Image: Drew de F Fawkes
For a particular sort of Latinx emo kid coming of age in the early naughts, Linkin Park was a refuge.
Older siblings had Morrissey, a beloved emo-ballad-slinging favorite of depressed Mexican-Americans. A younger generation had Linkin Park and, to a greater extent, Chester Bennington. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where this relationship comes from, but it’s probably best to begin at the beginning.
Born in Phoenix, Arizona, to working class parents, Bennington’s life was marked by early childhood trauma, abuse and subsequent battles with serious drug and alcohol abuse. Still, as his career as Linkin Park’s frontman launched to incredible heights, his love for the Hispanic community he called home never faded.
In a somewhat recent interview he said,
“[Arizona is] one of the most beautiful places on Earth. It’s incredible. That’s the part of Arizona that I love—the Native American culture and history; Hispanic culture and history. I always wanted to be Mexican growing up. It’s one of those funny things. Arizona, as a state, holds a good spot for me.”
While by today’s standards that sentiment may not seem particularly woke, at the time, this sort of acknowledgement coming from a hotbed of racism like Arizona felt genuine. And Mexican-Americans hold a good spot for him, too. Where Latin metal bands like Sepultura, Soulfly and even Pantera paved a path for metal to cross the cultural divide in the 1990s, Linkin Park’s entry onto the scene in the pop-heavy MTV era of the early 2000s was a direct path to the genre for a hungry generation of culturally conflicted Latinx Millennials.
It’s a unique position to be in as a adolescent, at an often painful intersection of cultures, neither here nor there, constructing a complex racial and social identity in America, all while growing into adulthood. Linkin Park provided a space for exploration of those tensions, and in many ways mirrored the experience.
The nü-metal group blended metal roots and pop-rock references to provide an outlet for raw anger and sadness, while their collaborational albums with rappers of notoriety made it “acceptable” for emo-hood-kid consumption. Linkin Park’s 2003 effort Reanimation was their first remix album and featured many underground hip hop artists, giving them a wider audience, while their 2004 collaboration with Jay Z, Collision Course, was met with praise. At the time, K.B. Tindal of HipHopDX said, “This is a project that will open a passageway for artists who want to dare to be different as well as those who want to work hard to maintain that difference."
Mexican/Asian-American esports writer Josh Calixto’s introduction to the group wasn’t even in this country. “The first Linkin Park song I ever heard was ‘Crawling,’ and it was in Mexico that I first heard it," he said. "It was one of like, 20 music videos that they played on repeat.”
In light of news breaking on Thursday of Bennington’s death by suicide, many took to Twitter to express these sorts of memories, bringing to light the strange dichotomy that their fandom represented.
It’s a study in contrasts:
#chesterbennington & #LinkinPark helped me through my confused teenage years as a Latino who loved rock & skateboarded. I’ve become so numb
— j a v i e r (@javiergasilva) July 20, 2017
I grew up on Chicano Rap, Corridos, and Banda, but Linkin Park introduced me to Alternative Rock. This one hurts. RIP Chester Bennington
— J. Martinez (@49_Faithful_661) July 20, 2017
Idk how a 12 yr old Mexican kid with a limited English vocabulary ended up a Linkin Park fan but I swear I grew up with their first 2 albums
— Gio (@panthersfan1987) July 20, 2017
Me and my Mexican cousins had a Linkin Park phase and they don’t even speak English idk how we even got into it lol
— Amy (@Amylizarragaa) July 20, 2017
The tweets reveal the kind of art that’s rarely afforded to immigrants living in hyphenated, something-American worlds, where adoption of American culture can be met with accusations of betrayal to the culture of origin, including within Latinx communities themselves.
It’s not solely a Latinx issue — African-Americans experience the phenomenon of not being "enough" because of interest in so-called white music too.
I feel you, homie. Linkin Park was also huge for chicanos who weren’t ‘Mexican enough.’
— S. Ramirez (@fightsteevfight) July 20, 2017
But what Chester Bennington and Linkin Park created, deliberately or not, was music that could be all things at once: accessible nü-metal, catchy pop-rock, earnest emo music, with a proto-woke sensibility about hip hop and street culture.
At the time, they were what Latinx wanted to be. Vulnerable. Complex. Hurting. Resilient. Angry.
Linkin Park were all of these things at once, in a way that made this kind of cultural exploration not only OK, but led to more and more exploration. After all, while many Latinx-Americans could easily delve into the world of American culture through the lens of rap and African-American culture, exploration of "white music" was all too often questionable at best.
Whether Linkin Park will continue as a band is still unknown, but as the tragic loss of front man Chester Bennington sinks in and his impact on the music world is chronicled, the influence of his music on a specific, maybe small, group of Latinx won’t soon be forgotten.
If you want to talk to someone or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Here is a list of international resources.