Inherent Racism in Spanish Music

I was born and raised in the USA, so I am not sure if it’s fair to call these songs racist, I think that racism requires malicious intent.  And, given that the US has a different and unique relationship with its non-caucasian descendants than Latin America, I’m not sure there’s the same level of maliciousness as in the US.  All I can do is view these songs through the perspective of an American.  The song that sparked this article is by La Banda Gorda and is called “El Negro Pega Con Todo” which means “black matches with everything”.  I’d heard it before, but I was listening a little more closely to the introduction this time around.

“And what does the black person have that caused her to get married right away?  Margo got married with Julio.  She was a beautiful blond with long hair and she got married to a dark guy the color of my shoes.  And I asked her, ‘Margarita, what happened?’ and she said, ‘Well, black matches with everything!’”

And they go on to mention tons of places where black things are the cool or right thing: the president’s car, a tuxedo, the FBI, etc.  And more or less it’s just a fun song that’s a play on words.  I think there’s nothing wrong with the punchline, what I think is wrong is the premise.  Why does a beautiful, blond woman need a reason to marry a black guy?  Why is everyone shocked that she did it?  I know it’s somewhat needed to setup the premise, but they could have just said Margo got married to this black guy right away – why is it important that she’s blond and so on?  I have a hard time believing this song could get on the radio if translated to English.

Another song that always makes Danielle wonder what the heck is going on with Spanish music is the song “El Africano”.  Here are the lyrics:

“Mom, the black guy is rabid – he wants to dance with me and tell my father.  Mom, I lay quietly in bed, tucked in from head to toe and the black guy comes and uncovers me.  Mom, what does the black guy want?”

And then there’s a bunch of either nonsense chanting or maybe authentic chanting in an african language.  Again, it’s a song that could never come out in English, but I remember hearing it on the radio all the time as a kid and at family parties.

And, lest you think these songs only are about people of African descent, there’s this song called “Ojos Chinos” – Chinese eyes by El Gran Combo.  Just like the first song, this song could have just been a nice, fun song to dance to.  The bulk of the lyrics are about how the singer is mesmerized by this girl’s asian features, especialy her eyes and so he wants to marry her.

But it starts out (and repeats some time in the middle) with “The little Chinese wants very tasty fried rice from Puetro Rico.” Which, on its own is just mildly racist.  What makes it pretty insane is that the guy does it in a stereotypical Chinese voice AND replaces all the ‘r’s with ‘l’s.  (Which must be a Chinese thing in Spanish, because I’d only heard of that in English with the Japanese)  This song could maybe get on the radio here because the US isn’t quite as sensitive to Asian stuff just yet (I saw a horribly racist Superbowl commercial last year or the year before that would have never been made against black people), but it would still probably be pretty controversial.

The question still remains.  Are these songs racist within the context of the countries of origin of the singers?  All of Latin America also had african slaves and Chinese indentured servitude.  But did they end up with the same amounts of animosity towards those people as we did in the USA with our Jim Crow laws and Chinese Exclusion Act?  I don’t know enough about those other countries to be sure. I just know that these songs sound weird to me (although since I heard the second one since I was a little kid, before I could understand the lyrics, it’s one of my favorite Spanish songs) and they certainly raise questions with my wife who didn’t grow up with these songs.  If anyone who grew up in Latin America comes across this blog post, I’d love to hear what you have to say.

7 responses to “Inherent Racism in Spanish Music”

  1. I don’t have any experience with Latin American culture, but I’ll put in my two cents. You begin with how you think racism require malicious intent – and then at then end with thoughts on American animosity toward certain races. But, in my experience (which is with Chinese culture), it’s not that there’s any animosity – they’re just less concerned with sounding racist. Or, in other words, they really are racist and don’t even realize. It’s the same idea when it’s hard for me to say to a friend that she’s gained weight. A lot of Chinese don’t have a problem pointing it out at all – not that they’re trying to be mean, they’re just not as sensitive about saying it as Americans.

    Oh, switching r’s with l’s is a Chinese thing too.

    • I think you make a very good point. We haven’t yet reached a point in our culture where it’s unacceptable to make fun of asians. Pretty much no one would ever say something super-racist in public against African-Americans, but people don’t think twice about “ching chong chow” or squinting their eyes.

      I’m not sure what’s different although at times when discussing this with Danielle we’ve come to the conclusion that Asians tend to not want to stir up problems by protesting and complaining. Maybe it’s cultural or maybe it stems from the fact that in the 1800s we had laws against the Chinese and in the 1940s we literally rounded up all the Japanese and put them in internment camps.

  2. Racism doesn’t require malicious intent, or hatred. It’s just separation, and “othering” the person being stereotyped. Often the people practicing casual racism don’t realize what they are doing. Privilege is invisible until people decide to see it for what it is.

    There are racist *feelings* but the really destructive racism is systematic. How does a person fight against a system? Of course it can be done, but it takes a civil rights movement to create progress, and It Is Slow. Much easier to focus on the guy with the white hood as if that’s the whole problem.

    • You make a really good point. In a lot of ways it’s harder to combat when it’s not so overt. No one denies people on the basis of skin color anymore so all the fighting has calmed (at least in the USA), but what’s left is a lot harder to see and fight.

  3. In my opinion, we have to keep pushing for full legal equality for all people, and then equity — equal administration of law. Personal racism/sexism/homophobia, etc. can only be fought by information and education. We need both, but they are different currents in the river of progress.

  4. Give me a break. Especially about El Africano. It’s great when guilty liberals speculate about what it all means, expecially when they have no clue. Latin American descendants of slaves regulrarly call each other “El Negro”, “Mi Negra”, “Mi Negrito (a). The song is not racist. The word “rabioso” is used interchangeably with “angry”. Spanish speakers do not mean “rabid” like a dog, even if that’s the origin. The song is about sex, pure and simple. Its about a young recently married virgin (probably a Black Latina)) who doesn’t know much about sex and is trying to figure out what is up with her horny new husband! She goes to bed and pulls up the covers and he pulls them off, he’s “rabioso”, pissed off,with blue balls but certainly not “rabid”. She is asking her Mami, what could it be that he wants? Cultural Context is everything and the writer doesn’t get it. There is no racist subtext.