Primary Sources for Musical Learning: Exploring the Cuban-American Musical Heritage of Emilio and Gloria Estefan Part 2 — Cultural Memory and Musical Legacies

This post is by Carolyn Bennett, the 2018-2019 Library of Congress Teacher in Residence. You can find the first part of this series here.

This year, the Library of Congress celebrates the artistry of Emilio and Gloria Estefan, recipients of the 2019 Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. The award ceremony and tribute concert will be broadcast on Friday, May 3, 2019, at 9:00 p.m. ET on PBS. Part I of this Cuban-American Music blog series explored Senora Santana. Today we explore another Cuban-American recording from the Library of Congress that leads us to an exciting game, a groundbreaking educational institution, and a deeper appreciation for America’s diverse cultural communities.

Folk Songs at School

In this 1940 recording from Key West, Dalia Soto sings El Raton y El Gato with students of the San Carlos Institute. Established in 1871 by the Cuban-American community in Key West, the San Carlos Institute operated one of America’s first bilingual, racially integrated schools. The field notes indicate that some teachers’ salaries were funded by the Cuban government. This context may deepen students’ observations and reflections:

  • Do you suppose the students in the recording are fluent Spanish-speakers or learning the language? What evidence do you hear?
  • Why might a teacher at the San Carlos Institute choose to teach this song?

Sing and Play

The recording transcript provides an English translation to use as needed to understand the main ideas of the song and its accompanying game. The children stand in a circle, holding hands. The “rat” stands inside the circle, while the “cat” prowls outside. During verses three and four, the rat weaves in and out among the circled children, ducking among the circle’s clasped hands to evade the cat.

  • What community values or social skills could a young child learn through play with El Raton y El Gato?
  • How does first-hand experience playing and singing this song change students’ perspectives on the lives of students at the San Carlos Institute?

Cultural Legacies

Gloria Estefan recently shared (p. 28) with the Library her hope “that years from now, our descendants can look back and say this is where we came from, this is who our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents were.  That [our work] became part of the musical culture of this country is to me the most beautiful thing.”

As students experience the music of the Estefans, ask them to reflect on the Estefans’ cultural legacy:

  • How do Gloria Estefan’s thoughts about legacy relate to the views Zora Neale Hurston expressed in 1939?
  • How are the voices of previous generations, such as the historic recordings featured in this blog series, present in the music of the Estefans?
  • How have Cuban-American musical traditions become a part of American musical culture?

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