Reggaeton has never been a music genre enjoyed at my house. My Sunday and Saturday mornings were musicalized by Frank Sinatra, Phil Collins, the occasional Sting (or as my dad calls him Sting-aling-aling referencing an old SNL sketch), and the beautiful sounds of Bollywood tunes whenever we are in the mood. My parents raised me and my brother around music classics, my dad’s love of the 80s, so when I heard my dad singing “Despacito” I knew something was up.
You MUST have heard it by now. The song that is causing hips to move and hearts to throb to a des-pa-cito movement. This catchy tune by Puerto Rican artists Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee (can you tell I’m proud?) hit #1 in the charts a couple of weeks ago followed by Justin Bieber’s remix which also hit #1. It’s super exciting to hear the song go national on shows like “The Voice“ and later on “TMZ” but it was even better to hear in concert. I’m not Biebers’s #1 fan or anything close, but I must admit that while I was standing at his concert in Puerto Rico jamming out to “Despacito,” ¡o sea!, I totally hopped on the Bieber bandwagon.
All of us there were more than understanding as he sung in Spanish. We knew it was his first time singing the song live in front of an audience and the stutters and mixups were not a big deal. But hey, he tried, we all sang along and it was great!
But then, last week we were all so confused, and actually infuriated at Biebers’s new twist on the song where “Despacito” was substituted by “blah, blah, blah, burrito, dorito, and poquito.” What happened? Did he forget the lyrics or was he simply mocking the Spanish song, or language in general? To the English-speaking public it may seem comedic, but what about the Latinos that have worked diligently to make the hard-to-achieve crossover, and to earn respect from the crowds in spite of their thick accents? We live in a world where unfortunately still, anyone speaking English with the slightest accent can still end up being mocked.
Being bilingual is a hard-earned asset. As native Spanish speakers we value the richness of both and how both connect us in different ways. Native Spanish-speakers who speak English a bit more “machucao,” face judgement and mocking, however, when native English-speakers give Spanish a try, we applaud their effort and pat them on the back. What’s with the double standard? Have you ever heard the saying, “just because I speak with an accent doesn’t mean I think with an accent?”
Let’s be kinder and more understanding, as this global world brings us all closer together let’s embrace each other’s’ differences, accept our different heritages, and language nuances. As for Bieber, while he gets the hang of it, he might want to take it “des-pa-cito.”