According to Purists, Rosalia Isn't a Latina; We All Need to Calm Down (Guest Essay)

rosalia and j balvin
Dimitrios Kambouris/VMN19/Getty Images for MTV

ROSALÍA and J Balvin speak onstage during the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards at Prudential Center on Aug. 26, 2019 in Newark, N.J. 

In their effort to stoke controversy around the two shores of Spanish language, Rosalia’s fiercest critics center their opinions on the “Where you come from” as opposed to “What you do.”

There is so much to do in terms of bringing people together and building bridges that it’s hard for me to grasp how some find time to raise walls and put people into boxes according to their origins or pontificate about purity.

And when it comes to our “Latin-ness,” our latinidad, one of the biggest mixes in history, we all need to calm down a bit.

Last month, Spanish singer Rosalía won the MTV Video Music Awards for best Latin video and best choreography. Soon after, the criticism arrived, aimed not at her vocal quality or her artistic proposal, which could have been understandable, but at her origin. According to the new purists, Rosalía “isn’t a Latina.”

Under this new rule, the famous Orquesta de la Luz, which surprised us with salsa from Japan, would have never been up for a Latin music award, even though they were Latin Grammy nominees.

In their effort to stoke the controversy around the two shores of the Spanish language, Rosalia’s fiercest critics center their opinions on the “Where you come from” as opposed to “What you do.”

I am not saying it is easy for us to integrate. I remember one time, during an interview with Madrid daily ABC, I said the Latin American accent was a kind of “Berlin Wall” for Latins working in communications in Spain. But it makes no sense that us Latins, the kings of mixed race, would invoke some alleged "purity" to exclude others.

Latin music, that conglomerate of rhythms and genres that seduce the entire world, has fathers and mothers, but not owners. As a Cuban, I identify with the role my country -- and especially my region, Santiago de Cuba -- has played in the popularization of son and bolero.

But, what would the son be without the valuable input of Puerto Ricans, Venezuelans, Dominicans, Colombians and New Yorkers? What would have become of the bolero if Mexicans and Puerto Ricans hadn’t adopted and reinvented it?

As Leila Cobo, director of Latin Content for Billboard, said in an interview: “Even though Rosalía wasn't born in a Latin country, her music is under that great umbrella of what we call Latin Music.”

I was reminded of “Digo que yo no soy puro” (I Say I’m Not Pure) a poem by reknowned Afro Cuban poet Nicolas Guillen, where he celebrated the fact that he wasn’t a pure man.

I’m impure. Completely impure.
But there are many things in the world,
That are pure shit […]
The purity of those who pound their chests
And say, Pure, Pure, Pure,
When they’re Devil, Devil, Devil.
The purity of one who’s never been impure enough,
To understand what purity means.

(Creo que hay muchas cosas puras en el mundo
que no son más que pura mierda [...]
La pureza del que se da golpes en el pecho,
y dice santo, santo, santo,
cuando es un diablo, diablo, diablo.
En fin, la pureza de quien
no llegó a ser lo suficientemente impuro
para saber qué cosa es la pureza

A life and business strategist, Ismael Cala is the producer and host of the TV interview show CALA, which airs in more than 20 countries, and the author of eight best-selling books.