I have a confession. I wasn’t that big a fan of Chente as many, many others have been. I was born to parents who grew up and loved the music of the other grandes before Chente: Pedro Infante, Jorge Negrete, Javier Solis, and Tony Aguilar.
Aguilar was the last one from that group who passed away in 2007. After the first three were gone, my Pop didn’t think much of Fernandez, choosing to keep listening to the vinyl he had of the others. (Pop thought he was too much of an Elvis figure and he didn’t like Elvis, either.) Mom, on the other hand, was more accepting and watched Chente’s movies and listened to his music on the radio until her passing in 2016. As well as whatever chisme was being produced by Mexican stars and chisme shows. I chose Pop’s path and kept on listening to other grandes, but I was known to throw out a grito at a few college parties when Chente’s Volver Volver came on the stereo.
Both, though, boasted about catching the other grandes in concert during the matinees at the movies in which they starred and sang. Mom even attended a Tony Aguilar concert in Philly (The Spectrum) with my sis’s family in the 90s, although, Aguilar didn’t take his horses for the jaripeo portion of the concert. So, I understand the impact these performers can have on people.
Still, there is no doubt that Chente was an iconic figure for Mexicans, Chicanos, and Latinos all the way up and down the Americas. In Texas, even the king of Country George Strait was a huge fan and recorded his hit El Rey a while back. Tony Bennett even called him up to do a duet of Return To Me. But for Mexicans in the US, he was something special. Gustavo Arellano at the LA Times wrote a great article about Chente and his impact on those who crossed over the river for a better life.
The star and his fans conquered el Norte by adhering to rancho libertarianism, a philosophy that celebrates bootstrap individualism in a way that makes Ayn Rand seem like a commune-dwelling hippie. His tunes documented the pain and pride he and his fans experienced through life. There were never any excuses offered for hardships — just pride in being able to beat them down.
Latinos became the largest minority in the United States as Chente and my dad’s generation became older. My generation went from hearing Chente as the forced soundtrack of our weekends — he remained on the radio even as we begged our parents to let us play Nirvana or 2Pac — to a nostalgia act. He, like our parents, moved on into the realm of myth, until no longer quite human but living relics.
And that’s how it’s been for the generations that followed.
I’ve been watching human reaction to the death of Chente. Along with the various heartbreaks experienced these last couple of years, his death only exacerbates the feeling of woe while celebrating a long life. Even this less than fan has been listening to his tunes since waking up Sunday to the sad news and watching old interviews. And while watching the human reaction, whether on the news, in social media posts from LAs Walk of Fame, or while watching the homage in Guadalajara, it touched a nerve for me. Another, possibly the last, of los grandes is gone. His son, Alejandro, Tony Aguilar’s son Pepe, and some others whose careers are just starting are left to carry the culture and perhaps expand its reach.
Chente leaves quite an impact on society because he was enjoyed by multiple generations. Was he perfect? Hell, who is? As Arellano reminds us, there are some whose lives must be considered in totality as a means of having some perspective. And Chente is one of those big star lives that must be considered because we were privileged to all the chisme and truths being put out by chisme shows on Univision while enjoying his career.
He may be gone, but his art is still available for all to continue enjoying.