When President Donald Trump proposed to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) earlier this month, artists, politicians, and protesters alike cried out against the possibility of deporting 800,000 mostly Latinx youth.
As Republicans propose conservative changes to the DACA bill that aims to retain a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children, we reached out to Latinx rappers old and new—Immortal Technique (Peruvian), Snow tha Product (Mexican), Raven Felix (Mexican/Puerto Rican), Nitty Scott (Puerto Rican/African American) and Hi-Tone (Mexican)—for their reactions to Trump's initial proposal, their experiences with racism and xenophobia in hip-hop, and how they find hope while fighting against hate.
Tech, you've recently bailed several people out of immigration jail and donated to UnDocumedia’s DACA Sponsor campaign. What do people need to be most aware of when it comes to DACA and immigration?
Immortal Technique: The government is partially run by figurehead puppets, and then there are the people who actually make the calls. Those individuals would like to include a clause that provides an option for immigrants to choose military service or some sort of other government service in order for their inclusion into the U.S. That’s a slippery slope, because essentially you’re saying that these people are going to have to lay their lives on the altar of freedom. If we’re having that conversation, we need to have a conversation that extends further and ask, 'How many undocumented people have fought and died or become veterans for America’s wars?'
I met a group of people called Green Card Veterans, and these are people who have cut their teeth for this country. If someone has held a weapon and put their life down for this nation, and they’re being treated like a second-class citizen...if this is what they’re promising and people are still being deported, at what point do we have a larger conversation?
What do you say to someone who doesn't want DACA recipients or their parents in this country?
IT: When people talk about DACA, they want to put the blame on the parents. What did the parents do that was so wrong? The parents in Syria are trying to get their children away from bombs that are falling out of the sky. Do we blame that parent? Did we blame the parents of the children running away from World War II? They said, ‘I don’t think Poland, or France, is safe right now. I’m gonna get the hell out.’ I can’t do anything but say, ‘Hey, I know you gave up your entire life to move somewhere else. I commend you.’ Why is that different for the people of Mexico?
We’ve taken away the humanity of these people, and I refuse to do that. I’ve read enough history books to know what it means when people are dehumanized.
Snow, you also recently paid for some people’s DACA renewal fees through UnDocumedia’s DACA Sponsor campaign. That must feel amazing.
Snow tha Product: Yeah, I was one of the first people that they hit up, and I have some people in my family and an employee. I also have paid for a couple people that hit me up directly through DM on Instagram. Just trying to help out.
You’ve mentioned before that as a Latina, you’re often looked at as white. For someone with strong Hispanic roots, how does thst feel?
Snow: There’s a lot of Chicano activists who say stuff like, ‘Well you have a lighter complexion so you don’t get to speak for brown people and brown issues because the colorism in Latinos is so alive and well that you have white privilege by being a lighter complexion.’ And I’m like, 'Have you seen my baby pictures?' Because I’m brown as hell. I just don’t go outside because I have a job that doesn’t require me to be outside. So I’m pale, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not brown.
And even if I am a lighter complexion, if I’m a proud person that’s representing an underrepresented people, I don’t see why we have to nitpick... it’s not like I’m trying to be a bad example. I’m out here living by example and helping people one by one. So for people to be like, ‘Welp, you’re automatically invalid,’ when some of these people, all they do is complain. They’re not being proactive or progressive in any of their actual movements. They’re just complaining. It’s actually doing a disservice to us trying to educate people.
What advice do you have for young Latinx artists, especially those who are immigrants?
Snow: Don’t be scared. The biggest thing, I think, right now is that people are trying to push that fear on everybody and make immigrants into the shadows. They paint them in the worst possible colors that they can—they’re making them the ‘bad hombres.’ Automatically, when you say something like that it gives people a buzzword or a trigger word, which is what Trump is best at. So when we come out here, we represent correctly but at the same time we go, ‘We’re resilient, we’re strong, we’re not going to be intimidated, and we are the future.’ And come out and catch me on tour, because every single show is gonna be a damn immigrant rally.
Raven Felix: Stay strong. Pushing your friends that have the privilege of citizenship to stand up for you is going to be the biggest thing. It’s our job now to protect these people and make sure they stay here in the country that they’ve only known. Make sure you hold other people accountable.
What was your initial reaction when you heard about Trump proposing to repeal DACA, which would possibly mean deportation for nearly 800,000 Latinx youth?
Raven: It was anger, mostly. I’m just appalled at how attacked my community might feel. I have friends that depend on that [DACA]— friends who use that very same system should stay here. Making anybody feel like they don’t belong in the country they grew up in, that’s not fair at all.
Nitty Scott: It's been disturbing to watch the Trump administration do the exact things we were all terrified about during the election; the actual execution of dehumanizing policies is a hard reality. But I also think that we've been preparing our spirits for the battle ahead for a while now—the resistance is strong. DACA dreamers are vital, paying taxes & contributing to our workforce and economy (despite contrary myths). If anyone should be criminalized for how they affect this country, it's the one percent. DACA dreamers’ only crime is believing those fluffy words etched on the Statue of Liberty, "give me your tired, your poor," blah blah. We project that we are some beacon for immigrants and refugees, then turn around and reject them, causing so much trauma and brokenness to the families.
Art can be activism, and activism does influence policy on Capitol Hill. I confront the world's issues while empowering my brothers and sisters, who include undocumented young people. To all DACA dreamers: I stand with you and thank you for enriching this country despite the efforts to push you into the shadows. Together, we WILL create a place where you are free to live your parents’ wildest dreams.
What is the Latinx experience like in hip-hop? Have you experienced racism/xenophobia inside the industry?
Raven: It’s definitely an uphill climb. I think it’s hard for people to understand that we’re part of this community just as much and we have just as big of a voice as other artists do. I’ve walked into lots of industry buildings and I rarely rarely rarely ever see Hispanic people working as part of these labels or part of these places and it’s hard for me to see that because I know so many amazingly talented Latinos and Latinas that can do these jobs but I just don’t think that we’re being considered as talented as such, or that we can even do these jobs. Latina women make the least amount of money on the dollar than any other minority—that speaks to how we’re respected in all workplaces. So as a Latina, I think that we need uplifting, and making sure that people on my own team like my photographer and people that work with me are people of color. That’s my kind of way of making sure that I keep them in the industry and keep them involved.
Is there anything else you think the industry can do to be POC and Latinex inclusive?
Raven: I think that people in general and artists need to be more vocal. We need to be pushing our fan bases to talk to the government and reaching out to local government. We need to be more involved in the schools and give these kids options. I didn’t even know that there were so many roles in the music industry until now, and I think if I would have known I would have been a lot more interested as a teenager and gotten involved in just the background stuff like A&R and marketing. Kids don’t even know that stuff exists. Making programs for schools that brings those roles to light for them is going to be super beneficial.
What were your initial thoughts on Trump trying to include 'the wall' in DACA negotiations?
Hi-Tone: There are different takes on the wall. A lot of people in this world, the minute that Trump proposed the wall, took it as racist and some look at it as taking caution for the country. There are two sides here, but let’s flip it around and ask our government, what is our country’s priority? Is it keeping people out, or helping people who are in stay afloat? Trump is willing to spend $12-21 billion on a wall to cover the U.S. border when schools in Chicago don’t have proper textbooks.
Los Angeles is the mecca of homelessness. 200,000 of those homeless people are veterans, and 40 percent of them have mental health issues. Those are the same people who fought for our country for the exact issue we’re discussing, and that’s freedom right now.
Hi-Tone, in “Voice” you rap, “They say if I was black I woulda blew up, they said if I was white I woulda blew up,” and, “All these DJs got my skin, but they afraid to give me one damn spin.” How can we do better to further Latinx voices in the rap community?
Hi-Tone: We have to completely understand that it’s OK and perfectly fine to be proud of who you are, but also embrace who you’re not. Or else we’re going to continue to segregate. It’s OK to voice your opinion about what’s going on in your culture, but you can’t shy away from everyone else’s culture. This segregation feels like it’s not going to end, but music can really change that. The hip-hop community has one of the biggest voices in the world. Unity within the hip-hop community will change a lot of things in the overall community of every state in our entire nation.