Music, Pop Culture

What Despacito means to us in a time of anti-immigration politics

The smash hit Despacito in our current turbulent times sheds light on the tensions between popular and political culture.

Last spring, I was at work when I heard THE BEST SONG EVER. I immediately turned on Shazam to find out what it was and once I found Despacito, I couldn’t stop listening to it.

If you haven’t heard the song, listen to it now. It has a super catchy chorus, Luis Fonsi is singing, Daddy Yankee is rapping, and Justin Bieber makes an appearance on the remix. Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee both bring elements of Puerto Rican reggaeton to the track. And I’m not the only one who loves this song, everyone seems to love Despacito.

While Despacito topped charts worldwide, U.S. President Donald Trump condemned immigration and implemented anti-immigration policies, specifically targeting people from Latin American countries. Click To Tweet

Despacito reached top 10 in ten countries and blazed through the charts of 47 countries. It was the first song primarily in Spanish to top American charts since 1996 and was #1 in the U.S. for a whopping 16 weeks. In August 2017, the official Despacito music video set major Youtube milestones by receiving more than four billion views.

Yet at the same time, U.S. President Donald Trump has been condemning immigration and implementing anti-immigration policies, specifically targeted at Latin American countries. With plans to “build a wall” across the U.S.–Mexico border, President Trump has made it abundantly clear that immigrants from Mexico and the rest of Latin America are not welcome in America.

President Trump has announced plans to break up DACA , which allowed certain illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors to stay in the U.S.. The 800,000 immigrant youths that DACA protects are called Dreamers.

Gif of U.S. President Donald Trump throwing paper towels to Puerto Ricans following Hurricane Maria.

From September 16 – October 3, 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. Territory of Puerto Rico. Homes were flattened, electricity was wiped out, and scores of people died. In the aftermath of the hurricane, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency helped distribute food, but shady construction contracts and a drinking water crisis has slowed recovery. And their aid ended on January 31, 2018.

Puerto Rico has been in bad economic shape for years, but President Trump was fast to blame Puerto Ricans for the effects and slow recovery from Hurricane Maria. And Vox has called the president’s response to Hurricane Maria, “one of the ugliest moments of Trump’s administration.” In this moment, the president made his disregard of Puerto Rican people abundantly clear.

Photo of devastated homes and people walking amidst the rubble post Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee are both Puerto Rican and Despacito embodies Puerto Rico’s natural mixing of cultures. Puerto Rico is comprised of a trinity of races: black, Spanish, and indigenous. Together, they build a harmonious society rather than a racist one– something the mainland U.S. could learn from. And these cultures all mix together on the small island. Even Justin Bieber sings in both Spanish and English on the remix.

The tensions between popular culture and political culture is not new. On one hand, Puerto Rican and Latin American cultures and people are celebrated. On the other, policies are being implemented to remove Latin American people and ignore Puerto Rico.

Amidst a political war against Latin American people (and their culture), it is uplifting to see Despacito effortlessly blending Puerto Rican cultures. Click To Tweet

The popularity of Despacito is undeniable. People adore this reggaeton-pop tune! It’s a great song to dance to and incredibly catchy.  And the lack of popularity for President Trump is self-evident.

Culture, like all things dear to people, matters. Culture can define who we are and where we come from. The embracing of culture through music, film, food, and language is powerful and beautiful. The popularity of Despacito shows that regardless of where you are in the world, you can find beauty in your culture and in others’. But against the political backdrop of President Trump’s harsh anti-immigration policies, Despacito remind us of what we need to fight for. We need to fight for better immigration policies, for Dreamers, and for rebuilding Puerto Rico.

The embracing of culture through music, film, food, and language is powerful and beautiful. And Despacito shows that regardless of where you are, you can find beauty in your and others' culture'. Click To Tweet

So next time you’re bopping out to Despacito remember it’s roots and their significance. And maybe it’ll inspire you to call your congressman about better immigration policies too!

Grace Wong

Grace Wong

Storyteller and content creator studying Political Science at Wellesley College. Inspired by creative-community building, where ideas become reality with authenticity and kindness. Working towards equality, empathy and kindness, daily.

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