Home Vida gringa Paul Curtis: New Orleans Gringo with a Latin Vibe

Paul Curtis: New Orleans Gringo with a Latin Vibe

by Las Gringas
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Gringo Spotlight March 2013: Paul Curtis of Indie Duo Hola Hi!

Las Gringas Blog first encountered Hola HiAngelina Lopez de Catledge and Paul Curtis, not long after we debuted our site, and we “ran into each other” on Twitter.  Shortly after that we got our hands on their debut album, and what can we say, we instantly fell for their upbeat, contagious pop sound!  Since then we’ve gotten to know these two super talented people pretty well! That being said, it was clear that Paul was the perfect choice for our inaugural “Gringo Spotlight” feature.

Since the aim of our blog is to highlight our own personal bi-cultural experiences, we’re looking to some of our fellow gringos to add to that and do the same from their particular POV in the hope of further sharing the positive outcomes of interacting with and learning from a culture different from the ones we individually grew up with. Read the preguntas below, and see what Paul has to share.

Hola Hi: Paul Curtis and Angelina Lopez de Catledge.


1. How did you fall in love with Latino culture?

It goes back to my time at Louisiana State University (Geaux Tigers!) when I went “potluck” for a roommate and ended up rooming with a guy by the name of Carlos (“Charlie”) from Venezuela. I was also a soccer player from high school, continued in college, and the majority of the folks who were playing soccer were from Latin countries. So hanging out with Charlie and playing soccer, you make friends, you get invited to Latin parties, you meet the friends of those friends, and the next thing you know you’re at a party, not drunk but not sober, dancing at 4 in the morning, ripping through all 5 of the Spanish phrases you remember from high school, and then there’s no turning back.From there I began playing music with a group of guys from the Dominican Republic, fell in love with a gal from the Dominican Republic, and the more I learn, the more I love.

2. How have your experiences influenced your feelings your about  culture, Latino culture and the intersection of the two?

I would have to say hanging out with Latin folks has adjusted my world view somewhat, helped me to examine my “Gringoness” with an outside perspective, with a grain of salt, as it were. There are a lot of things that I value about my background and cultural identity, but there are a lot of things that I admire about Latin culture, especially the personal relationships, that I’ve have tried to incorporate into my life. I’ve also become a better dancer. And driving in Latin America has markedly improved my driving ability. It’s like you begin to use the force and sense things before they occur.

3. Do you speak Spanish? If so, where did you learn?

I do speak a form of Spanish, a kind of patois of Spanish, English cognates, French, Italian, and making it up on the fly-o. I learned in college when my friend from Costa Rica, Luis, decided that one summer while we were working out at the gym, he would only speak to me in Spanish. He speaks perfect English, but to this day it sounds weird for me when he speaks English. I had a few classes of Spanish prior but it was a concentrated block of immersion every day for an entire summer that took me from “Como estas?” to “oye mami, pero dime como tu estas?”. It also helped to read books in Spanish, with a dictionary. I’m halfway through “Cien Años de Soledad” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, after muchos años. And at the end of the day, the point is to communicate and be understood, not necessarily to have flawless Spanish.

4. What do you think about being called a “gringo” ?

Oh man, this is going to get me in trouble. Here goes…Honestly, I personally am ok with being called a gringo. I feel it’s like calling someone a Southerner, Hispanic, Catracho, Tico, Kiwi, etc. It’s just a generalized nickname for people or characteristics from a certain region of the world. I think it’s in the intent of the user and the history associated with the term that can make it offensive or derogatory. It’s also been my experience that there’s different nomenclature in Latin America. Words can seem offensive to us in the States are used with love and affection. For example, large people (heck I can’t even say fat in typing it) in latin America are sometimes affectionately nicknamed “Gordo” as a term of endearment, and called thusly by their wives, mothers, best friends, strangers. I can’t say that I feel completely comfortable with calling folks “gordo”, but that has to do more with my background and my particular social norms. I can see the intent and love with which the apparent insult is used. And similarly I’ve always been called gringo with warmth and welcoming, and maybe some good-natured ribbing amongst friends.

8. Do you have any advice for another other aspiring “gringos” who want to learn more about the Latin culture, but don’t know where to start?

Find yourself some friends from Latin America and ask them questions about their home country. People, any people, Latin or otherwise, are proud of their identities, where they’re from and the beauties of their native lands. Interest and curiosity about someone’s homeland is irresistible and it’ll help you to understand Latin culture not in a superficial, “La Cucaracha” and “La Macarena” way, but in true life way that will probably make you rethink a lot of the preconceptions you had about Latin America. Then you can jump back into the Macarena

Now that you’ve heard what Paul had to say, be sure to check out Hola Hi’s most recent single, “Me Haces Volar” and find them on Twitter.

 Photo Credit: Catalina Kulczar

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Joseph Mitchell March 22, 2013 - 9:06 pm

Great interview and insight. Thanks for sharing!

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