Fabiola Santiago

We sang in Spanish, fell in love with ‘Coco’ — Latino culture trumped hate in 2017

In this image released by Disney-Pixar, character Hector, left, voiced by Gael Garcia Bernal, and Miguel, voiced by Anthony Gonzalez, appear in a scene from the animated film ‘Coco.’ The film was nominated for a Golden Globe for best animated picture on Monday, Dec. 11, 2017.
In this image released by Disney-Pixar, character Hector, left, voiced by Gael Garcia Bernal, and Miguel, voiced by Anthony Gonzalez, appear in a scene from the animated film ‘Coco.’ The film was nominated for a Golden Globe for best animated picture on Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. AP

If you’re a Latino in America — or Latinx, the gender-neutral the younger generation prefers — the national landscape felt particularly brutal this year, the stinging divisive words of President Donald Trump ringing in our ears.

No matter the political bent, there were days when so many of us wondered: Have we lost forever our beloved country to hate speech and hearts hardened by fear?

The noise might make it seem that way.

But in 2017, doors opened for Latinos where President Trump sought to build a wall — and, in the process, the Latino culture served as a bridge and uniting factor.

The country sang in Spanish to the catchy rhythm of “Despacito” by Puerto Ricans Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, “King of Reggaetón.” In Disney Pixar’s animated “Coco,” a cultural jewel voiced over by Latinx actors, a Mexican boy and his special guitar have become a box-office hit the last three weeks.

Music-Despacito
Singers Luis Fonsi, left and Daddy Yankee perform during the Latin Billboard Awards in Coral Gables, April 27, 2017. Lynne Sladky AP

And in politics, Latinas made election history.

“We’re breaking barriers down,” Fonsi told E-News earlier this year as he accumulated accolades and honors for a song that stayed at the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart for 16 weeks. “I think that’s the biggest win out of all this.”

Indeed, the inspiring work of Latinos in the arts — and its recognition by mainstream America — was a soothing balm to Trump’s demonizing of immigrants, his making us the scapegoats for what ails the nation.

PolitiFact may have named Trump’s claim that the Russian election interference is “a made up story” 2017’s Lie of the Year, but his anti-immigrant crusade was equally packed with falsehoods and generalizations that sought to diminish immigrants in order to push his draconian policies on suffering communities vulnerable to populist demagoguery. These lies were replicated in the voice of his attorney general, Jeff Sessions.

But despite the disrespecting rhetoric from Washington, Latinos were big contributors — and winners, in politics, too.

In Virginia, two Democrats, Elizabeth Guzman and Hala Ayala, defeated Republican incumbents to become the state’s first Latinas elected to the House of Delegates.

In California, Cathy Murillo was elected the first Latina mayor of Santa Barbara.

In Miami-Dade, Colombian-American Annette Taddeo became the first Latina Democrat elected to the Florida Senate. That it hadn’t happened before in Florida’s largest and most Hispanic county speaks of the rise of an underrepresented, non-Republican Hispanic class to the political sphere — a long overdue, necessary and positive development.

As for what Americans most consume — pop culture — “Despacito,” which won several Latin Grammys, is nominated in the categories of record of the year, song of the year and best pop duo performance at the upcoming Grammys. “Coco,” which first debuted in Mexico to record-breaking attendance, has become more than just a money-maker, grossing $135.5 million at home and $250 million internationally, and earning Golden Globe nominations for best animated film and best song for “Remember Me” by songwriters Robert Lopez and wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez.

The lovely story’s showcase of traditions and values Mexicans hold dear is in direct contradiction to Trump’s stereotyping of Mexican immigrants as criminals.

Although they confirm it with scholarship, I don’t need research studies to tell me that hate begets hate. I see it everyday in the headlines of bullied kids who commit suicide, of mosques, churches, and synagogues attacked — and a Congress that fails to find a legislative solution for undocumented “Dreamers” at risk of deportation, opting by default to act in complicity with the anti-immigrant president.

While there are still many barriers to knock down, Latinos have shown that the antidote to hate is hard, focused work that proves the haters wrong and contributes to the cultural and political tapestry of the place we call home.

The success of Latinos makes America great, always has been that way.

They hate, we unite — and shine.

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