While not all that is said is true, not all that is truth is told.
After Michael Jackson, James Brown, and Prince; comes Hernandez. Pedro Hernandez, aka Bruno Mars, was born and bred in Hawaii to a Filipina/Spanish mom and a puertorriqueño and Jewish papi from Brooklyn. His dominance in pop culture takes on even greater resonance now, when the leader of the free world has called Latino men “rapists,” “drug dealers,” & “bad hombres.” The boricua who sold sold more than a million tickets in one day said: “no one can see what we see and no one can grow up with what we grew up with. I hope people of color can look at me, and they know that everything they’re going through, I went through.” By Jesus Triviño Alarcón. Jan. 30, 2017. Latina magazine
Bruno Mars redefines what it means to be a Latino man.
It’s as if he’s perpetually ready to perform a Motown-style choreography set in front of tens of millions watching the Super Bowl (which he has done twice in the past four years)—even easing his way into a suburban L.A. pizza parlor, where moments earlier, his sexy, chart-topping 2012 hit, “Locked Out of Heaven,” was on blast, as if anticipating his appearance. Mars just has that aura. His outfit is straight Fania-era salsa/blaxploitation swag—Gucci cap over his curls; sunglasses; an open shirt, floral and teal; tan shorts; dress shoes (no socks, to accentuate those smooth legs); and minimal gold jewelry. He orders a plain slice, which he sprinkles with garlic powder, and a root beer. It’s obviously a joint he frequents, since he knows all the fellas by name, and the workers aren’t taken aback by the superstar in their midst. He walks to an open booth, wolfs down his food, controlling his urge to eat six more slices, he jokes, and proceeds to be the smoothest cat to ever have lunch at an old-school checkered-tablecloth pizzeria.
Mars learned about charm, confidence, and estilo early in life. “My whole sense of rhythm is because my dad was teaching me bongos as a kid,” he says of his father, Pedro Hernandez. “He’s an old-school working musician, so that’s where the pinky rings come from, the patent-leather shoes, the suits, and the pompadour. It all stems from watching my father. I remember at the time, me and my sisters would be a little embarrassed when he would take us to school in his big-ass Cadillac. No one had Cadillacs in Hawaii. But my dad would show up in some boat-looking Caddy wearing some silky shit, and we’d run out into the car as soon as possible. And here I am wearing the swap-meet gold, driving Cadillacs,” he says with a laugh.
Take one quick look at Mars’ recent music (the omnipresent Mark Ronson collaboration “Uptown Funk,” which amassed more than 2 billion YouTube views, the fourth-most ever, or his critically acclaimed 24K Magic) and his style (“pinky rings to the moon”), and it’s easy to see that his persona is not only inspired by his father but delivered as a conscious ode to Latino and African American masculinity. Brown and black men have long dealt with the stereotype of being hot-blooded, suave, savage animals lusting after anything with a pulse. Now Mars, 31, is embracing the Latin Lover archetype (if you’re not treating your girl right, we’re Mr. Steal Ya Girl) and giving anyone who’s offended a big middle finger. Mars’ dominance in pop culture takes on even greater resonance now, when the leader of the free world has called Latino men “rapists,” “drug dealers,” and “bad hombres.”
“I hate that we’re even having a conversation about injustice in America,” he says of the current climate of social unrest. “That we are having a conversation about this in 2017; the same conversation that’s been had decades and decades ago.”
Yet Bruno Mars doesn’t want to drown you with his wokeness; he just wants to make you shake what your mami gave you. The man is a musical genius—he writes, produces, sings, dances, plays instruments, and puts on arguably the best performances in the universe.
“Remembering when he was just my little brother looking up to me, staying by my side, playing music together, throwing around a football, just doing everything together—those were great times,” says Eric “E-Panda” Hernandez of his hermano and band leader. “Now he signs my paychecks, and he is my boss. I’m beyond proud of the man he has become.”
But before he was Bruno Muhfuckin’ Mars, he was E-Panda’s lil’ bro, Peter Hernandez, born and bred in Hawaii to a beautiful Filipina and Spanish mom and Puerto Rock and Jewish papi from Brooklyn. His childhood musical career is well-documented on YouTube— at 4, he was the cutest Elvis Presley impersonator ever, performing with his family for oohing-and-ahhing tourists in Waikiki. As the years passed and his skills developed, Mars found himself dealing with racial-identity issues in the multicultural 50th state. “Growing up in Hawaii, there are not too many Puerto Ricans there,” says Mars, “so because of my hair, they thought I was black and white.”
The idea of not being easily categorized is something Mars has dealt with his entire life. When he moved to Los Angeles at 18 to make a serious go in the music industry, record label executives asked, “What are you? Are you urban? Are you Latin?”
“There are a lot of people who have this mixed background that are in this gray zone,” he says, leaning forward to make his point. “A lot of people think, ‘This is awesome. You’re in this gray zone, so you can pass for whatever the hell you want.’ But it’s not like that at all. It’s actually the exact opposite. What we’re trying to do is educate people to know what that feels like so they ’ll never make someone feel like that ever again. Which is a hard thing to do. Because no one can see what we see and no one can grow up with what we grew up with. I hope people of color can look at me, and they know that everything they’re going through, I went through. I promise you.”
All that to say that Mars is prouder than Manny Pacquiao to be Filipino, loves Hawaii more than Don Ho’s children, and, well, is as boricua as Marc Anthony eating a plate of arroz con gandules during his Todo a Su Tiempo era. Critics and those confused by his multiracial roots have insinuated that he’s ashamed of his Taino roots, truly a load of chupacabra crap, says Mars.
“I’d love to clear that up in Latina magazine,” he says, raising his voice. “I never once said I changed my last name to hide the fact that I’m Puerto Rican. Why would I fucking say that? Who are you fooling? And why would anyone say that? That’s so insulting to me, to my family. That’s ridiculous. My last name is Hernandez. My father’s name is Pedrito Hernandez, and he’s a Puerto Rican pimp. There’s no denying that. My dad nicknamed me Bruno since I was 2 years old. The real story is: I was going to go by ‘Bruno,’ one name. Mars just kind of came joking around because that sounds bigger than life. That was it, simple as that. I see people that don’t know what I am, and it’s so weird that it gets them upset. It’s an oxymoron—the music business; like the art business. You’re making a business out of these songs that I’m writing. And how are you going to tell me that this song that I’m writing is only going to be catered to Puerto Ricans or to white people or only Asian people. How are you going to tell me that? My music is for anybody who wants to listen to it.”
An incredible number of people want to do just that. Mars’ combined sales for his first three albums are more than 100 million, along with his 2013 Moonshine Jungle Tour and his upcoming 100-date 24K Magic World Tour, which begins in late March and sold more than a million tickets in one day. Concertgoers will be treated to the Mars stage presence—an aura influenced by his family and the greats: Michael Jackson, James Brown, and Prince. Needless to say, Mars’ music is undoubtedly black.
“When you say ‘black music,’ understand that you are talking about rock, jazz, R&B, reggae, funk, doo-wop, hip-hop, and Motown. Black people created it all. Being Puerto Rican, even salsa music stems back to the Motherland [Africa]. So, in my world, black music means everything. It’s what gives America its swag. I’m a child raised in the ‘90s. Pop music was heavily rooted in R&B from Whitney, Diddy, Dr. Dre, Boyz II Men, Aaliyah, TLC, Babyface, New Edition, Michael, and so much more. As kids this is what was playing on MTV and the radio. This is what we were dancing to at school functions and BBQs. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for these artists who inspired me. They have brought me so much joy and created the soundtrack to my life filled with memories that I’ll never forget. Most importantly, they were the superstars that set the bar for me and showed me what it takes to sing a song that can get the whole world dancing, or give a performance that people will talk about forever. Watching them made me feel like I had to be as great as they were in order to even stand a chance in this music business. You gotta sing as if Jodeci is performing after you and dance as if Bobby Brown is coming up next.”
It’s refreshing to hear a pop star say it loud and proud: black music is American pop culture. Latinos and African Americans aren’t just connected by the racism and dis- enfranchisement we’ve dealt with historically; we’re also connected by our music and traditions. We hear it in J Balvin’s reggaeton heaters and in Rihanna’s Caribbean patois, as well as in the eloquent, piercing words written by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Junot Díaz. We’re one. And Bruno Mars combines the best of all of our aspirations and goals into one super artist.
Above all, the world has to thank his parents for nurturing his talent at an age when most kids were still using pull-up diapers. While his pops gave him his style, his mom, Bernadette San Pedro Bayot, gave him his heart. After each performance, Mama Mars would call or text to congratulate him on another gem or to say to get some rest. The memory of her sudden death in 2013 from a brain aneurysm still shakes him.
“The woman who taught you to love, showed you what a woman is supposed to be,” says Mars, his voice trembling slightly for the first time during an interview where he’s been all smiles and laughs. “When that goes away, a little more than half your heart goes away with it.”
“You just gotta know that she’s with me everywhere I go,” he says. “It’s some- thing that you can’t imagine—the pain and the things that you keep going back to: ‘I wish I would’ve done this or said this.’ You just have to see life differently. It shows you the real importance of life. Nothing else matters in this world but family and your loved ones.”
When asked if his music has changed à la Kanye West when he lost his mother, Donda, Mars pauses. “I don’t know how to answer that question,” he says. “My life has changed. She’s more than my music. If I could trade music to have her back, I would. I always hear her say, ‘Keep going and keep doing it.’”
Mama Mars certainly did an amazing job. Mars’ longtime girlfriend, model Jessica Caban, definitely reaps the rewards of his having such a great mother. Mars isn’t big on sharing about his life with Caban, but social media paints an adorable #relationshipgoals idea of their courtship.
“I got this fire in my blood. For me, you gotta keep up. It’s all in. It’s ‘I’m going to love the shit out of you, and I’m going to fuck you up later,’” says Mars jokingly, laughing about his attraction to Latinas, obviously with Caban in mind. “It’s all in. And that’s what keeps that fire going.”
As he wraps the interview, which felt more like two bros shooting the ish, Mars dips through the back of the pizzeria, jumps in his black Cadillac and pulls to the front. He asks this reporter, “Where you going? Maybe I can give you a lift.” “Downtown L.A.,” the reporter says. “Oh! You better Uber that shit!” Mars says with a smile. It was expected. Not because Mars is too Hollywood, but because where he’s going, not many have gone. ##