David’s Latin Roots: Redefining Latinidad


Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there, and especially to David’s beloved Lupe, who has steered her son in the right path and bestowed her own talents on him.

So, it is with David’s mother in mind that I wish to explore the subject of David’s Latin roots.  Lupe Archuleta, native of Honduras and a singer and dancer, who encouraged her children’s musical talents and instilled in David a love for Latin music and the Spanish language, can certainly be credited for the musical genius that her son displays.

More than that, her decision to pass on her ethnic heritage to her children, rather than downplay it or encourage some kind of cultural assimilation, has certainly colored David’s multifaceted identity.  The same David who is so eclectic in his musical tastes and is very much “universal” in his flavor is also the same David who can lapse quite comfortably in Spanish or Spanglish, or deliver the Star Spangled Banner at the Latino Inauguration Ball, or sing  a Selena song during his solo tour when performing at predominantly Hispanic venues.  In short, what’s exciting about David’s chameleon-like identity is the way he moves so fluidly in these different spaces.  But, more importantly, I think he offers us a glimpse into a new Latinidad.

Latinidad is a Latin sensibility or a way of being in the world.  In our culture, this tends to get reduced to convenient stereotypes.  So, we expect Latinidad to look like Jennifer Lopez or Marc Anthony or Salma Hayek.  In the realm of music, we expect it to sound like salsa or meringue or reggaeton.  In terms of geopolitics, we expect to find it in New York or Los Angeles or Miami, and of course in the Caribbean and Latin America.

While David may have been born in Miami, he’s a Utah boy, and we certainly don’t expect to find Latinidad in the Rocky Mountains.  He doesn’t represent the Nuyorican Soul of the East Coast or the Chicano presence in the West Coast. And, as a Mormon, he’s far removed from the Catholicism or Santeria we often attribute to Hispanics.

But, to me, that’s what makes David so unique in redefining and redrawing the boundaries of Latinidad.  In one fell swoop, David has transcended certain stereotypes and exploded our expectations.  I remember, when news came out of David performing at the Latino Inauguration Ball, more than a few bloggers scoffed at this, claiming that David was “as wonderbread white as you or I.”  Fascinating how – in our multiracial America that voted for President Obama – so many still think “you or I” automatically means “white.”

As if Latinidad doesn’t encompass both racial identities of black and white.  Ranging from black to brown to white to a variety of racial mixes, Latinidad is a rather fluid identity, shaped by a Spanish tongue.  What does it mean to deny or to question, as some did, that David has Latin roots?  I always found it interesting that, last season, when three of the Top 4 finalists on American Idol were Latinos/as – David, Jason Castro, and Syesha Mercado – there were no headlines calling our attention to this.  How might the outcome have been different if one magazine carried the banner, “Can a Latino Win American Idol?”

I ask the question because, the season before, when the Top 4 finalists on American Idol included three black girls and a white boy, there were many headlines asking if we would have an all-black finale for the first time.  We of course did not, and as it turned out, of the four finalists, the mixed-race black contestant and the white contestant made the finale.  And, incidentally, last year, the All-American white guy (David Cook) beat out the Latinos.  Maybe race or ethnicity had a hand in these decisions, maybe not.  However, there does seem to be a distinction made in which blackness is a recognizable “difference” that media calls our attention to, while Latinidad is often times made invisible, or “heard but not seen” (if you have an “accent” or speak Spanish, then Latinidad becomes recognizable).

Think of the early contestant this season, Jorge Nunez from Puerto Rico, whose accent became an issue on the show.  Think of Allison Iraheta, whose Latinidad identity may or may not have been detected, but who advanced further.  Yes, talent is a big part of it, but how much do these issues bear on our sense of what constitutes being an “American”?

When my Latino students tell me of the different ways their communities have been heavily policed by ICE and terrorized with threats of deportation, or when anti-immigration and anti-Mexican sentiment – especially in the wake of swine flu – is on the increase, I imagine that Latinidad will force all of us to rethink the boundaries of whiteness and blackness, of what constitutes being a “minority” or a “majority.”

Beyond these racial and ethnic politics is the music. And whatever problems our country has had in the arena of race and racism, our music styles have often collided in these race and ethnic wars to create something new and magical.  Only in America could we have invented jazz or rock-and-roll or hip-hop, which are all genres that fused our multiracial expressions in creative and dynamic ways.  It is this knowledge that makes me especially excited by David’s untapped potential.  For his diverse musical influences are capable of blending into something completely different and completely profound.

Here’s hoping that, one day, David’s pop soul music, with hints of Latin, will emerge from the depths of his artistic soul.

Posted on May 10, 2009, in artistry, music, public image. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. HG, this is a really well written, thought provoking article. It reminds me of literature classes where you disscet an essay line by line. The thought that came to me while reading it was that David is so outside of the proverbial box. He is really different in so many ways and on so many levels. There are so many other ways AI, or even Jive, could have promoted David.

  2. hell0g0rge0us

    Thanks, Goboywonder, and that’s part of why I have been frustrated by the choices Jive and Azoff have made concerning David. He’s pretty unconventional, IMO, and yet I see them making the most conventional choices. The Disney route for someone with David’s talent? Really?!

  3. Hi HG,
    Really great thought-provoking arguments. I for one cannot wait for David to write some latino-centered songs and incorporate them into his future albums. The songs from his first album are “nice” but lack depth. However at the point in his career they were recorded – it was appropriate.
    Two things he should take away from his travels include exposure to more world music and learning from artists who have been in the business for a while like Mcfly – how to stand up and defend your creative material. For Mcfly, they formed their own record company because record execs kept getting in the way of what they though shuld be included on their albums. Kudos to them!

  4. hell0g0rge0us

    Joymus, what kind of Latino-centered songs do you envision? Are you thinking more of musical style and genre, or Latino concerns in the lyrics, or songs sung in Spanish? 🙂

  5. HG,
    In my mind I see it in perhaps the musical style and also songs in Spanish. Think of Paul Simon’s Graceland in which a lot of the material was afro-centric. Right now, David seems a bit fixated on singer-songwriters with eclectic sounds but more pop/rock/alternative.

    I YTubed Regina Spector and researched her on Wikip because David folllows her on Twitter. I was quite surprised at her material. She is a Russian Jew and she sometimes includes bits different of languages – Russian, Yiddish, Latin in her songs. Quite unusual and definitely not mainstream. You should check it out.

    He had a bit of exposure to the Asian Continent. How cool if he could have spent a longer time – say a couple weeks (not touring) and really learn about the music styles and more of the culture.
    Its a start that he has the interest and I know he has a long way to go but maybe he may set his sights in that area.

    HG this has the makings of a post on your site – I can feel my creative juices sparking up – LOL!

  6. hell0g0rge0us

    “HG this has the makings of a post on your site – I can feel my creative juices sparking up – LOL!”

    Cool! Looking forward to your post! 🙂

    I’m going to look up Regina Spector. It never ceases to amaze me the different music styles David exposes himself to. He’s a sponge and a real student of pop and alternative music.

    From an 18-year-old’s perspective, I would say he likes the Jason Mraz and Sara Bareilles types because they offer something profoundly different from the other pop acts out there – like the Lady Gagas and Blackeyed Peas and Britney Spears. They seem to offer a depth in their lyrics compared to the other mainstream acts. Their vocal stylings, however, are nothing like what David sings, so I chock that up to they’re his ideal songwriters and not necessarily his ideal singers or musicians.

  7. HG, really interesting post. I didn’t stop to realize Jason Castro, Syesha Mercado and David’s ethnicity were rarely mentioned during the Top 10 last year. Very glaring omission and you can’t help but wonder at the implications of that.

    When Refnaf and I were in SLC for David’s last solo tour show, the following day we went to a mass in Spanish at a historic cathedral a few blocks from Temple Square. The music was amazing and joyful and rhythmic, and I couldn’t help but think of David’s Latin roots throughout it all, even though it was a Catholic service.

    Love your site, very cool!

  8. hell0g0rge0us

    Thanks, TOfan, and welcome to my blog! 🙂

  9. Señora López

    I’m going to second goboywonder’s compliments. This was a real pleasure to read.

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