“Hip hop is grounded in black struggle.”
That statement, made by professor Dr. Jason Nichols, was the focal point for Thursday evening’s discussion. Black and Latinx Hip-Hop 101, was hosted by the Hermandad de Sigma lots Alpha, Inc. Chi Chapter, a Latina based but not exclusive sorority, and Community Roots.
Dr. Nichols, editor-in-chief of Words Beats & Life: The Global Journal of Hip-Hop Culture, strived to share his passion for hip hop with the attendees in addition to stressing the importance of its origins, as well as its inclusive nature that spans across many cultures, not just “black.”
“This [hip hop] isn’t something that I joined or became a part of. It is something that I am. I think a lot of times when we think about hip-hop, we don’t think about its origins or it being a diasporic art form,” Dr. Nichols explained.
“It’s not just African American. It started with people from all different elements of the African diaspora coming together, bringing each of their cultural elements and terrain and making something new and something beautiful.”
The presentation focused on how the ramshackle conditions of the Bronx brought different cultures together in proximity, making them share the same history and struggles. Due to the lack of art present in Bronx schools, as Dr. Nichols explained (he himself being from Spanish Harlem and having family in the Bronx), there was no other outlet for kids to express themselves other than music.
And thus, hip-hop was born.
African Americans were interacting with Puerto Ricans, Mexican-Americans, Chicanos, Latinos, and they all contributed to the origins of this genre.
Recently, however, the perception that hip-hop is part of a purely “black” culture has taken prominence. Moreover, the definition of what is considered “black” in the United States has been skewed, and as Dr. Nichols put it, is strictly seen through “African American lenses.”
Puerto Ricans, Dr. Nichols explained, often find themselves caught between “blackness” and their Latino background.
“This is their culture as much as any African American’s culture,” Dr. Nichols said. “Hip-hop is part of a long line of cultural parallels, adaptations and joint production between African Americans and Caribbeans. They have interacted in New York City for over a century.”
“In the mainland of the U.S., blackness is seen almost exclusively through African American lenses. So, a lot of times when we say black, what we mean is African American. So I think that’s why a lot of Afro-Latinos are like ‘I’m not black’ because they think that they mean African American. A lot of times, Puerto Rican and Latino cultures are not recognized as black. But they are clearly part of the African diaspora.”
For many students, even those with Latino background, the lecture was an eye opening experience to the relation between their culture and this particular type of music.
“I didn’t really listen to hip-hop growing up, and even now, I wouldn’t describe myself as a hip-hop fan. And I think that a lot of times, at least myself, even being Latina I didn’t know the role that Latinos played in hip-hop. I think that that’s an angle or a narrative that is often erased and, as he [Dr. Nichols] said, people associate blackness as only being African American, but really, it is something that both communities live,” said Erica Fuentes, a junior government and politics major and academic chair for Hermandad de Sigma lots Alpha.
By the end of the discussion, it was concluded that “rap is something you do and hip-hop is something you live,” a statement which settled with many of the attendees and gave them a different appreciation for hip-hop as a whole.
“I am actually just very glad that I came. I’ve never actually sat through a presentation like this. It’s very different,” said Kishen Pujara, a sophomore economics major. “I grew up listening to hip-hop, and it’s great learning the history and cultural significance of it. It definitely altered my perception of what it used to be, and it kind of opened up how significant it actually was culturally.”
Furthermore, the idea of unity between cultures encompasses more than just musical taste and origin. It should be embraced as a way to withstand oppression, dissipate hardship and unite for peace and understanding.
“The African American community and the Latinx community has a long history of living together, working together and sharing the same experiences socially, economically, politically, everything,” Puentes said. “We have a shared experience of oppression and everything and hopefully by disseminating a knowledge that we have so much congruence, we can do something and work together in the future.”
“We should be forming coalitions and understanding that our communities should be together.”
Featured Photo Credit: Dr. Jason Nichols, a University of Maryland professor in the African American Studies department, began his lecture with an introduction to Latinx and African American history.
Jordan Stovka is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.