From the Bronx to Quito: Hip Hop and Liberation
During the summer of 2018, Pachaysana, along with Casa Machankara, Cultural Center Nina Shunku, and the Nunkei Zulu Collective, collaborated on a community based research project, focused on the healing potential of Hip Hop. Together, we conducted 6 focus groups and several individual semi structured interviews to members of this community. We overwhelming observed that Hip Hop had transformative impacts on the lives of Hip Hoppas through dialogue with locals participants.
“We were born to be free and Hip Hop also helps us to be free. I mean, I feel good when I am creating rymes, listening to rap, sketching cause I also love to sketch. I feel myself there. I am me, being Hip Hop”
-B Girl Focus Group
Hip Hop has been a vehicle for liberation since its birth in the Bronx of New York. It has impacted many young people from marginalized communities around the world; hip hop is an opportunity to not only express themselves but to heal and grow. Hip Hop reached Quito over 25 years ago and like in the Bronx, gave many urban youth a purpose and a greater sense of self. This blog post will explore the origins of Hip Hop in the Bronx, its arrival to Quito, and the way Hip Hoppas today feel impacted by this culture.
To understand the power and healing people have found through Hip Hop, it is imperative to go back to its roots: revisit its history and its evolution over time and space. Hip Hop exploded out of the New York Bronx in the 70’s. It was a place and time where racism and capitalism severely impacted and oppressed communities of color. Black and Puerto Rican families occupied the majority of the Bronx. The city had intentionally funnelled these minorities here to segregate the city, providing the people from the Bronx little access to services (Herc and Chang, 2005). Long lasting systemic impoverishment, criminalization and discrimination resulted in intense violence. This context gave birth to hip hop. It was born as a necessity to not only voice, but validate the voices of those who were left voiceless by the powers that be (Mendes de León, 2015).
Throughout its 44 years, Hip Hop culture has continued to morf and evolve. It did not stay within the boundaries of New York, nor the U.S. Hip Hop has touched people from various ethnicities, races, and countries, who speak different languages and see the world through their own cosmovisions. Hip Hop, and its liberatory potential reached the majority of countries around the globe and adapted itself to the local culture of its craftswomen and men (Motley and Henderson, 2008).
In Ecuador, Hip Hop gained momentum around the 90’s. Since then, it has reached many urban youth throughout the country. Hip Hop arrived in a time where capitalism and modernity continued to push further to the periphery the global south, but even more so, the marginalized communities within the global south. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, Ecuador was experiencing the aftermath of the structural adjustments directed by the IMF. Liberalization and deregulation of the market, as well as the shrinking of the state left taxing effects: impoverishment of rural communities, less social services, and a higher inequality gap (Oleas Montalvo,2017). Additionally, in the second half of the 20th century, Latin American cities grew rapidly and sense of community, relationship with space and understanding of identity was transforming (Portal, 2003). It is important to add that the 90’s were also a time of resistance. Even though there were a plethora of external pressures, Indigenous communities organized a massive indigenous uprising to visibilize the exclusion of their community and the flaws of the so called democratic state to include the diverse population which inhabited the Ecuadorian territory (Figueroa y Yánez Moreno, 1992).
Hip Hop took root in Ecuador in this context of cultural-political shifts and tension. Young people had little to no space to express themselves and feel validated. In the middle of the concrete jungle, many were searching to find a sense of belonging. Hip Hop presented itself in Quito, as it did in the Bronx, as an opportunity to construct, redefine, and reclaim a way of being in the world that included the complexity of urban, marginalized identities. Many Hip Hoppas in Quito define their relationship with Hip Hop as their way of of life. In many cases this way of life has shown itself to be liberatory and healing in the face of a patriarchal, colonial, adult-centric, racist, and economically uneven society.
Today, many Quiteñan Hip Hoppas feel transformed by the culture. Regardless of which element they practice, they have found liberation, growth, healing and community through Hip hop. Following are quotes that represent participants of each element in Hip hop:
“Breaking is my refuge… it got me out of drugs, jails so yeah, Hip Hop is my salvation. I love Hip Hop.”
“Even though we are in a system which kills us, with Hip Hop I can feel alive”
“The smell of the spray can is my medicine. I can be with a cold and some may think the smell might not be good for me, but no, it helps me. I feel good in that environment, I forget the past or any trobles I may have.”
“In Hip Hop, Rap is my way to flow through my problems, as well as my happiness. Hip Hop is my life, my way of living day to day. It has healed me, it is medicine to me..”
“For me, Hip Hop is my psychologist, the one which embraces me in the moments where I don’t feel I am enough, where I don’t have the strength to face the day, music is there for me.”
Hip Hop has given urban youth a chance. Hip Hop has provided an opportunity for urban youth to belong to a community, lead healthier lives, challenge themselves to grow personally and educationally, get to know themselves deeper, feel valued, and experience some extent of liberation. Long live Hip Hop!
Herc, DJ Kool, y Jeff Chang. 2005. Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation. St. Martin’s Press.
Mendes de Leon, Mimi. 2015. “Poetic Justice: Hip-Hop and Black Liberation Theology”. Poetic Justice 14: 16.
Motley, Carol M., y Geraldine Rosa Henderson. s. F. 2008. “The Global Hip-Hop Diaspora: Understanding the Culture”. Journal of Business Research 61 (3): 243–53.
Oleas Montalvo, Julio. 2017. “Ecuador 1980-1990: crisis, ajuste y cambio de régimen de desarrollo”. América Latina en la historia económica, 24(1), 210-242. https://dx.doi.org/10.18232/alhe.v24i1.724
Portal, María Ana. 2003. “La construcción de la identidad urbana: la experiencia de la pérdida como evidencia social”. Alteridades 13 (26): 45–55.
Yánez, Segundo E. Moreno, y José Figueroa (Lic.). 1992. El Levantamiento Indígena Del Inti Raymi de 1990. FESO Fundación Ecuatoriana de Estudios Sociales.