I often wonder if Americans* know how much the United States has influenced European youth culture. Growing up, we all wanted to be rappers, break-dancers, graffitti-artists. There were plenty of wannabees and copy cats – we all wanted to look like the Latinos we saw on t.v. My friends and I would spend who knows how much time in front of the mirror trying to make sure we looked the part; a group of 14-16 year olds trying to find some kind of identity. I’m pretty sure that we looked completely out of place with our baggy jeans and charcoaled eyes, walking through our Swedish pueblitos! But those were almost exclusively the only Latino role models we had at that time: rappers and movie-thugs.
Of course it felt weird to call each other chula or hear the guys call each other pana and so on – it really wasn’t part of our culture (that we still hadn’t defined). Some of us didn’t speak Spanish that well; most of us hadn’t been to Latin America in years, if ever. Our curse words were mostly made up of words our parents had used in the early 70’s; there was really nothing cool about us.
But during the early 90’s a group of young Swedish-Latino guys from Botkyrka, a district outside of Stockholm known for its large concentration of immigrants, formed the group The Latin Kings (not to be confused with the gang that originated in Chicago). Dogge, Salla and Chepe were amongst the first to rap in Swedish – or what is often labeled as New-Swedish: essentially Swedish mixed with words from Spanish, Arabic, Turkish, and so on – a sociolekt, some call it.
Everybody talked about them – at home, in school, in the media. So many who hadn’t had anyone to identify with before, suddenly had these three guys who rapped about racism, inequality, love and lust – everything that had to do with being young in Sweden; suddenly it was pretty cool being a “blackhead,”as some would call us.
Although they’ve often been targets of ridicule, as many of their lyrics were often exaggerated truths- sometimes just pure fiction, –about life in their district, most of us remembers this group as the ones who stood up and spoke their minds about discrimination and racism and actually tried to make a difference. We all knew that some of their image was just that, but we didn’t care, because they made a space for us, made us feel like we belonged. They didn’t just represent the Latino culture; they represented all immigrants – first and second generation – living in Sweden. That was the greatest thing about the Latin Kings. As Douglas “Dogge” Leon, the group’s most prominent figure, said “Hip-hop was what made our poor upbringing rich. All you needed was paper and a pen and anyone could join, there was no discrimination …”References: Book: Portafolio: den sanna berättelsen om Chepe, Dogge och Salla. (Portafolio: the true story about Chepe, Dogge and Salla). by Jennifer Turano
*This was written before I stopped using the word “Americans” to refer to people in the US.