Breaking Tradition: Cuco Ushers In a New Era of Creatives

A First Gen Riding High on Lo-Fi Waves

“Opportunity” is a meaningful word to those with whom I share the identity of being a “first generation” child of Hispanic/Mexican immigrants. The major motive of our parent(s) moving to the states was the prospect of better opportunities for themselves, their families, and especially their kids. Sitting down with Omar Banos, aka Cuco, I recognized an immediate connection between the two of us, an unspoken understanding centered in the culture we share. Cuco, a DIY Chicano creative from Hawthorne, California, embraces the beauty within his identity as a first generation child of Mexican immigrants. He’s a figure in pop culture who has shown everyone,  especially Latinx youth, that a future as a creative is possible no matter the odds.

Hearing Cuco shout “!Viva Mexico!” during his Lollapalooza performance back in early August promised me his pride in his culture and background. He felt “... very empowered [in that moment]… it’s crazy, me being this Mexican artist at Lollapalooza, [in front of] that big crowd that was there.”

Both of Omar’s parents took the opportunity to immigrate from Mexico to California. If you are a first gen, you might have a better understanding of challenges immigrants face when moving to the states.  Instances such as (and certainly not limited to) hearing offensive comments directed at Hispanics/Latinos, being mocked for efforts to overcome the English-Spanish language barrier, and any sort of microaggressions experienced. Just as our parents and relatives face hardships, growing up a first gen comes with its own individual challenges with discrimination and identity (both subtle and blunt). “Me and my homies sometimes pull up to stores, and [people] end up following us around… it’s ridiculous”. Blatantly being watched or followed for something as simple as going to the store with your friends, brings forth a consciousness of feeling different.

Cuco and I also discussed memories as an adolescent, grappling with the idea that being Mexican or Latino is  not “super beautiful”. Those unsettling thoughts didn’t reside with him enough to define his self-image, but they were a real hurdle nonetheless. “You still feel some type of way. I [would] look at my skin, and think, ‘Fuck’, because all the models I see are white, all the artists I ever see are white, and [I thought] ‘Dude, I don’t think I can make it’”.

Despite any of these temporary self-conscious feelings of identifying as a first gen and Latino, Cuco confidently recognizes “how beautiful it is to be who we really are”.

I’ve always liked my culture, but we’ve always been taught to not love ourselves

Believing in himself and embracing his culture were vital to his process of breaking out into the star he’s grown into. Recognizing his passions for making music, he knew that school wasn’t the right route for him to follow. Cuco’s decision to pursue music full time broke the norm, as he is the first in his family embracing the opportunity of a future in the arts.

Breaking that norm wasn’t easy, and required Cuco to  stand up for himself, which at times, included arguing with his parents. It wasn’t that they doubted their son’s ability to succeed in the creative scene, but like any parents, they wanted the best for their only child. “I think it was last year in the fall, my mom came up to me and was like ‘Hey, if you don’t want to go to school anymore, that’s fine. You’ve been making your money with this, and you’ve been helping us out [financially]. If this is what you want to do, this is what you should do.’”

The moment of encouragement from his parents to pursue his creative future is one of many fond memories Cuco recalls with his mother. He and I  continued to talk about his parents and family, and he shared another beautiful moment.  “When they went to my first venue show, they kind of realized… this wasn’t some stupid thing I was trying to do. They realized I sold [the venue] out and everything.” “They were like ‘yeah, you need to continue this. You’re changing these kids’ lives’”.

A strong and important statement: “You’re changing these kids’ lives”.  He’s a figure that has inspired the Latinx community, breaking out into stardom by making indie-alternative lo fi music. While his music clearly exhibits influence from his hispanic culture and personal experiences (touching on romance, lingering heartbreaks, and lost love), his personal style continues to push it’s way beyond the Latino community. It could be his spanglish lyrics that blend the two languages smoothly enough to sing along with (whether you speak both languages or not). Or, maybe it’s his striking trumpet, which so pleasantly compliments his lo-fi production. Whatever the reason, Cuco appreciates all the support. “It’s been the craziest roller coaster, and it’s just starting, too… when I don’t think it can get bigger, it gets bigger.”

“It’s cool to be doing this and embrace my cultural roots, my parents roots, and my grandparents roots, and to inspire other people of color to be like ‘I’m gonna do my shit too’”. Let’s not forget the 20-year-old remains independent, adding to the influence he has as a figure in the changing landscape of today’s music industry. “It’s such a different breed of music that’s coming out, because there’s so much…. gnarly ass music coming out from these younger artists, whether your making trap music or low-fi indie music... we’re kind of running this whole scene of the general music industry, it’s tight.” Cuco shouts out friends that come to mind. “There’s people like Jasper Bones… people I am very close to that I just see prosper and progressing… I’m really proud of them. It’s cool as fuck to be a part of this… DIY scene in general… like [with] Michael Sayer, and Clairo… we all give a shit about each other and support [each other].”

Owning his individuality as a Chicano in the creative community, Cuco shows us that it’s beautiful to not just be yourself, but to love yourself and all that defines you. Whether you are a first generation questioning your calling in a creative field, or a mind eager to explore different paths, Cuco shares an important message about making your dreams a reality. “It is realistic. You have to know that it’s what you want. You have to know whatever you’re doing is what you’re passionate about, like there’s no fucking question, that there’s no turning back…It’s gonna be so much fucking work, but you have to do it, even have to embarrass yourself to get there, to be able to be comfortable with whatever you do.” In the grand scheme of following your dreams, any embarrassment would be a small price to pay. After all, you have the opportunity. What will you do with it?