The main idea in this article is that music can be used to create identities for racial groups living in the United States. More specifically, the article contends that urban bachata music is used to construct the Latino identity for most Dominicans of this generation. Urban Bachata is paradoxical source of racial ambiguity and clarity at the same time (Hernandez 1030). There is a population of young Dominicans whose skin color is black. Traditionally, they would be associated with African Americans due to their blackness. However, most did not idolize this racial position and wanted to shift the two boxes that define American racial identity; black and white. Urban Bachata is a modern rendition of both African American music and Dominican traditional tunes. The current generation of young Dominicans uses it to formulate their racial ambiguity in which the audience cannot specifically call them black or white. At the same time, this population creates the Latino identity due to the Dominican background of such music. The Dominicans can showcase their culture while embracing their upbringing in places such as New York City without being classified as black. Hence, music becomes a tool that is used to communicate this sense of personal racial identity that is different from what may appear in the mainstream classification of race.
Dominicans assume the racial identity of "other" or "Hispanic" that is broad and ensures the individual has the opportunity to determine their racial characteristics. Dominicans do not want to merely check a box of being black or white (Hernandez 1031). They do not want their identity to be defined by these two concepts yet it is too broad for the same. Therefore, their racial identity becomes something that is formulated along the lines of otherness. It provides them with the opportunity to avoid their blackness that they never embraced even in their own country and culture. Dominicans neglect their African roots due to the low status associated with this race. Hence, a Hispanic or other identity is a perfect way to ensure they are perceived as different. They are strategically ambiguous, which means that they can use their otherness to decide the type of culture they want to employ to suit their identity and situation the best. The flexibility of the Hispanic identity is ideal in enabling choices and refraining from the aspects that define blackness in the American society.
One important idea is that Bachata began as music that was highly frowned upon in the Dominican Republic. It was associated with a low status in life, crudeness, and a vulgar background that was difficult for people to fathom. The middle and upper classes were especially repulsive of Bachata music since it represented everything from which they wanted to abstain (Hernandez 1032). Hence, Bachata became something for the poor, uneducated, and those living in ghettos and the countryside. The traditions of street life, dancing, smoking, and drinking while playing Bachata were not ideal for the upper society in the Dominican Republic. Another idea about Bachata is that it is accommodative of many music genres. It is a musical classification that enables flexibility in music tones and ranges. For instance, Bachata can be a combination of jazz, bongos, R n B, and hip-hop all at the same time. It is quite difficult for a music genre to have all this and still maintain its foundation. The case is different from Bachata that is accommodative of other music genres but still manages to maintain its sense of romanticism.
Urban Bachata establishes the unique identity of Dominicans. It is music that enables them to showcase the differences with African Americans as well as other Hispanic groups. Dominicans are able to embrace the fact that many were born and assimilated to the urban culture in the United States. However, they still have their original Latino culture that still defines who they are. Through Urban Bachata, Dominicans hope that their Latino background that is specific to their culture is emphasized. The Dominican culture is able to stand out in this music and create a sense of pride that enables this group to escape the blackness of everything related to urban as well as the tendency to classify all the Latinos as the same. For instance, in the music video titled Promise, Usher Raymonds and the singer Romeo appear to be the same. They have a similar dress code and are both black. However, when they start to sing, the Dominican does it in his Spanish while usher proceeds in English (Hernandez 1043). Romeo is also showcased on the streets with some old men playing dominos and dancing, which is a replica of what happens in the Dominican Republic. They both use this to tell the audience that there are differences between them. Hence, through language, instrumentalism, using aspects such as the Dominican flag, and exposing components that are unique to this culture, Bachata music helps to formulate an identity that is unique to this group.
In conclusion, Bachata music is more than a mere set of words and instruments that come together. Rather, it is an illustration of something that is deeper and embedded in Dominican tradition. Dominicans desire to be dissociated from the framing of blackness just because their skin tone reflects the same. They want to be associated with the uniqueness of their culture as opposed to checking an American box of being black of white. They established the concept of otherness to ensure they did not fall under this notion of blackness. The otherness illuminates flexibility that allows Dominicans to embrace their origins without being classified as a particular racial group. The same is reflected in Bachata music that illuminates both worlds while still enabling the audience to see specific aspects of Dominican culture. Bachata grew from music that was abhorred in the Dominican Republic to something that showcases a sense of pride and helps Dominicans identity their Latino background and its uniqueness.
Hernandez, Deborah Pacini. "Urban Bachata and Dominican Racial Identity in New York." Cahiers d'etudes africaines 216 (2014): 1027-1054.
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