic worlds, we think about like how much we're teaching versus how much time we have for research <laugh>. And you would hope to have some kind of a balance there. But the reality is it's high teaching load. I, I teach a five five, I actually teach a 5 5 2, uh, that means five, uh, five courses per semester and then two, two courses over the summer, which keeps me really busy.
Uh, and that was a major shift from what, how I was as a post doc, even as a graduate student. Like I've never taught that much. So it's been a, it's been a steep learning curve, you know, to how to adapt to that, uh, meeting the needs of like the student and the student population at community college. Like I said, I have, um, a great deal of like, uh, foreign born students and who can be a real pleasure to work with, but they're, uh, just inherent like cultural differences and you have to kinda learn how to meet those students at their needs. So a lot of the, a lot of those factors kinda, I guess what I'm getting at here is sort of the, sort of the thorn is really just the, the load and learning and learning how to deal with kind of the guilt that you feel about like, I'm not doing my academic, I'm not doing my scholarship, I'm not pursuing the work that actually inspired me to do all this stuff in the first place.
Like writing, you know, and being a part of that discourse, like with other writers and other historians mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I feel like I've been sort of silent lately and I'm not doing like the work that I really want to do, which is the book or, or other book projects. But I think the silver lining is you, you, I am adapting and one adapts to that, those conditions. And I think like over time, um, there's gonna be room for more time to kind of open up once like the course building, kinda course building process, which is very time consuming is like building my course. Like the whole fall semester was just staying ahead a a day ahead of my class. <laugh>, you know, I remember talking to you about this. I'm like, man, I feel so swamped. You know, I'm just trying to like stay say I day ahead.
Now I think I'm like two days ahead of my class <laugh>. And so, so maybe next year I'll be like, maybe I'll be like a week ahead and that would be amazing. But, uh, in any case it, to be kind of patient with that. But I think that's part of it is just, um, learning to deal with that, uh, and negotiating that with that with myself. Like, uh, I don't get as much time as I used to have, but you know what, um, I gotta be com comfortable with that and, but uh, yeah, so that, that's kind of part of it. I think that's sort of the drawback. Um, the Rose I think is being home that has been super fulfilling on so many levels and that has been, uh, that has been, yeah, that's been really nice. Um, so I'm really close to my parents, for example.
I get to see them all the time, which is really important for me. And, um, I also have a, a small family. Um, and so with my kids it's been really nice cuz both my wife and I have siblings in the Houston area and they have cu my kids have cousins and so like, we get to connect with 'em and that's been really nice, you know, like having been gone away from Houston for a couple years, it's nice to be back home. So that's been nice. And to be at a place that actually, I, I really like the institution that I'm at. I think HCC is a really, uh, quality community college and it has a lot of good things going for it, even though I have my own gripes and criticisms, you know, as I think we all do perhaps with any employer. But for the most part it's, um, it's been a great reception and I'm, I'm, I'm pretty happy with it.
It keeps me close to where I'm at. Um, so I'm, I'm like Central Houston, so I'm kind of near downtown. I'm actually just like on the cusp of downtown, so it's a part of town that I like to be in. And so like, it, I get to, it ticks off those things of the boxes. Like, okay, cool, I'm, I'm back home. We're back where we wanna be. Our careers are starting to kind of stabilize after, like after a few years in graduate school and then a post. And it was like just instability for a couple years now it feels like more stabilized. So That's cool. That's great. And I'm, and I'm grateful for that. And, um, yeah, I also have a couple friends in my department from grad school, so that's, that's been really nice. So yeah. Um, I guess that's kind of part of it.
Speaker 2 (44:05):
Yeah, I mean all of that is important. Like the other parts of our human existence, like our family ties. Yeah, yeah. Friend ties, like, you know, geographic ties, like this is all stuff that sometimes we're just supposed to like deal with it and like chop that off a little bit. Yeah. And not just ac I mean in academia and I think in some other industries, um, but they're parts of our human experience that are pretty significant.
Speaker 3 (44:30):
Absolutely. Absolutely. You know, and, and I don't know, you know, just coming from a Latino household, like family is very bo big. Yeah. And, uh, it was hard for me to make that decision and, um, to uproot and, you know, I had a lot of people who I think were believed in me and they were like, Hey, keep going, keep going. Like, I was just at this conference not too long ago and I'd just seen some people that I hadn't seen really since I've been to Columbia since I was in New York, who were very supportive of me and they believe in my work and my project, and I literally had one person, like, um, you know, I could see this kind of like look of, uh, like disappointment when I told this person that like, Oh, you know what, I'm at community college and I think this is where I think I'm, I'm cool with this.
You know, like, basically like I'm, I, I like this and it's a good place to be. And no, I'm not, I'm not back on the job market. When I told this person, I wasn't back on the job market, his face just kind of froze up. Like, what? You know, like, Oh wow, you're giving up kind of a thing. At least that's how, the way I perceived it. But, and maybe that person didn't mean anything bias, but, you know, that's like a, that's like a knee jerk reaction I think sometimes to those of us. Sure. You know, in academia it's nothing against those people, it's just they feel like, well, the ultimate, ultimate metric of success is if you keep going and you could keep going. And so that's how <laugh>, but you're stopping here. But I'm like, Yeah, but there are other things to life that are important to me,
Speaker 2 (45:54):
So. Right. And not to mention the fact that a lot of people get that golden, that golden goose and it's like, yeah, there's still a lot of it. There's still a lot of problems that they
Speaker 3 (46:03):
Do. That's very true.
Speaker 2 (46:05):
Speaker 3 (46:05):
Is very true.
Speaker 2 (46:07):
So, um, all that being said, with some of the, the critiques and everything, if someone turned to you today and asked how to get to do what you're doing, um, which is pretty cool. I still think it has Yeah. A serious, um, serious cool factor. Um, in terms of getting the chance to teach, to do some musical practice when you want to and do the research and writing, what are a few pieces of advice you might give them?
Speaker 3 (46:31):
Yeah, well, like, I was literally just doing this through email through one of my students because she was like, I like what you do. How do I do that <laugh>? And I remember doing the same thing when I found professors that I was inspired by. Like, tell me about your life. You know, you wanna learn about that. How do
Speaker 2 (46:47):
I get to do that?
Speaker 3 (46:47):
You get to do that. How do I get to do that? That's, um, that's cool and that's always great when you find others that, that find that, uh, some inspiration, something that you're doing. And so I was just telling this student, in fact, we're, she wanted to meet and come by and talk about it a little bit further. But in any case, I mean, I strongly and firmly believe, um, and always encourage students when I can that are thinking about continuing to pursue their interest in higher education, whether that's like switching to another, um, degree like in their undergraduate program or if they're thinking about a graduate degree, which is of course, like, it's a big leap. And my thing is, first and foremost, I always say this like, don't go into debt <laugh> don't go into debt. Like I, I, um, I really value, of course a a strong like liberal arts education.
Like I came from that and I loved it. And I, I feel like it's informed who I am and I think, and I want to believe that it's made me a better person because I've learned from, um, various disciplines and liberal arts and humanities and that's, that is where I want to be. And I'm, I continue to feel sort of inspired by that. And those, and you can see that when there's in other people that are also interested in those things, uh, because of their own interest in a particular field, but also, um, maybe how they feel like who they are in society and how they're contributing to society because they're pursuing like education in what might be kind of a niche field of study, I would say. Like, do it. Um, I also try to like disassociate higher education with career or, uh, well, I should say that in terms of like, um, the stability of a career path in the humanities or social sciences.
I mean, let's face it, it's difficult, You know, we've had to make a lot of concessions. I think you and I just talking about to say this through this hour of, uh, not this hour or this, this past 30 minutes of talking, like, you know, you have to make concessions and it's, there's not a clear pathway. But if I think firmly, if you have the talent, even if you just have the, a modicum of talent, but if you have the drive and you wanna do it, and you know, like the places where you wanna study, like do it, I also, I feel strongly like it's because debt and people can get saddled with debt. And because we live in a society that doesn't prioritize, like publicly funded education, universal education for all, unfortunately, until we get to that moment where we can, um, it student debt is a real crisis, you know?
And I think it's, it's difficult. So I, I never wanna encourage anyone necessarily to go. Yeah, for sure. At least not to deep debt, you know, But when it comes to like graduate programs, all that to say that like find a graduate program that will pay you, you know, if you're a talent, a student of talent, they should be paying you. And, you know, it might be a pretty modest income <laugh>, You have to be ready for that. But, um, if you're willing to make those sacrifices, and if you have the drive, like I, I still kind of believe in old school like, Hey man, you could, you, you can do this. There are a lot of factors, um, because of the tearing down of like old conventions in higher education, you know, like it's difficult. And, uh, we live like in a society that, and I think especially voices in Washington or elsewhere that are, um, attacking higher education colleges, universities, academia in general, uh, demonizing them.
And so it is the access that was, once there is becoming more fraught and career opportunities are becoming more fraught. I mean, academia is so fractured and so difficult to get into anyways. I, I, I still feel bla believe, like I always encourage students like, man, pursue higher education no matter what it is. Like education is never a bad thing. It's always a great thing, you know, but it's gotta be able to make sense, you know? And I just like, if, if you don't have to go into debt, if you can find a program that can pay you, whether that means becoming a TA or research assistant or whatever, um, something that can make it sustainable for you. And so I've had a few instances where I could guide people in those ways. Um, but there, yeah, I, I think we, we always need more people <laugh> in our fields that are changing the changing the old, the old guard, the old conventions, and we need more younger people, younger ideas and, um, and all that thing. So I, I don't know. I, I guess all that to say, like, I, I never find like a specific pathway, but I, I do like to encourage students to do it, you know, find, find their passions. And if I know specific resources when it comes to like fellowships, grants, whatever, I try to kind of put that their way, <laugh> and, um, and help in any which way possible. But I, yeah, education and humanities and social science is always a great thing and we need more people to do it <laugh>, quite frankly.
Speaker 2 (51:50):
Yeah, for sure. Yeah. Um, great advice. Is there anything I didn't ask you about that you wanted to say or put out into the world?
Speaker 3 (51:58):
Um, gosh, uh, no, I can't think of anything else. Um, all that to say that, yeah. You know, just one thing I guess I kind of mentioned, you know, we were talking about like sort of like the ebb and flow thing. And I think, um, I'm kind of learning to, to be kind of patient with that. Like when it comes to like, my expectations for what I need to do next, you know, like, uh, yeah, like the book project for example. I mean, sometimes we can feel kind of saddled with those things, you know, like, oh, this, uh, saddled with guilt, like, man, I need to be able to do this. Why haven't I done this yet? Um, but it's also, I'm learning to be more kind to myself and just be like, you know, it's okay. And I don't have to be, um, saddled with that guilt.
And, and this should always be a, um, a creative endeavor and an an opportunity to like acknowledge those communities. Like, I, I mean, you and I both have worked with like community, uh, communities and music formation and, and art and, and, um, people who practice and create art and that's a great thing. But, um, yeah, I think something I've been telling myself more recently, like, the inspiration will come when it comes and the time will come when it comes, and that's okay. Like <laugh>, you know, there's, there's so many things to be concerned about in the world that we live in now that it's sometimes difficult to focus on those things, you know, like putting out a book right now or whatever. But, um, yeah, I don't know all that to say that. I would also imbue that, uh, to others that are interested in like, pursuing these types of career paths. Like, you know, take care of yourself, your mental health, take care of your, you know, those kind of things. And the other things will come with it with time and confidence, you know? Yeah.
Speaker 2 (53:43):
Yeah. Perfect. Parting words.
Speaker 3 (53:46):
Speaker 2 (53:47):
Yeah. Is there, um, where can people connect with you if they want to follow up?
Speaker 3 (53:53):
Speaker 2 (53:54):
Social media, I
Speaker 3 (53:55):
Dunno. Yeah, yeah, for sure. I've been, um, I'm on Instagram mostly. Like that's kind of, and I'm on Twitter too. You can follow me at a Loda at a loreta on Instagram. And then my Twitter's at, uh, at Alex Laro 82. I have to double check because I'm so sorry. I, I'm like terrible with, uh, my Twitter. I really just use it every once in a while, but I'm mostly active on Instagram, although lately I've been kind of like just not posting that much or whatever and kind of focusing on other things. But yeah. Yeah, find me on Instagram at a lada. Yeah.
Speaker 2 (54:30):
And that will be, we'll that all that will be in the episode notes for this. Thank you so much for Cool. Taking the time to come and talk to
Speaker 3 (54:38):
Me. Yeah. Thanks. Thanks, Mel. I really appreciate it. And I also wanna give you a hats off on like all these great endeavors that you're getting into from the podcast. Yeah. Whoop, whoop. That's awesome. <laugh>, thanks. Yeah, so appreciate it. I'm like in awe of the cool, very cool things that you're doing. I feel very inspired by it, so congrats.
Speaker 2 (54:56):
Oh, thank you.
Speaker 3 (54:56):
Yeah, yeah. For sure. For sure. Well, thanks for having me. Thanks again. Thank
Speaker 2 (55:01):
Speaker 3 (55:01):
Speaker 1 (55:03):
That's it for this week's episode of the Millennial PhD. You can find more content, resources and information on Instagram at the millennial PhD firstname.lastname@example.org in this collective moment of reevaluating our relationships with work and exploitation. I look forward to connecting with you and building stronger bonds of community and collaboration. I would love to hear from you via email at the millennial PhD gmail.com with any feedback, comments, questions, or concerns, or if you're interested in coming on the show as a guest. That's all for now. It's been real. See you next time.