They were five boys who were not yet teenagers with voices that had not yet changed. But when they wore their tight outfits and danced in unison, the girls went wild. They were called Menudo and in the late 70’s and early 80’s, they gave Puerto Rican youth something to emulate or admire. That was hardly so during this time when Puerto Ricans had little to be inspired by and was basically ignored on the world stage.
Even in New York, long before the rise of Reggaeton put the island on the map of popular culture, Puerto Ricans were perceived as lovers of Salsa alone, non English-speaking, though most second and third generation Nuyoricans were usually English first, and devoid of anything original to catch anyone’s fancy. Then, Menudo came along. Puerto Rican-born, they were the template for later boy bands that used in sync dance numbers and youthful voices to make tweens’ hearts fail.
It also did something else. It furnished national pride and when they came to New York’s Madison Square Garden, they packed the arena while the activity around it drew comparisons to groups like the Beatles who drew serious intensity in their fan base when they first arrived.
Secondly, they drew Puerto Ricans to learn Spanish as they picked up the lyrics to their favorite songs bringing with it a renewed love of their original language. It also was something for the boricuas of the early 80’s to own. It was theirs and it defined a period they could recall with pride. Later on Menudo would add a boy named Ricky Martin, and in 1983, with roster practically fully changed, they picked a Long Island kid, Robbie Rosa, to spearhead the attempt at an English crossover. He was the first Puerto Rican from the United States mainland to be selected.
Looking back like all things 80’s, the word cheesy is used. But you will not talk to any forty-something Latina today who does not remember Menudo and what it meant in their early years. Except they were Puerto Rican made. What did it mean to a people with no real status and history recognized by anyone? It was everything. Menudo mattered and in July they will be coming with the original members to the Beacon Theatre to perform in New York for the first time in 17 years. Yes, it matters. From the VCR to Blue Ray, Menudo is still relevant to those who cared.