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Maria Isa and Muja Messiah remember George Floyd: ‘A cool, cool dude’

Above and below: memorials for George Floyd outside Conga Latin Bistro, June 1, 2020. (Jay Gabler/MPR)
Above and below: memorials for George Floyd outside Conga Latin Bistro, June 1, 2020. (Jay Gabler/MPR)

by Sylvia Jennings

June 01, 2020

This past week on the Local Show, host Andrea Swensson asked artists and musicians to discuss their reactions to George Floyd's death and the community's response. She was able to connect with Maria Isa and Muja Messiah and chat about who George Floyd was and his role in the community, as well as the necessity to recognize that police brutality and general hostility towards black and brown communities is a problem that is much larger than this specific incident.

Andrea Swensson: Maria, the specific reason that I wanted to talk to you, as I mentioned, is that you had this personal connection: you're really familiar with the role that George Floyd played in the music community and creating safe spaces for people. Can you just tell me what you know about who he was and that role that he played?

Maria Isa: He was our security guy at Conga Latin Bistro. Conga's the longest [running] Latinx nightclub in the Twin Cities, a place where I started out performing, and we know the owners, everybody, it's kind of like the Latinx Cheers. Even if you don't live in Minneapolis, you go to Conga, right? Puerto Ricans of Minnesota committee, which is [a] majority of our elder leaders, like my mother, and a lot of doctors and lawyers in the Puerto Rican community, we meet there monthly for dinner, and at the end of the night, at about 8 p.m., is when the club side starts to open up, the bar side, and you would have Big Floyd making sure that everybody was safe and taken care of; [helping] bands that were performing, helping us unload, and at the end of the night, walking to your vehicles to make sure that your drums were going to be safe, that nobody was going to rob you at the end of the night. That's what he was in so many fashions, and he also worked at Nuevo Rodeo. I remember him doing security for the Bad Bunny show. We couldn't believe how many people - this was right before he blew up, you know? He was just like, "He's really this bad, huh? Everyone really likes this guy." When I had the baby, we had a pre-meeting at Conga, and he was just so happy to see me and Muja. He said he loved our music, "Keep speaking the truth, superstar," and it just is tragic that he passed away in the circumstances that he was murdered and killed by the police, when he really was a police officer for our community. That's who should be policing the streets, people like him who are these gentle giants and are compassionate, yet know when things are wrong.

Can you talk more about his personality?

Maria Isa: I remember him dancing Merengue at the door, you know? He'd be like "Oh! This is Merengue!" and he would grab other waitresses who worked there to dance with him. Just the smile of him being so giantly tall with a short Puerto Rican or Ecuadorian server. It was cute to see him be joyful in our element, and recognizing how we can bridge black and brown communities to have our safe spaces when we're the ones that are protecting each other.

I'm wondering if Muja would like to say anything about George Floyd.

Muja Messiah: If I have to say something about George Floyd, then I have to say something about the thousand other guys, you know? This is a special case because of the youth, and the fact that they have nothing but debt, so they finally took the world into their own hands. It's so many names. It ain't just about George Floyd. It ain't even just about police brutality. It's about 500 years of constant, constant, constant knees on our neck, and the fact that it was on his neck, that's like a modern day lynching. People got lynched, and now we're still getting lynched. It's just with a knee, not a rope. Rest in peace, George Floyd, but [also] rest in peace, everyone that is deceased because of this hostile government that attacks us, and now it's not even just the government, now it's citizens, because of Trump making it MAGA night. Now it's the citizens. Rest in peace, George Floyd, but we need to look at who's responsible for this, man, and responsible for it all the time. George Floyd, it ain't like it's over after today. There'll be another George Floyd, you know what I mean? It could be tonight.

Maria Isa: That's exactly it. It's like folks hitting us up about, "Oh, you guys do your music. You could change the name of this" and we're, like, baffled. Like, no. This happens every day in our communities, and that's why our people are fed up. Our youth are fed up. He would hate to see the cities that he really came to love and make his home in charcoal, but it's understandable, the rage and the fight that our children are feeling right now. It also needs to be brought to light that a lot of these fires, at the same time, that are lit at the businesses that he worked at, they weren't started by our people. Media needs to play a role in that. Media needs to share the stories of what's happening from the community, so we appreciate you honoring George by asking who he was, because he was a cool, cool dude.

Muja Messiah: You have to personalize it, and it is about George Floyd, and I want to reiterate that. I don't want to minus that. You have to personalize who these people were, and George had a bubbly personality that everyone liked, and that's why this one hurts the most, because he was a gentle giant, and will forever be loved. Now, his name is forever immortalized, because this is the biggest one of all time. Rest in peace, Big George.

Maria Isa: Rest in peace, Big Floyd.

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This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.