I feel slightly bad for snickering at Will Smith’s verse on Bomba Estéreo’s “Fiesta,” because I don’t think I fully grasped the magnitude of it. In theory, one of the world’s most famous actors collaborating with a beloved Colombian electronic tropical group was cool, but my skepticism hackles were up. Seeing the accompanying video, though, I teared up. Will Smith, I love you. Thank you for coming into our zone.
In case you haven’t noticed, Latinos in the United States are largely seen by the non-Latino ruling class as falling into two categories, especially now. The first and most “liberal view” is a voting bloc and demographic to be marketed to with dubious intent—for instance, a slew of magazines and websites segregating their content into verticals known as “[Title of Magazine or Website] for Latinas!” where they shove all the brown people content, or even Hillary Clinton all of a sudden showing an interest in the Selena’s repertoire.
While this is a tiresome way to be pandered to all the time—as if gestures somehow erase decades of being looked not at but through—it is far preferable to the second category, which is one of the prevailing hot-button topics at present. This category is the Trump-trumped, not-uncommon viewpoint that Latinos here are dirty, resources-sapping, criminal Bad People who are running wild and doing Bad Things with the sole intent of destroying (white) American values.
Of course, being resilient peoples, we’ve combatted this with strength, intellect, activism and humor, but after a time there are only so many “Trump wants to deport me” jokes you can make to deflect the sheer bombardment of it before it withers you a little. Especially because Trump isn’t just spewing nonsensical racist garbage; he’s reflecting an active, deadly part of our culture. Just in September, a border patrol officer in Arizona was actually indicted (very #rare) for murdering Elena Rodriguez, an unarmed Mexican teenager—who was, according to his family, just walking home from a basketball game with friends. The agent shot him ten times—in México. He was killed across the border.
So here is Will Smith, collaborating with one of my favorite bands in the world, a Colombian group that pays homage to traditional styles like cumbia and champeta but places them squarely in this era with instruments impossible without technology. Bomba Esteréo is beloved in their home country and in the States, they’re one of the biggest non-pop Latin American bands among Latinos and beyond. They’re so popular not just because they make elegant, heartening dance music but also because (like so many of their peers across Latin America) they do not try to suppress the essential Colombianness of the music they make. In this video, for instance, the costuming and make-up is cognizant and in homage to Colombia’s ingídenas, set up in the dankness of a warehouse rave.
I realize that Will Smith just loves the music—and who wouldn’t, because it’s fantastic, and always has been. But to see someone of his stature, fame, and respect across the world really get behind a group that means so much to young American Latinos is heartening, and the result is heartening in a dark-ass time. Abrazos, Will Smith.
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Image via screenshot