The Swedish Latin Kings

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This post was originally written for the Being Latino Online Magazine (under my “maiden” name)

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 …”

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. 

Men who hate women…

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I often talk about Women’s Rights, violence against women and girls, the struggles of women of color. I read a lot about it, I try to learn a lot about it. I share the information with my friends (female and male), whether it’s information that can educate us further or that can empower us.

 I have no idea what it is that provokes certain men so much about women who try to end gender violence and/or empower women, who try to make a space for ourselves and each other. But I can’t even count the times that I’ve been called sexist and anti-male. It’s always “masked” under the pretense that they are indeed for gender equality – the problem is that women have taken up such a big space that we are now oppressing the men (even though males, especially white males, are the least oppressed throughout history). It reminds me of Debra Leigh’s list of 28 common racist attitudes and behaviors, where she quotes Rush Limbaugh:

The civil rights movement, when it began, was appropriate, valuable, needed. But it’s gone to the extreme. The playing field is now level. Now the civil rights movement is no longer working for equality but for revenge.

Leigh explains that his comments “are loaded with white people’s fear of people of color and what would happen if they gained “control.” Embedded here is also the assumption that to be “pro-black” (or any other color) is to be anti-white. (A similar illogical accusation is directed at women who work for an end to violence against women and girls. Women who work to better the lives of women are regularly accused of being “anti-male.”).

 Limbaugh’s comment is very similar to what these guys are doing – they often say that the feminist movement was a good idea when it began, because of course women should be allowed to vote!, but that now it’s mostly just about teaching each other to withhold sex from their men, or being sexually promiscuous (do you see the logic here, because it keeps eluding me?) …

 That they present themselves as supportive of our cause, at the same time as they are bullying us and diminishing our efforts creeps me out.  Violence against women and girls is becoming worse every day – all over the world. If this, in itself, isn’t enough proof that women are still discriminated against, then I don’t know what is. If this, instead of making you want to join us in ending this injustice, makes you want to discriminate us further, then that’s on you. But you are wrong, and YOU are on the side of the oppressor you claim that you are working against.

sexual harasment is a form of violence -
sexual harasment is a form of violence –
  •  Gender-based violence both reflects and reinforces inequities between men and women and compromises the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims. It encompasses a wide range of human rights violations, including sexual abuse of children, rape, domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment, trafficking of women and girls and several harmful traditional practices. Any one of these abuses can leave deep psychological scars, damage the health of women and girls in general, including their reproductive and sexual health, and in some instances, results in death.
  • Violence against women has been called “the most pervasive yet least recognized human rights abuse in the world.”
  • Gender-based violence also serves – by intention or effect – to perpetuate male power and control. It is sustained by a culture of silence and denial of the seriousness of the health consequences of abuse. In addition to the harm they exact on the individual level, these consequences also exact a social toll and place a heavy and unnecessary burden on health services.

You can read more information here and read about what you as a man could actually do to help


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“Not all those who wander are lost.”
– J. R. R. Tolkien

In Sto.Dgo 2010
In Sto.Dgo 2010

Is Beyonce’s panties really your business?

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With an article published last Tuesday about how Beyonce’s posing in her panties on a GQ-cover supposedly isn’t helping feminism, and another article about how Michelle Obama’s work as a first lady is making her a victim I just had to rant a little….

The problem with the GQ-cover isn’t that Beyonce posed in little more than her underwear and something that once was a jersey – the problem is more complex than that.

Beyonce's GQ cover
Beyonce’s GQ cover

The problem is that patriarchy has decided what is sexy.

The problem is that in our society and in pop culture it seems that it’s a requirement, part of the job description actually, that female artists drop their clothes now and again.

The problem is that a woman is coming down on another woman for the way she dresses. Really? Is that our number one problem today? When women still are paid less than men, if paid at all for their labor. When women are being raped, objectified, ridiculed, harassed, stripped of their rights to their own bodies and minds. Is Beyonce’s panties really your business?

Beyonce’s panties aren’t helping feminism, I agree, but I don’t see how they are hurting it either. If Beyonce feels empowered in her panties, that’s aweseome. That’s not the issue. The issue is that women are told HOW they should demonstrate their sexuality (or not amit to being sexual being at all). Freeman somehow seems to think that because Beyonce is an A-list celebrity she shouldn’t fall for “this attention-seeking nonsense”, as if somehow Beyonce’s fame would protect her from the pressure that society puts on all women. Actually, Beyonce gives strength to many non-white girls and women over the world. Isn’t that feminist power?

And the problem isn’t Michelle Obama “giving up her career to be a stay-at-home-mom”, I suspect she has money of her own and a career to fall back on if something should happen.

The problem is that the media is trying to fool all of us into believing that there is one type of feminist/feminism; the one that hates men, doesn’t shave, and tells you what you should be doing. That’s bullshit. Feminism is about choice, and a million other things. But while we’re on the subject, some other ideologies that tells you what to do comes to mind – ever heard about the militant pro-life movement?

The problem is that most women can’t choose if they want a career, stay home with the kids, or do both.

The problem is that everyone is coming down on a woman of color for doing something that white women can do without getting as much bs, hell they’re even congratulated for “owning their sexuality”.

The problem, is patriarchy. Not Beyonce’s panties.

Enough with the good girls – bring on the Villainesses!

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Princesses are among the worst offenders when it comes to “teaching” our girls about being a girl and growing up to become a woman. What princesses care most about is being pretty, kind and finding a husband/prince. They’re passive and rarely in charge of their lives.

Charlize Theron as the Evil Queen in Snow White and the Huntsman

I’ve had enough of princesses, please bring on the Villainesses! So much pressure is put on our girls to be “the good girl”. Girls should be nice, girls should be good, girls should be sexy but not give it away, girls should be nurturing, girls shouldn’t be too loud… There are just so many (bad and conflicting)  messages being pushed on them without allowing them to live out their whole self. Not one of us is entirely good, or entirely evil, and it’s time we let our girls know that, and that it is ok! Girls need to at times be able to symphatize with charachters who aren’t just “good”. This doesn’t mean that I believe we should “teach our children to be evil” (I’ve actually heard this comment), but to just expose them to “good” characters isn’t doing them any favors either! It’s good for children to see that sometimes, who is good and who is evil depends on from what side you are viewing the story…

I have high, and maybe vain, hopes for the 2013-premiere of the movie Maleficent – told from the perspective of Sleeping Beauty’s nemesis; Maleficent. I’m hoping we will get to see why she behaves the way she does, what makes her “evil” or appear “evil” in our eyes?

This might be a way to read Charlize Theron’s portrayal of the Evil Queen in Snow White and the Huntsman, according to Alyssa Rosenberg who writes that she is intrigued by the character since she “speaks of giving her fallen world the ruler it deserves, who commands armies and welcomes challenges” – hearing this as the description of a fairy tale king wouldn’t make you raise an eyebrow, but the portrayal of a queen behaving the same way might.  A queen might have a bigger challenge in keeping with being good and at the same time ruling with an iron fist than her male counterpart…

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games

Although not a villain, Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games is a good example of a more real, complex female character (at least in the books). She is brave and she is scared, she is a hunter and a nurturer, a daughter forced to act as a mother for her younger sister. She isn’t preoccupied by her looks or finding a husband – she is fighting to survive even before she enters the Hunger Games. And Katniss is filled with different, sometimes conflicting, thoughts and emotions – just like any other girl. Katniss inhabits more than one role at a time, instead of being reduced to the sweet princess-type (this is discussed better here).

We need more complex female characters in literature and on the screen!  Because our kids, sons and daughters, need to know that the world isn’t black and white. More complex characters is a way of conveying that message  to them; that sometimes people make choices that make them look bad for reasons we can actually understand, and sometimes they seem evil because they are inhabiting the wrong gender for our society to allow them to act in certain ways; to show them that there is more than just good or bad; that there is more to people than their surface; and that they have more choices than they might think.

Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures…

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My blonde little swedish sobrina (niece) told me about a year ago, when she had just turned 4, that she wanted to have yellow (blonder) hair – like the princesses in the story books. I asked her why, she said it was prettier…

plan international

Another little sobrina, in the Dominican Republic and also 4 years old, complained about her skin getting too dark in the sun. I asked her why she worried about that, she said lighter skin was prettier…

I can’t remember having similar discussions with my 12 years younger brother when he was their age. The only time his looks ever came up was when he wanted me to comb his hair like Superman (with the little curl hanging down his forehead).

At their age, should they be so concerned about their appearance? Or at any age, for that matter. Clearly, no matter how girls look, they never seem to look good enough. From the colour of our hair, to the shape of our bodies, to the color of our skin – there always seems to be something that we could change for the better. And what scares me the most is that the importance of their looks start at such a young age. How can we change this? How can we inspire the girls around us?

We keep talking about how far we’ve come, how good girls have it today – and yes, things have definitely improved (in some parts of the world) – but girls are still being discriminated against for being girls. From beauty and body issues to being denied an education and forced into marriage when they are still children.

credit: Stockbyte

There are great organizations that we can support, like Plan International and their Because I am a Girl-campaign. But there must also be things that we can do to encourage and inspire the girls we have around us. Because even if the girls close to you don’t have to face the horrible future of being a child bride, she still has issues to face simply because she is a girl. If we, the adults around them, would make an effort to appreciate them for other qualities, read them books about girls who are smart, brave and good friends, instead of simply beautiful and in need of a prince charming – could we make a difference then? If we took the time to spend some real time with them, go to museums, talk to them about things that really matter, things they enjoy that aren’t directly connected to beauty – could we make a difference then?

The Queen of Awkwardness: Swedish Cinema

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I usually don’t watch Swedish movies – they give me the creeps. I grew up watching movies mainly produced in Sweden or the US, and somewhere along the way I started to dislike Swedish movies. But, intrigued by the trailer for Apflickorna (She Monkeys) shown at Guldbaggegalan (the Swedish Academy Awards) I watched the movie with my brother and his girlfriend. I wish I hadn’t.

Apflickorna - Emma

The movie is centered around Emma and Cassandra, two girls engaged in equestrian vaulting. Emma joining the team is the start of a psychological power struggle between the two girls. It was awarded Best Narrative Feature at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival and Best Manuscript at Guldbaggegalan. Review after review talks about how magnificent it is, that the power struggle between the two girls is portrayed in such a great way, that the movie deals with questions like how do you build a female identity, what do you lose on your way from childhood to adulthood – and I would’ve loved if that’s what it was about. But when the movie ended, I didn’t feel that I had seen more than a glimpse of that.

The movie was even more awkward than I would ever expect from a Swedish movie, causing us to make jokes throughout the movie just to be able to watch it until the end.  Sometimes a movie needs to be disturbing to get you to think, or make you feel. But this movie really only made me want to step away.

Apflickorna - Cassandra

And this is the problem I have with Swedish movies – they always make me uncomfortable. Sex scenes are always clumsy or filled with anxiety, people who are flirting (like the “power struggle”/”sexual tension” between the two main characters Emma and Cassandra, and Emma’s seven-year-old sister’s attempt to “flirt” with her older cousin by dancing for him in a leopard-print bikini – again: seven-years-old) are always either too young, too perverse, too violent, or just plain wrong. I understand that at times it can be hard to watch movies from other cultures since we differ in out storytelling traditions  – but this is something I should be used to and so I can’t blame it on that.

This movie was by far the most awkward, disturbing movie I’ve seen in a long time – and I think that it could have been so much better. But it left me with nothing to think about – other than that Swedish Cinema really is the Queen of Awkwardness…