America is starting to look a little different these days. True, it’s business as usual in Washington, with pasty middle-aged lawmakers squawking over immigration reform, and the President wavering between mass deportation and piecemeal deportation relief by executive fiat, and party operatives on both sides scheming to woo the “Latino vote.”
Watching the Browning of America
But there’s a tonal shift in our cultural landscape–you see it in the changing demographics of our cities, the growing diversification of our classrooms and workplaces, on television; and the new beats and flavors popping up in our neighborhoods, from Bhangra and Cumbia blasting off the fire escape to the kimchee taco cart double-parked at the corner. So Washington is way out of sync with the rest of the country as the rising generation rolls toward many call “the browning of America.”
Now, there’s a theme song to go with that. Los Angeles hip hop artist Olmeca took that loaded catch phrase and spun it into an infectious track that has a pretty simple premise: we’re here, get used to it. The video shows everyday people, filmed against the backdrop of their bustling neighborhoods and workplaces–proud, defiant, and unapologetic.
The video, produced by Barni Qaasim and presented by Puente Vision and NDLON, is essentially a statement of the obvious: by around the middle of the century–when today’s second-generation youth will become grandparents–the nation will be “majority minority.” That paradoxical phrase represents the kind of cultural dislocation that many native-born white Americans are now facing: a mixture of anxiety and curiosity, loss, and for many, fear. ”Browning of America” is Olmeca’s response to right-wing pundits who lament this tonal evolution as the downfall of the country.
Setting the refrain to music reclaims the phrase, showing that a shift in America’s complexion is a demographic fact that people of color have been living with, growing into, and contributing to for generations–even longer, if you consider, as Olmeca does, that this nation was founded on stolen land, anyway. Conservative panic notwithstanding, many of us have been living in an America that’s already a a few shades darker than the whiteness often held up as “the mainstream.”
Olmeca explained the spirit of his lyrics at Latino Rebels:
It’s simple. The United States is becoming more brown. It is not a political statement, it’s not an ideology conjured up. It is simply the reality! There are 54 million Latin@s in the U.S. The demographics are changing, and with it, the culture of the U.S…. Soon the goal will shift from kicking us out, to assimilating us.
The social tensions surrounding the prospect of a demographic “flip” within two generations reflects a cultural dissonance between two ideas of what American society represents.
Yet when you put this concept to song, you start to see that the browning of America isn’t a disruptive phenomenon but quite a harmonious one, as long as you can find the right groove. You can hear it in Olmeca’s music, and you’ll hear it on November 21, when activists in cities across the country will stage demonstrations and musical performances to show that whatever executive action Obama takes on immigration, grassroots advocates will keep up the fight to defeat the deportation regime and champion equality for all immigrants.
Washington may be tone deaf, but the voice of a browning America is growing louder and more resonant by the day.
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