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. 

Nunca Mas – Never Again

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It’s been 36 years today, since the coup d’état in Argentina. It’s the Día de la Memoria por la Verdad y la Justicia / Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice. The Guerra Sucia Dirty War claimed the lives of more than 30 000 people.

Mothers, Fathers, Brothers, Sisters, Daughters, Sons …
Old people, young people – children.
They were taken off the streets, from their homes, in public, in secret.
They were illegaly detained, imprisoned, physically and psychologically tortured, violated, murdered – disappeared…

And the fight for justice continues…

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…

Musings on name changes, feminism and a dash of culture …

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Yesterday was the first birthday I celebrated as Jennifer Larancuent, and not as Jennifer Turano. Leaving my old name behind and taking my husband’s name when we got married was not an obvious choice for me. My husband was surprised when I first announced that I would change my name – not because of the feministic ideals we both share, but because he knew how much that name once meant to me. Not so much because of the family it belongs to, but because of the culture it represents.

Growing up in a Swedish small-town with a Swedish mother, brother, and stepfather, that name was the only tangible link to my Latino heritage. No one could accuse me of trying to be Swedish or try to bully me because of my “otherness” when I proudly kept my father’s last name. “Latino” is the closest I have come to find to a category that could represent my mixed heritage. I don’t identify as an Argentine and I don’t identify as a Swede – growing up as a second generation immigrant, most of “us” identify more with having a transnational identity that knows no borders. Latino is so diverse, spanning over such a big area, that it is the best word to describe my cultural identity. So I held on to that name because at the time, it meant something to me.

A few weeks ago I came across this interesting article about how we just assume that the woman will take her future husband’s name when they marry, not even asking her if she will keep her own name or not. But if we really are going to acknowledge the patriarchal structures causing that assumption, shouldn’t we also ask why she would keep the name that, most likely, was her father’s? The decision to change my last name had little to do with feminism or politics, and more to do with a wish for my new family to share the same last name  (when I was a kid, my mother, my brother and I all had different last names), and to rid myself of my old one. Because in the end, that last name had come to represent my father. If there has been a man in my life who has played the role of the old fashioned patriarch it was, as in most families, my father …

Many hold the view that taking the husband’s name is like reducing yourself to a thing that is being marked by its owner: “property of (insert husband’s name)”. For me, that was what it had come to feel like keeping my father’s name. Choosing my husband’s name, a name that he had chosen a few years ago for the same reasons as I had for keeping my father’s (my husband grew up having his mother’s Swedish maiden name), was just that: a choice I had made for myself, instead of keeping the name someone else had passed down to me.