"The Sunset or How My Mexican Father Convinced Me to Like a Santana Song"


Dad with ice cream.

Latine & Hispanic Heritage Month came to an end yesterday, October 15.  We are so grateful for all the colleagues who responded to the “What Does Living Latine Mean to You?” OurHouse open call. This week, we will be sharing their personal, heartfelt essays on Ourhouse. Stay tuned for more to come throughout the week and if something resonates with you, be sure to reach out to your colleagues!

This essay was written by Cathy de la Cruz, Manager, Metadata.

The night before my dad’s Rosary, I watched my mother go through about 100 letters–LONG LETTERS–long love letters that my dad wrote to her in the late 1960s before they were married, while he was overseas in the navy and courting her. She wouldn’t let me read the letters because let’s just say that my dad was a “romantic.” She hinted that they were explicit. But the number of letters he wrote to her was astounding. And the excerpts that she did very carefully choose to read to me showed a side of my dad that I had never known and that I would never know. My dad loved music and took pride in his appreciation and knowledge of it. In one of the letters, he bragged to my mom that Trio Los Panchos was his favorite band and that he owned SEVEN of their records.

Mom and Dad cutting their wedding cake.

These letters, coupled with the eulogy he wrote of his own mother five years ago, showed me that my dad was a gifted and thoughtful writer. While it makes me feel proud to be the daughter of such a good writer, I wish I had gotten to experience my dad’s writing while he was alive; to share my reactions or hear him talk about it. I mourn the fact that I didn’t get to listen to music with him or even go to a concert together.

Throughout my life, he offered hints of his inner world–like the time I was home from a Creative Writing MFA program in Tucson, Arizona and  working on my laptop at the kitchen table. I remember him saying, “Oh, let me put some music on for you to work to.” And he put on Bossa Nova. I giggled because surely my dad didn’t listen to cool, loungey Bossa Nova–did he? It must be a funny coincidence that this happened to be on the radio. But when my dad died a few years later and I started to look through his records (yes, actual vinyl records) for clues on what to play at his memorial service as the soundtrack to a looping slideshow of photos, I saw a ton of Bossa Nova and Samba records in his collection .

Dad in the Navy.

While looking through his record crates, I also saw some Santana records. Growing up an angsty, punk rock, feminist teenager, I hated Santana. To be fair to Santana, I only knew two and a half of their songs: the incredibly overplayed “Black Magic Woman,” the also overplayed “Evil Ways,” and “Smooth”—Carlos Santana’s collaboration with Rob Thomas. Of course I hated Santana since that was all I knew. Those few songs made me cringe when I heard them— even now I cringe just thinking about them. Then my friend Patrick, a DJ in Los Angeles, introduced me to the Santana song, “La Puesta Del Sol.”

It was the greatest song I had heard in a long time. It also sounded like I always hoped Santana would. It was who I would have known Santana actually was if I had dug a little deeper. My relationship to Santana is very similar to my relationship with my father.

So much of life is about timing. I know I looked through my dad’s records when I got really into music at around age 13, and besides a few Beatles records, nothing stood out to me at that time. Decades later, now that my dad is no longer here, I have a completely different reaction to his record collection. An appreciation and mutual understanding blossomed as I thumbed through the Soul-Jazz, Latin Jazz, and Swing music my dad loved. When I was growing up, I had the natural urge to rebel against him, and now of course, I see how much we have in common and crave those bonds.

Dad with the family.

What do I love about “La Puesta Del Sol”? It sounds like psychedelic Latin Jazz; basically the definition of cool. It’s 10 and half minutes long, and it still leaves me wanting more. It practically puts its listener into a trance, a positive, relaxing state of zen. It’s so cool, in fact, that Snoop Dogg samples it in one of his most famous songs, “Murder Was the Case.” “La Puesta Del Sol” is also a cover of a Willy Bobo song called, “Fried Neckbones and Some Homefries.” Given my dad’s obvious well of musical knowledge, he must have known of that connection. He had some Cal Tjader records in his collection, and Tjader was a musical collaborator of Bobo’s. But it would have been nice to talk to my dad about it, to learn the depth of his knowledge, to hear him talk passionately about something we both loved. I didn’t think we had enough in common to have deep talks when he was alive.

My dad has been around so much since he died. I wore his work gloves from the garage to handle and care for a feral cat that my mom had been feeding. I used his laptop to type the eulogy that I read at his rosary. I used both his USB drive and his blank CDs to keep the playlist that Patrick and I put together for his memorial. I gave my mother copies of those CDs, which included 73 songs ranging from Los Panchos, to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, to Los Lonely Boys (one of the last concerts he took my mom to) and so much more. Because I left New York on a moment’s notice to fly home to Texas on the day my father went into cardiac arrest and died, I didn’t bring any luggage with me and for the first few days back home, was wearing one of my dad’s shirts from the 80s along with his jean jacket. I’m wearing his jean jacket as I write this. My dad is everywhere right now.

Dad with his daughters.

I thought the Santana song might be too “out there,” too rock ‘n roll, too psychedelic to play in a chapel for my dad’s rosary, and I was pretty sure I cut it from the final playlist. But low and behold it came on that night. My dad’s body was in an open casket and images of him from throughout his 72 years played on a giant flat screen monitor to the left of him. I stared as family members stood in front of the monitor watching images of my dad from when he was alive, while his still body was in their peripheral vision, and I have to tell you that Santana song made him seem like a rock star. The family members and friends looked like fans at a concert staring up in awe of their guitar god on stage. I don’t remember ever going to a concert with my dad–though I think he might have been at my first one, Menudo, with me when I was just a tiny kid–but this unexpected Santana moment at his funeral made me feel like I was at the very least finally listening to records with him and finally on the same wavelength with him–for a moment.


Cathy’s grandfather’s favorite record shop in San Antonio.

Cathy de la Cruz was born in San Antonio, Texas to parents whose parents were born in Monterrey and Guadalajara, Mexico. Cathy has been working at Penguin Random House since 2016. Cathy holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona, Tucson and an MFA in Visual Art from the University of California, San Diego. Between her time in Tucson and San Diego, Cathy lived in Los Angeles, where among many things she was a DJ of Chicano oldies and Latinx punk and rock tunes often as a supporting act to the Colombian vallenato band, Very Be Careful. She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Posted: October 16, 2023