Roots: Rediscovering Heritage Through ‘Despacito’

Tuesday, February 20, 2018 - 10:51am

From the music video of "Despacito'

From the music video of "Despacito' Buy this photo
Universal Latin

Like so many significant milestones, it all began with the Justin Bieber remix of “Despacito.”

My paternal family is from Mendoza, Argentina, a leafy province in the heart of South America’s wine country. But my dad has spent the majority of his life in the suburbs of Michigan, which made it difficult for me to identify with my Latin heritage as a young girl. My siblings and I rarely broached the topic of our ancestry, unless we were forced to at a routine Sunday dinner with our abuelos. Growing up in a largely Caucasian community further pushed my ethnicity to the backburner; I looked like all of the other white girls, and so I acted like them without thinking twice. Frankly, I was happy to do that. Only when I set off for college did I finally begin to explore my Argentine identity, enrolling in an intensive Spanish language program and writing research papers about the Latinx experience in the United States. Through this exploration, I still felt like something was missing. My Spanish would never reach a native’s level of fluency. I’d only visited Argentina once, in seventh grade, and I spent most of the trip looking for wifi to Facebook message my friends. To top it all off, I don’t possess a single physical attribute associated with the Latina appearance, save for my stereotypically wide hips. There was no particular aspect of Latin American culture with which I felt comfortable identifying, and sometimes that made me wonder whether I was Latina at all.

But then, in April 2017, I heard “Despacito” by Daddy Yankee and Luis Fonsi, featuring Justin Bieber. It was a brilliant melding of Latin and traditional pop influences, English and Spanish and Bieber’s surprisingly impressive Spanglish. Plus I already had a soft spot for Daddy Yankee (read: “Gasolina”), which made it that much easier to fall head over heels in love with the standout canción.

What startled me most was that everyone around me seemed to love “Despacito” just as much as I did. I giggled every time I heard my friends singing along, knowing they had no idea how vulgar the lyrics really were. Seeing it top the charts week after week made me proud to be a Latina in the United States, as though my home country and ethnic heritage had come together in some small way to produce something that was just like me, only record-breakingly famous.

I’m still not tired of “Despacito.” My deep infatuation with Latin music has grown dramatically since last April. I listen to Selena on my morning walks to class — “Amor Prohibido” when I’m feeling passionate and emotional, “El Chico del Apartamento 512” when I need a heavy dose of escapism. I know every word to the Spanish remix of “Bodak Yellow.” I’ve recently become obsessed with cuco, an 18-year-old Chicano whose music sounds like the lovechild of Tame Impala and today’s greatest Reggaeton hits (I’d recommend “Lo Que Siento” to the new listener).The best part? It seems like the States’ popular culture is right there with me. Latin pop’s broader acceptance in this country makes it that much more exciting to relate to, to be able to sing along with. Latin American culture is becoming a normal part of the contemporary United States lifestyle, and I am 100 percent here to cheer it on.