Late Nite FDL: Corazones y Comunidades
I live in an area near Washington DC full of first generation latin American immigrants, mostly from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Ecuador and Peru. We don't have as much of a Mexican presence here, the way most other Spanish speaking communities in the United States do, and the Puerto Rican community is strongest in New York. The Cuban community of course is centered in Miami.
I love latin music performed in Spanish, and as I thought about what to write tonight, I thought of sharing with you many of my favorites, including plenty of salsa and lots of fun, cheesy latin romantic pop ballads and club music samples from the likes of Willie Colón, Joe Arroyo, Celia Cruz, Christian Castro, Alejandro Sanz, Luis Fonsi, Son by Four, Carlos Ponce, DLG, Thalia, La India, Shakira (I hate the stuff in English) and others. That's the stuff I enjoyed most when I spent a lot more time in the latin clubs with Spanish speaking friends and lovers, back in my single days. Ahem. Good times.
But for many of the new generation of Spanish speaking youth here today, torch songs and flamboyant songs of love and longing are no longer where it's at: that's their parents' music. Like all immigrant communities before them, latin youth are experiencing the cultural dislocation and ferment of forming a new identity in America, expressing their experiences in their own musical idiom. That idiom, by and large, is Reggaetón, an original brew of carribbean beats, hip hop stylings and more.
The songs and sensibilities brought here by the people who first arrived spoke often of hearts longing for love and connection, and this naked vulnerability and desire, however mawkish at times, nevertheless represents a tradition of popular music that has become absent from much of American popular music in English. The pinnacle of this kind of music in America came through the rather sophisticated, adult popular compositions by songwriters of the classic American songbook tradition, though cheesy, poorer quality love ballads do still make their appearances among the occasional oversinging American diva, boy band or R&B artist. But even salsa, from the latin American dance hall tradition, was music enjoyed in its place by all generations at once. Now, in America, a generational musical divide is taking over, communal celebration and romantic vulnerability are out, and the song above, by native Puerto Rican Daddy Yankee, represents one very popular example of latin music's new wave.
The song is titled "Corazones," or "Hearts," but the experience of the heart this song conveys speaks to the very different, more alienated and tumultuous experience of today's latin American youth living in the US. There's a struggle in this song with making sense of the darker disaffections, aggressions and violence in alienated communities, and while this particular song's lyrics speak of a redemptive heart and spirit that transcends violence and the dissafection of communities, the experience the song channels is a far cry from Christian Castro's Yo Queria or Celia Cruz' La Vida Es Un Carneval. The first generational arrivals here could take their connections to their communities and families for granted, but the next generation of latin youth growing up here occupy a more confusing, swirling cultural netherworld of an identity newly inventing itself and grasping for bearings: a quintessential American immigrant experience.
What has all this got to do with politics?
It's amazing how much of the discussion if immigration in this country excludes latino voices talking about latino community needs and latino community experiences. On the right wing, such voices are entirely absent and excluded, and only the panicked projections of the racists and the xenophobes carry the day. On the left, immigrant community voices begin to break through, but the conversation still tends to focus on the questions, "What do we do with these people?" or "What do we do about these people?", rather than "Who are these people and what do they need?"
I'm not naive. Most established, English speaking Americans won't come to much of an understanding of these communities, in part due to the language barriers, but also because "alien" (what a word!) cultures feel uncomfortable and strange. But the best thing majority Americans can do for these communities, indeed, for the entire American community, is help them by providing the institutional frameworks that allow for full participation and opportunity in this society, including pathways to citizenship for the vast majority of undocumented people who are working and not engaged in any crime, educational support and college scholarships, rights to organize and guarantees of safe, healthy working conditions.
Not everyone needs to immerse themselves in these communities to be able to help them, and to the extent that Democrats have shown some understanding of these issues, they have reaped electoral benefit, as in the last election. In 2006, latinos went for the Democrats 69 to 30 percent, a 10-point increase in the spread from 2004.
Fans of Daddy Yankee may not feel they have much at all in common with a 40 year old half latino gay man like me, but that's not necessary. What is necessary is to create an environment that promotes opportunity and fairness for all of our neighbors. In the end, all of our hearts and all of our communities (corazones y communidades) seek the same things.