Latinidad is complex. We’ve already dived into the meaning of the various terms our Latinx community uses. What people used to consider part of the Latinx community has evolved and changed, and so have our standards, what we expect from artists, and how we perceive them. So as labels change and get nitpicked, we’d like to kindly ask that we sit back and reflect on a certain artist taking credit for being from a certain ethnic background she is not actually from. We explain.
Rosalia won Best Latin song alongside Billie Eilish at the VMAs. People were confused. How can a Spaniard win a Latin award? She isn’t considered Latinx or Latina, she is Spanish or Hispanic. Above all, Billie Eilish, a white American girl, also won the prize? What about Bad Bunny? Maluma? Shakira? Three talented and well-known artists were also nominated for Best Latin song.
Despite these other Latinx nominations, Rosalia keeps getting nominated for the Latin Grammys and also winning them. Of course, she isn’t the only Spaniard who was nominated. C Tangana was among the nominees for his El Madrileño, but he has never tried to claim the Latino identity like Rosalia has.
Though this has happened for many years now, it wasn’t until recently that discussions about Hispanic and Latinx identity have started to take shape in earnest. In fact, Enrique Iglesias, a Spaniard, was a big part of the 90s “Latin Explosion” but was identified as Latino.
At that time the Latinx community severely lacked representation, recognition, and leadership, so having a small, albeit not quite right representation of Hispanic culture was reason to celebrate. But things have changed and our standards have too. We expect better. We demand a more accurate representation of our diverse and nuanced culture.
Rosalia’s attempt to identify as Latina is particularly disturbing because she’s robbing other women from our community of this recognition. Opportunities that should be for women who speak about our truths and use their voices to speak out about our issues.
Spaniards have centuries of colonialism on their hands where they’ve exploited native Latin-American people and cultures, and now they continue to do so by appropriating our culture to thrive from.
Award shows are notoriously biased, white, and culturally disconnected. The Rosalia debacle stems from these problems and artists have started to actively call the organizers of these shows out for their inaction on very blatant issues.
The issue within the Latinx community doesn’t end at Spaniards passing themselves off as Latinx, but also the frequency in which white-passing Latinx artists are chosen over darker-skinned and Black/Afro Latinx.
The Latinx community is still very much grappling with colorist tendencies. Many parts of Latin America don’t recognize the influence of Black people in their culture and continue to promote an anti-Black agenda within their people. Colombia, for example, did a census in 2019 where only 2.9 million of Colombia’s approximately 50 million people reported being of African descent, when in the 2005 census, about 4.3 million people, approximately 10% of the population, identified themselves as black. Almost half of the Black population were somehow erased from the census. Anti-Blackness paves the way for white artists to benefit from the Latinx label while still checking the white box that award show organizers are so used to working with.
In contrast, talented dark-skinned people are cast aside, like Tego Calderon, who has only won one Latin Grammy. One of the kings of reggaeton, Calderon, was part of revolutionizing the genre by fusing different rhythms like dancehall, hip hop, and salsa while also speaking out about the struggles of his people both in his music and in his personal life. His album El Abayarde was innovative, genre-bending, and brought attention to artists in Puerto Rico. He owns the color of his skin proudly and celebrates his Afro-roots.
Alongside this, we also know how few women are recognized for their talent.
Only three Latina or Hispanic women have ever won the Latin Grammy for best album: Natalia LaFourcade, Shakira, and the non-Latina Rosalía, so even when women have won, they were all white-presenting. Where’s Ivy Queen’s recognition? She’s only been nominated three times and has never been awarded despite being one of the most prominent reggaeton pioneers. What about Ile, Julieta Venegas, Ana Tijoux, Lido Pimienta, Kali Uchis, to mention some of them. Rosalia, in 4 years, has surpassed the number of nominations and wins of all these talented Latina artists.
When these diverse, talented people aren’t recognized, their careers also don’t benefit from the attention these awards generate. for example, the “Grammy Bounce” produces growth in concert ticket sales and producer fees of at least 55%
Continuing to recognize only these privileged, white artists contributes to the hoarding of opportunities and benefiting from the influence of BIPOC talent without giving them their well-deserved praise. Therefore, Spanish artists like Rosalia should be called out, but we also have to hold those in the highest positions accountable. These people are the ones perpetuating the problems.
They are the people that are constantly imposing their perceptions and racist views of what is considered good enough. They celebrate genre-bending styles when done by white people, but when it’s time to recognize people of color doing it, the praise disappears. There are very few words, no apologies, and what seems like not even a remote desire to solve their POC underrepresentation issues. Actor John Leguizamo said it best, ‘If you don’t have Latin people, there’s no reason for me to see it.’ We know who will be seeing the award shows, though. Rosalia will be front and center basking in the Latinx glory.
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