Discussing the various historical themes of Latin American struggle and resistance present in “This is not America”, Residente’s latest music video featuring Ibeyi
In 2018, artist Childish Gambino released his track “This is America” shedding light on the violence and systemic racism that continues to simmer in America. This release caused many discussions around the use of the word “America” and reignited the controversy about it in mainstream conversations, with a focus on the role of the United States as a force of violence against Black bodies. This is the same violence that for decades has marked the history and present of Latin America.
On March 17th 2022, Puerto Rican artist Residente released what could be seen as a part two response titled “This is Not America”, focusing on Latin American resistance. In this song and the music video, there are countless references to the violence, genocide, censorship, coups d’état, and abuse at the hands of the US — and above all the historical resistance that has shaped Latin America for decades. Despite all the suffering, as the Afro-Cuban-French band Ibeyi says in the song: “Here we are, we did not leave, we are not leaving”.
It is essential to know our history, and the ancestry of our struggles. In naming those who came before us — removed from romanticizing violence, oppression and abuse — we give ourselves the opportunity to feel empowered through the stories told by our peoples, because that history traces the path for the future we want and deserve.
Below we name the references made in Residente’s “This is Not America” video and hope it motivates you to learn more about our history as Latin Americans.
The video starts with three shots of Lolita Lebrón, a nationalist leader who fought tirelessly for Puerto Rico’s independence. Lebrón led a never-before-seen armed attack on the U.S. Congress on March 1, 1954. At her arrest, Lebrón shouted, “I didn’t come to kill anyone, I came to die for Puerto Rico!” The struggle for Puerto Rico’s independence continues, coming up on 124 years of colonization, violence, and displacement by the United States. Lolita Lebrón’s struggle is still alive and well.
Throughout the video the use of excessive force by the police is depicted, and they are represented as puppets to the interests of the state and the wealthy. Dehumanizing images like the one above of Residente handcuffed to a door while two policemen look at him with disgust and contempt, shows the realities suffered by many of those who resisted and continue to resist neoliberal, racist and sexist policies.
Sports as entertainment have been central to the visibility and positioning of Latin America in the world, but how much is said about the political, social and economic reality of the countries that provide us with these great athletes? Can we continue ignoring the displacement and misery experienced by the people in countries? No — The noise from the stands can no longer overshadow the cry of the people who claim their right to remain.
This next shot invokes the Statue of Liberty in New York, and the clear hypocrisy of this image of “freedom” on U.S. soil. The criticism lies in the fact that the United States is a country where children who emigrate with their families from violent situations, in search of freedom, are locked up in cells. In the video, its space has been reclaimed instead with an indigenous figure, pointing to those who were present before colonization, and to whom much is still owed. With this change it is clear that as it says in the song: “for a long time, when you arrived, there were already the footprints from our shoes”.
The image above represents the execution of Tupac Amaru II. José Gabriel Condorcanqui, known as Túpac Amaru II, was an indigenous chief who led a great Andean rebellion against the Spaniards in Peru. Tupac Amaru II and his family were captured in March 1781 and taken to Cuzco. After being forced to witness the execution of his wife and children, he was mutilated, quartered and beheaded.
The next scenes in the video show the complex and painful realities produced by the violent borders that divide us. Our families do not cease to function as family – love and care do not go away in the moments that force us to migrate. But it is necessary then to name how empires continue to perpetrate instability and conflicts in Latin American countries and then criminalize and abuse people who decide to escape from these situations.
The Zapatista Women’s Movement is represented here, reminding us that the face of Latin American struggle and resistance is a woman’s. The Zapatista women of Mexico continue to denounce the modern forms of slavery that demand that their everyday existence belongs to employers, and the abuses that their bodies receive for the mere fact of being women. The Zapatistas are emblematic of struggle and resistance against capitalism, the exploitation of women and natural resources.
Following the scenes of the mujeres Zapatistas, we see children – Children on top of towers representing the multinational chains McDonald’s and Coca-Cola. In the second image, the child with handcuffed-raised arms sends a strong message about the hold corporations have over our bodies and natural resources, to ensure their own profits. The presence of these chains in countries like Brazil has caused great instability and displacement of impoverished communities. What’s more, natural resources have been abused and plundered to meet the demands of the rampant capitalism from which these corporations profit.
Keeping with this theme, we see an indigenous child is depicted upon a coffee tower alluding to Starbucks. Next, we see a man enjoying a sophisticated meal, while an indigenous child stands behind him, watching as he eats – likely another representation of the greed of Jair Bolsonaro. These two images remind us of the great inequalities and contradictions that permeate Latin America. There is something we must not forget: the wealth of one is the product of the misery, exploitation and displacement of many. This is why it is important to look beyond the luxury and “trending” products, it is worth questioning at what cost and at whose expense we manage to have access to these things.
Undoubtedly, one of the most shocking scenes in the video is the recreation of the assassination of the activist and singer Victor Jara in the Estadio Chile, a sports complex that was used as a detention and torture center in 1973. This was after the rise of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship that overthrew President Salvador Allende. This coup d’état was supported and financed by the United States; once again we see the presence of empires within armed conflicts and the socio-political destabilization of Latin American countries.
Some of the last scenes represent the ongoing resistance led by young people in Latin American countries. We first see a young man pursued by a seemingly omnipresent “drone” that keeps watch over him. This is the visibilization of the hypervigilance of the State using recent technology to criminalize, displace and deport people who don’t maintain the status quo. In the second image, we see the irreverence and bravery that makes up the resistance that is still being led in Puerto Rico against the State, the Empire, and colonialism.
In the last part, the bodies of lifeless young people are grouped together to form the word “America ” and bring to light the fact that Latin America continues resisting, and its future is in the hands of young people who fight and are hopeful in spite of everything. The biggest point of what the video presents throughout the scenes of “This is not America”, is that the gente of Latin America are here to stay, and that we persist despite all the odds.
In spite of “the paramilitaries, the guerrillas, the children of the conflict, the gangs, the blacklists, the falso positivos, the murdered journalists, the desaparecidos, the narco governments, all that they stole, those who protest and those who forgot, the persecutions, the coups d’etat, the country in bankruptcy, the exiles, the devalued dollar, the drug trafficking, the cartels, the invasions, the undocumented, five presidents in eleven days, shooting open fire by the police, more than a hundred years of torture, the nova trova singing in the middle of a dictatorship”: We remain.
In spite of all that, we are still here. With our creative brilliance, we are able to dream up new worlds, reaffirming that we deserve El Buenvivir and we won’t stop until we get it. We owe it to ourselves and to all those who resisted before us.
“Aquí estamos, siempre estamos
No nos fuimos, no nos vamos
Aquí estamos pa’ que te recuerde
Si quieres, mi machete te muerde”
– “This is not America”, Residente featuring Ibeyi
You can watch the video in its entirety below:
OJO: This is not a statement or response to Residente the artist. This is a reflection of some internal staff discussions around the recent video and the various histories it mentions.