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. 

Latinas Who Don’t Cook – Am I Woman Enough?

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I’m the first to admit – I don’t cook. I do the necessary to survive, but I leave the real cooking to my husband and other people who know what they are doing. And I’m not the only Latina with this “problem”: my friend Libby wrote about how the lack of passion for cooking  makes people doubt our “Latinaness”, because one of the characteristics that go hand in hand with being Latina, is a passion for cooking: Mi abuela used to clap her hands in joy whenever I cooked or baked something at home, saying, “ahora te podes casar”  (now you can get married). I did get married recently, but my cooking skills had little to do with it.

Am I woman enough?
My father actually taught me how to iron a suit properly and how to tie a tie, so that I would know how to handle my husband’s clothes. Need I say that I don’t iron at all and that I couldn’t tie a tie to save my life? Not because of spite or because it seems particularly difficult, but because there were other things I wanted to learn that seemed more useful, more exciting, and like a better use of my time.

Growing up, mi abuela and my father often celebrated the things that in their eyes made me a traditional latina, a traditional woman: to cook, to take care of the household and tend to the family, to look feminine, to listen to the man of the house… I tried for a long time to please my family and be good at these things, but I had this uncomfort growing inside me, a feeling that life wasn’t supposed to be centered around these things. And I questioned it, and I revolted. Being shushed because a man doesn’t agree with me or doesn’t like what I have to say was not how my mother raised me, and for that I am forever thankful to her. But not fitting into the role strained the relationships with that part of the family. 

 Latinas, and women in general, of today are so much more than the traditonal roles of those who came before us (much thanks to courageous women who cleared the path for us), but that doesn’t mean that we don’t often face the same struggles, the same hardships and the same prejudices. Women who don’t fit into the role, who want more and want to go their own ways, will often have to face the question if they are women enough. 

 But that’s not the question that really matters, or that even matters a little…