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My Signature Song: 'Amor Prohibido'

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Raul Rojas of Highland Park, Calif., has a signature song - a song so important, it has helped shape his identity. It's "Amor Prohibido" by Selena.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMOR PROHIBIDO")

SELENA: (Singing in Spanish).

RAUL ROJAS: Every single time I would hear it on the radio, I would just dance and clap. And it wasn't something that had me contemplating life. It had me celebrating who I am.

FADEL: But finding out who he was took years. Rojas' parents are from Mexico. They raised their family in San Diego, right across the border.

ROJAS: Growing up as kind of a child of two worlds, I kind of felt the need to really fit in to the American part of the world quicker than the Mexican part of the world of my heritage.

FADEL: Part of that meant listening to music in English only.

ROJAS: And really nothing, nothing in Spanish. So I felt like to embrace that was, like, to not fit in.

FADEL: Rojas went off to college in the mid-1990s. He was the first in his family to go. That's when he found special meaning in Selena's music.

ROJAS: It really resonated with me because there was somebody who was like me of two worlds where you have to be American enough for the Americans and Mexican enough for the Mexicans and feeling that pressure. I could see that in who she was in her performances. And her being able to go fluidly between communities was something that I found inspiring. And the song that I think I really gravitated towards, maybe unconsciously at the time, was "Amor Prohibido."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMOR PROHIBIDO")

SELENA: (Singing in Spanish).

FADEL: "Amor Prohibido" - forbidden love - it was important to Rojas because it also gave him comfort and strength when he came out to his family, who struggled to accept his sexuality.

ROJAS: For LGBTQ teens, kids, et cetera, especially in that era, she was our icon because she defied the, you know, machismo establishment. She was breaking down barriers. And that's something that I think as a gay man I really gravitated towards and was inspired by.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMOR PROHIBIDO")

SELENA: (Singing in Spanish).

ROJAS: She was not necessarily talking about the gay experience but talking about a struggle, talking about love that is not understood. And so that helped me try for acceptance as who I am, not who my parents or whoever the community wanted me to be at the time.

FADEL: Rojas has said his family eventually came to terms with who he is. And two years ago when he married his husband, Thomas, there was one song he knew they had to play, "Amor Prohibido."

ROJAS: Because it just meant the ultimate kind of triumph - being able to get married - being able to get married period and get the support from family members I never thought would be onboard. And it was just such a moment of catharsis, where I felt like this song now is a song of celebration of love, and it's no longer, like, amor prohibido, it's more like (speaking in Spanish), you know, (speaking in Spanish).

FADEL: Love celebrated and accepted.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMOR PROHIBIDO")

SELENA: (Singing in Spanish).

FADEL: And today is Raul Rojas' birthday. He's having a party with tacos and tequila at home in Highland Park, Calif. And yes, you know it, his signature song, "Amor Prohibido," is on the playlist. Happy birthday, Raul.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMOR PROHIBIDO")

SELENA: (Singing in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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