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10 Latinos Holding It Down for the Culture

10 Latinos Holding It Down for the Culture

Illustrations via Aaron Dana. Buchanan’s Whisky continues to celebrate the greatness and diversity of the Latino community, and the positive influence Latinos have on mainstream American culture, through its “Es Nuestro Momento” campaign. To bring the spirit of the campaign to life, Buchanan’s has partnered with global pop icon J Balvin, as someone who is a catalyst of Hispanic culture.

Though many people try to define us, Latinx people resist easy classification. The community’s racial, geographic, and cultural diversity mean that, while Latinos share similarities, we also celebrate differences. At no time in American (and global) culture has there been such a visible crop of diverse Latinos complicating the idea of what it means to be a part of the gente. From the world of sports, to the rap game and Hollywood, Latinos have taken the reins of telling their own stories and challenging people’s ideas of what it means to be Latino. We’ve assembled just a few people who have brought their unique version of Latino culture to the zeitgeist this year. 

CARDI B If you asked anyone at the beginning of 2017 who would be the breakout star of this year’s music scene, few would have predicted Cardi B. But that’s the very title the Bronx-born Afro-Dominican rapper and former star of Love & Hip Hop: New Yorksnatched. Her juggernaut track “Bodak Yellow” turned everyone’s heads, forcing them to pay attention to the pint-sized rapper with the huge personality. When the track landed at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, she became the first female rapper to have a solo No. 1 hit since Lauryn Hill in 1998. However, it’s not just her music that’s caused people to stan. From her iconic “high/low” fashion looks to her shoutout to Colin Kaepernick at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards, Cardi B has become a consummate entertainer on and off the microphone.  

J Balvin Proving that Latino influence on music is not limited to any one hemisphere, J Balvin and his song, “Mi Gente,” took the entire world by storm—and he has the numbers to prove it. Earlier this year, “Mi Gente” became the first fully Spanish-language song to top Spotify’s Global Top 50 Chart, dethroning the Spanglish smash, “Despacito.” The song, which embraces love, unity, and empathy, even attracted the world’s biggest music superstar, Beyoncé, to feature on the remix. Like Latinos themselves, Balvin’s music is a mixture of various influences: reggaeton, hip-hop, pop, and more. His success, social activism, and sound prove that Latinos have a lot to offer the global music scene. 

Alex Rodriguez & Jennifer Lopez What happens when Hollywood’s hardest working woman teams up with one of the biggest names in sports? Well, it’s what you might call the biggest Latino pareja poderosa the world has seen in years. Together, there’s almost no realm of entertainment the two haven’t dominated. On television, Lopez, who is Puerto Rican, currently stars on NBC’s Shades of Blue, produces and stars on World of Dance, and is set to headline the upcoming live musical Bye Bye Birdie! Live. And although Rodriguez, who is Dominican, is no longer playing baseball, he’s a special advisor for the Yankees, and has proven to be a tremendously insightful baseball analyst for Fox Sports. The man who’s mastered self-reinvention has also appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank, and is producing a reality TV show about former athletes called Back in the Game. This summer, Lopez and A-Rod collectively sent shockwaves throughout social media when they posted a workout video that featured them doing pushups, sit-ups, and dancing together, all to the tune of Biggie’s “Hypnotize.” Hey, who doesn’t love a love story? Especially one that’s basically “Empire meets Empire.”

Princess Nokia Defining Princess Nokia, born Destiny Frasqueri, is difficult…which is kinda the point. The Afro-Puerto Rican from New York is a rapper and an intellectual; a feminist and a tomboy. In 2017, she released her mixtape 1992 Deluxe, an expanded version of her previous mixtape 1992. Her rapid-fire lyricism is kinetic, confessional, confident, witty, and heartbreaking. On “Brujas,” she explores her own Afro-Caribbean identity, rapping, “I’m that Black-a-Rican bruja straight out from the Yoruba/ And my people come from Africa diaspora, Cuba/ And you mix that Arawak, that original people/ I’m that Black Native American, I vanquish all evil.” Nokia’s brilliance extends beyond the bars. Together with Milah Libin, she co-founded the feminist collective Smart Girls Club, which runs an active Tumblr account. Showing that sometimes there’s just no planning great publicity, Nokia also became a viral celebrity after she and a group of New Yorkers joined forces to kick a racist passenger off the New York City subway. Nokia’s contribution to the scuffle? She doused the man in soup as the passengers ejected him. 

Jose Altuve Your 2017 American League Most Valuable Player is…José Altuve. By a landslide. Arguably the most integral player on the Astros’ World Series roster, it’s not just his talent that landed him on this list. Altuve is the Astros’ longest-tenured player, having survived through several 100-game loss and tanked seasons. Yet the whole time, his game continued to improve, challenging our perceptions of what a “conventional” athlete looks like, in the process. Standing only 5’6,” Altuve is one of three people his height or shorter to have multiple 200-hit seasons in MLB history. The Venuzuelan second baseman, who notched a .346 batting average (best in the bigs) and mashed 24 home runs in 2017, is also beloved by his peers: This year, fellow ballplayers—teammates and opponents included—voted him Player of the Year via the MLB Players Choice Awards. 

Gina Rodriguez Most people know Gina Rodriguez as the star of the show that made staying in on Friday nights a good idea: Jane the Virgin. But this Latina actress isn’t here just to open doors for herself. Quite the contrary, she’s paying it forward to other women, especially women of color, in the industry. When she’s not hosting Latina power summits with Rosario Dawson and Eva Longoria, she’s working with networks like CBS and the CW to develop even more Latino-themed TV shows like Jane. She’s currently producing a drama called Have Mercy for CBS about a Latina doctor who looks out for members of her community. Meanwhile, at the CW, she’s prepping a one-hour dramedy about a 16-year-old high-school student who finds out he’s undocumented. Both come from Rodriguez’s own production house, I Can & I Will Productions. 

Paloma Elsesser In the beauty industry, change is gradual, but Paloma Elsesser has kicked that change into high gear. The Afro-Latina plus-size model has joined a wave of women who are challenging presumed beauty ideals. This year alone, she’s become the muse to makeup artist Pat McGrath; has been featured in W, People, and Allure; and is now the face of Rihanna’s dark skin tone-friendly makeup line Fenty Beauty. But for Elsesser, her goals in the beauty industry don’t just involve making money. They are about ensuring others like her know that they are beautiful. Elsesser has spoken openly about her own struggles growing up as a woman of size—and not being able to find a pair of jeans at the Gap—in a world that caters to thin women. Now, she says, “I am trying to be the girl I didn’t have.” “That’s important to me,” she told People earlier this year. “I have to be conscious of that. In this weird, dark, small, very intimate way, there’s a girl out there who relies on me. And that’s super important to me, and I don’t want to let her down.”    

Rosario Dawson Amid the endless stream of movies and television shows that have dropped in the last few years, there’s one genre that stands taller than the rest: superhero movies. While she hasn’t been a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Rosario Dawson has become the ubiquitous Afro-Latina face of Marvel’s various Netflix series. In 2017, she portrayed Claire Temple in Netflix’s The Defenders, after previously playing a pivotal role in Iron Fist, Luke Cage, and Daredevil. If that wasn’t super enough for you, she also voiced Wonder Woman in the animated film Justice League Dark and Batgirl in the Lego Batman Movie, making her one of the select few people who have contributed to both the Marvel and DC universes. When Dawson’s not busy saving fictional citizens from villains, she’s trying to save the earth. In November, Dawson signed on to be the executive producer and narrator of The Need to Grow, an earth-conscious documentary about the importance of healthy soil. 

Lin-Manuel Miranda The mind behind Hamilton, one of the biggest phenomena in musical theatre history, has continued to garner headlines, even after he stepped down from the show’s titular role in 2016. The 37-year-old Puerto Rican multi-hyphenate entertainer wrote the music for Disney’s smash-hit Moana​; is slated to appear in Disney’s upcoming Mary Poppins Returns; and will pen the music for the live-action The Little Mermaidadaptation. Perhaps most impressive is Miranda’s work outside of the entertainment industry. He’s devoted considerable energy and attention helping those devastated by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Over the past couple of months, Miranda has spent a lot of time on the island listening to the concerns of its residents. “I didn’t grow up here,” Miranda said. “My job is to amplify the concerns of Puerto Rico.” So far, Miranda has raised over $2.5 million for those affected by the hurricane and plans to bring Hamilton to the island for a three-week run in January 2019 to bolster tourism and aid PR’s financial crisis. Miranda will reprise the title role for the show’s duration.

Originally a complex article by Mathew Rodriguez.

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