Marco Cervantes is getting back
to his roots
At a recent First Friday event in the King William district of San Antonio, a crowd gathered at a parking-lotturned- concert-venue off of South Saint Mary’s Street. As the sun dips below the trees, three men take the stage. The crowd doesn’t know what to expect: they have seen a variety of acts ranging from a 12-year-old girl singing along with pre-recorded tracks to a brother-sister pop-rock duo. The DJ lays down a beat, and two men walk to the front of the stage.
“Black populations settled Latin America Pre-Columbus/ Artifacts reveal traces of Black subjects/before slave ships sailed the Caribbean; in the Mexican region more African roots than European,” raps the Mexican Stepgrandfather as the crowd seems to collectively shift their attention to musicians on the stage.
Third Root performs on South Saint Mary's Street at a First Friday event in the King William Neighborhood in downtown San Antonio. Third Root is made up of Marco Cervantes, aka, the Mexican Stepgrandfather and Charles Peters, aka Easy Lee.
The Mexican Stepgrandfather and Easy Lee make up Third Root and have been performing together about 2 years, but it seems like they have been jointly making music for much longer than that. The rappers share the stage, fluidly passing the lyrics back and forth. Their songs consist of more than just clever rhymes; they speak of history, pride, and their roots.
The Mexican Stepgrandfather also is comfortable performing in front of another type of audience; an audience of college students who take his classes at The University of Texas at San Antonio. Dr. Marco Cervantes, aka The Mexican Stepgrandfather, performs daily in his role as assistant professor in the College of Education and Human Development’s Department of Bicultural-Bilingual Studies.
The Mexican Stepgrandfather, whose students more likely know him as Dr. Marco Cervantes, DJ Chicken George aka Jeffery Henry, and Easy Lee, aka Charles Peters, prepare for a performance at a First Friday event in downtown San Antonio. Cervantes and Lee have been collaborating for the last two years and have preformed a various venues across Texas.
“Usually at every show, there is a student there,” Cervantes said. “The same subjects I talk about in the songs, I cover in the classroom. The thing that surprises them is how intense the performance might get sometimes.”
Cervantes, who's rap name was inspired by his actual stepgrandfather, started writing lyrics as a teenager growing up in Houston. When he was in graduate school pursuing his master’s in English, he realized that the music he was listening to in his off-time could be read as literature.
“There was a point when I really started plotting out my dissertation and I was like, ‘Why am I keeping this [my music and education] separate, this is the same thing. This will help, because I can really reach a larger number of people by combining what I do.”
Cervantes brought his unique combination of musical and education experiences to two classes this past fall semester: Latino Cultural Expressions and Mexican Americans in the Southwest. His specialty is Mexican American literature and expression, and he explores Mexican American and African American cultural fusion in both his classes, and in his music.
“Given that black and brown cultures have mixed so much [in San Antonio] I thought there was a need for [the study of ] it here,” he said. “It is not really all that known, as much as say, Tejano culture, the accordion and how much of the German influence is here … I think that is looked at a lot. But as far as Mexican American and African American cultural fusion, that is not looked at as much although it is here and it is worth looking at and talking about in the classroom.”
Cervantes is getting positive reviews for both his music and his teaching. He was granted The San Antonio Current’s “Best New Artist” in 2009, and his students give him glowing reviews as well.
“Working with him [Cervantes] was a great experience because it allowed me to expand my base of knowledge, specifically in the academic field of ethnomusicology,”
Timothy Giddens, Mexican American Studies and Political Science dual-major and former student assistant to Cervantes, said, “The combination of performance and instruction in the form of performance in the classroom allows students to connect and identify at different levels. Cervantes gives a contemporary, real world aspect to the content. He bridges the divide between professor and student and creates a unique space and learning atmosphere where you are not afraid to express yourself.”