Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Latino/as in America, pt. I

¡Hola! Everybody...
If you haven’t caught the PBS special, Latin Music USA, then you’re missing a real treat. I’m not always too happy about the way Latino/as are portrayed and/ or studied, but this offering is one helluva treat. It’s well done, authentic, and the people responsible for bringing this together obviously did their homework. What we have here is a look into the very essence of Latino/a culture as told by the people themselves. In fact, Latin Music USA isn’t just about Latin Music, it is the story of America -- of all the Americas.

I was asked to briefly describe “Latin music,” and here’s my totally ad-libbed response:

Latin music is more than a musical genre, it is an urban folklore, a way of life; the receptacle of all that is Latino/a. It is Latinidad itself, the sway of a Latina's hips as she revels in rhythms older than time itself. It is el grito del pueblo set to a clave beat, a fatback backbeat, a dembo pulse. Latin music is at once all things and one thing. It is the exuberance of a joyful of people expressed through the poetry of feet, hands, and heart.

It’s Latino/a Month and I’ll be writing on things Latino/a for most of the rest of what’s left of this month...

* * *

-=[ Latinidad ]=-

I am not African. Africa is in me, but I cannot return.
I am not Taína. Taíno is in me, but there is no way back.
I am not European. Europe lives in me, but I have no home there.

I am new. History made me. My first language was Spanglish.
I was born at the crossroads. History made me.
-- Aurora Levins Morales, Child of the Americas

I’ve been lax this month, ignoring my Latinidad. So today, I have to start from somewhere and I wonder if I can even do it. I mean, to explore the essence of all that is Latino/a -- Latinidad -- is like trying to explore the ocean.

So, I’ll start here, in the good ole U.S. of A. A little about me: I was born in New York City of Puerto Rican parents and so my experience of Latinidad is filtered through those complications. I am light-skinned with blue-eyes, but I am not white. I was born in America, but I identify as a Nuyorican, or as the Nuyorican poet, Tato Laviera, likes to say, an Ame-Rican. I am an old-school Puerto Rican whose beach haunts were Brighton and Orchard, the tar-papered roof tops of Manhattan, and not Luquillo, nor the world-famous surf of Rincon. I don’t speak Spanish... only. I speak it fluently, it rolls off my tongue in quick, New York-paced staccato bursts, and sometimes I season it with English, or a hybrid language all its own: Spanglish. My culture is profoundly African, the ancient Orishas surely looking over my tormented soul, but I am not black. Nor am I Indian, though my spiritual birthplace is Borinquen, the land of the brave and peaceful Taino warriors. I may not have been born in Puerto Rico, but surely, Puerto Rico was born in me. I am none of these things and all of them...

See? I told you it was complicated. But, actually, I’m not. I am, to paraphrase the lovely Aurora, a Stepchild of the Americas.

I hope to give you a glimpse into me and in that way offer you a glimpse of things Latino/a, for, as you might already sense, Latino/as will eventually take over. Don’t worry, we come in all colors, the blood of humankind flows through us. We come in all political orientations too! It is said that the Chicanos in California gave Gore the 2000 presidential election and the Miami Cubans took it away. To be sure, without Latino/as, Obama’s historic campaign would have fallen short.

We have arrived, some pundits say, but I have news for you: we were always here, long before the Daughter of the American Revolution lost her cherry, long before even the first slave ships infiltrated the Caribbean. And I’m sorry Lou Dobbs, but “Spanish is Spoken Here” happened long before your hungry ancestors even thought of immigrating.

There is much to cover here, for while we have indeed arrived, and continue to do so, we are also being targeted as scapegoats for every conceivable social ill. We are at once desired and despised, but I’m here to set the record straight... stay tuned.



1 comment:

  1. I watched this. I really loved it. I learned a whole lot. I especially like learning about early LAtin jazz and Salsa in the 70's.


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