Students at a Lecture in Oslo, Norway Autumn-Time

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When many of us look back at our undergraduate college classes, we only wish that our courses would’ve been as interesting and culturally relevant as the ones offered in schools today. Sarah Bruno, M.A., a PhD student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, found a way to have her passion and life’s journey inform her research—which is how her course “Latinxs in Reggaeton and Hip-Hop” was born.

The class, which will be offered this Spring 2019 semester at UW-Madison, will focus on race, feminism, and performance of Latinxs in the Reggaeton and Hip-Hop musical genres.

“This course surveys Latinx participation in Hip-Hop and Reggaetón, highlighting female artists, the Hispanophone Caribbean, and U.S. urban centers,” the class description reads. “Students will analyze texts, performance, and social issues the music addresses from multiple disciplinary perspectives.”

As a Puerto Rican Chicago-native and Hip-Hop artist herself, this course was a manifestation of Bruno’s own journey to figure out where she belongs in the musical genre. She told CASSIUS that it’s also based on her senior thesis where she researched the “mami motif,” a concept originally introduced by scholar Raquel Rivera, which is the label for the staple Latina woman we see in Hip-Hop music videos such as Jennifer Lopez in the 90s and early aughts or Nina Sky. This is why her course predominantly focuses on feminism and race in the genre.

What I’ve noticed is that we like to anchor Blackness to geography instead of a global concept … We have to put these different identities in conversation with each other.

“The ‘mami motif’ has been part of Hip-Hop’s aesthetic since the beginning and I don’t think it’s talked about enough,” she told CASSIUS. “There’s also been a focus on Afro-Latinidad in the mainstream and when talking about Blackness in Hip-Hop and Reggaetón, it requires you to think about Blackness as a concept globally. What does it mean to be Black from Colombia, but also participate in a Caribbean style of music? [The genres] force Blackness in Latin America and the Caribbean interact with Blackness in the United States. What I’ve noticed is that we like to anchor Blackness to geography instead of a global concept. We have to put these different identities in conversation with each other.”

Bruno said her lecture materials will consist of analyzing song lyrics, music videos, and also videos from popular creators such as Mitú and Reggaetón Con La Gata, who she also asked to review her syllabus. Some popular musicians she’ll be highlighting include Ivy Queen, Cardi B, Amara La Negra, La Sista, Jennifer Lopez, Nina Sky and more. 

While Bruno admits she has struggled with getting other academics to realize the legitimacy in her work, she said she is standing on the foundation of other Black and Latinx scholars who have done this work on race, culture, and music before her. In her own research, she uses race, colonialism, anti-blackness, Latinx experiences in urban cities to create points about how they all play into the culture of each genre. 

What’s important about my class is that it already frames [Hip-Hop and Reggaetón] as valuable

“There are theories in the academy that help other academics realize a concept has value,” she explained. “But what’s important about my class is that it already frames this work as valuable. I’m asking my students to learn these concepts and how to talk about them in order for them to provide more depth in their own research on the topics.”

One of the elements of her class is also creating a Twitter chat for students and users on the platform to participate, in an effort to decolonize academia and learning.

“I’m hoping to drop my syllabus on Twitter and I want it to be available to people so that if they want to look at what I’m assigning to people in my class, they can,” Bruno said. “They can also send in questions or respond to questions. If this is popular culture and we use a popular forum to express that, let’s talk about it.”

Ultimately, I hope my students gain a better idea of how race works in Latin America, how gender and sexuality works, but also how everything they do is political,” she continues. “They should know the academy is a place where they can really study anything they want.”