It’s About Time We Talk About Rosalía & Latinidad

Catalonian songstress Rosalía Vila Tobello, who has graced the covers of Elle, W, and Vogue Mexico, grew up in the landlocked Spanish town of Sant Esteve Sesrovires. But a TikTok she posted that went viral in May, in which Rosalía mouths “Me a island gal,” seems to suggest otherwise. The original sound was created by TikTok sensation Selyna Brillare, an Afro-Dominican trans woman from Queens, New York, best-known for her comedy skits and burgeoning modeling career, who’s made the phrase “mi no piki” into something like a badge of honor for not speaking English. In her video, Brillare spoke to the specific Afro-Latinx characters in her TikTok sketches, an in-joke for her and her girls.
Contrast that with the top-liked comment under Rosalía’s TikTok that reads: “christopher columbus after he landed in the bahamas.”
People are tired of Rosalía’s Latinx drag. It’s been dissected over and over again. We bang our heads against the crumbling walls of Latinidad itself, insisting that Rosalía is not Latina while also being wholly unable to produce an accurate definition of Latinidad.

We bang our heads against the crumbling walls of Latinidad itself, insisting that Rosalía is not Latina while also being wholly unable to produce an accurate definition of Latinidad.

Rosalía did not ask to be born Latina, however sí tuvo mucha suerte. So much of Rosalía’s early image was about “representing,” if not crafting, a new Spanish identity, one that’s been described as both “profoundly traditional” and also “urban.” Now the steward of this new Spanish identity, Rosalía entered the Latin music market whose millions of Spanish-speaking listeners are a product of a legacy in which Spain erased indigenous languages and imposed its own. Like other Spanish musicians before her, Rosalía took on the qualities most conducive to professional success within this track. She eagerly adopted the Latina identity: In Billboard’s 2019 interview video “Growing Up Latino,” Rosalía states that she is from Spain three times within the first 30 seconds of the video only to go on and exclaim, “I feel Latina” when she visits places like Mexico and Panama. From 2017 to 2020, she’s won Latin Grammy after Latin Grammy. Today, her transformation is now complete.
The way Rosalía slips in and out of Latinidad is definitely insulting, but it says more about Latinidad than it does about her.
Anyone that’s given Latinidad any serious thought — even if only in the context of their own heritage and identity — will find that no matter how we define Latinidad, it doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny. Is it defined by a shared colonizer? A geographic designation? A shared language? Not exactly. Yes, we say Latinidad is not a monolith, but it’s still a nebulous concept. While, yes, it represents a relationship, it does so by distorting many other relationships. If I say I am Latinx, that tells you I am from a not-so-specific part of the world and that my European, Indigenous, and/or African ancestors at some point converged in, were forcibly brought to, or were erased from said part of the world. The term’s very existence erases Black and Indigenous people by affirming the myth that we’re all “a little bit of everything.” At best, it gives you a vague (if often misguided) idea of where I or my family are from. The only thing that binds Latinidad into any one word is the trail of blood the Spanish Empire (but also the French and Portuguese!) left behind. It makes sense then that so many Chicanx, Caribbean, and other peoples have divested from the identity altogether. Maybe we should let the colonizers have it.
It’s worth asking: What do we gain by insisting Rosalía is not Latinx? The Latinx “community” is filled with colonizers and their descendants, and excluding her from Latinidad doesn't create an oppressor-free community.

It’s worth asking: What do we gain by insisting Rosalía is not Latinx?

Spanish celebrities like Enrique Iglesias, Penelope Cruz, and Antonio Banderas all benefited from the interest in Spanish-language culture following the Latin Explosion of the late nineties. They too have been labeled Latinos. Even today, many of my Latinx peers have to be reminded that they’re not. We could argue that, in their rise to fame, these individuals took advantage of the work of oppressed people responsible for the Latin Explosion and expanded the audience for Spanish-language music. But that assumes that the music and entertainment industries value Black and brown people, which they do not. It assumes those industries don’t exploit marginalized groups for their art and it assumes they’re not looking for a white Latinx or Spaniard to sell these art forms. It’s never been about a few sly individuals who have calculated that it’s beneficial to blur the lines. Rather, it’s about a whole system that only banks on white faces to sell primarily Black art. Rosalía found her way into the Latin music market thanks to white Colombian artists like Juanes and J Balvin. She didn’t parachute into Latin America looking to cosplay as Latina; she followed a well-worn path and was received by many with open arms. 
I won’t offer a verdict on whether or not you should listen to Rosalía’s music. Most of my friends, the ones with the best taste in music and in politics, listen to Rosalía. I choose to abstain, as I do when it comes to the bulk of Spain’s creative output, having gotten my fill of Spanish culture after eight years attending a school in Puerto Rico run by harsh Francoist nuns (I make an exception for La Veneno, the best show on HBO).
Regarding listening or not listening to artists like Rosalía as a principled act, I think we often delude ourselves into believing that it’s possible to only support morally flawless work or people when the truth is that the perfect person or artist doesn’t exist. But when it comes to the responsibility that famous musicians have, the bar is and should be higher. Anyone can perpetuate harm or distort reality, but the more privilege you have, the easier it is. 
More than anything, I think we have to start seeing and truly acknowledging Spain’s central role in constructing race as a majority stakeholder in the transatlantic slave trade, and as a living monarchy responsible for the genocide of countless Indigenous peoples (these might sound like historical events, but they’re not). We have to stop thinking of the Spain of Rosalía as separate from the Spain that bankrolled the annihilation of so many of our ancestors. Understanding that power dynamic is as much Rosalía’s moral burden as an española as it is any other white Latinx’s burden. The descendants of Spanish colonizers still colonize Latin America from both sides of the Atlantic.

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