Lost in Translation, How JLo’s ‘Negrita’ Brought Back The Anti-Blackness Issue in The Latinx Community

Maluma JLo BeLatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of pulzo.com

“Yo siempre seré tu negrita del Bronx,” says the new song by JLo featuring Maluma, which translated into English would go something like “I will always be your little black girl from The Bronx.”

For those who naturally navigate both languages, the translation makes as much noise as trying to make sense of the original phrase.

Perhaps it was precisely for this reason that social networks exploded a couple of weeks ago when both artists released the single, amidst waves of criticism for an already hot issue in American society.

“I can’t believe J. Lo, aka a whole white woman called herself a negrita,” one person wrote. “White Latinx are really out of control, lol.”

However, in Latin America, the color scale has, say, a much broader grayscale, where ‘negrita’ has connotations of affection rather than racial determination.

“The track’s lyrics have been deemed controversial as negrita is a questionable Spanish language term of endearment often used to describe people who aren’t Black,” wrote Lola Mendez in her analysis for Remezcla.

Although many came to the Puerto Rican artist’s defense, emphasizing that the term does not translate literally, for specialists in the field, the problem is more one of timing than anything else.

Tanya Katerí Hernández, the Archibald R. Murray professor of law at Fordham University School of Law, told The San Diego Union-Tribune the song “felt like a tone-deaf, opportunistic attempt to appear relevant in our #BlackLivesMatter social moment.”

“Dating Black people does not make you Black. Dancing with Black people does not make you Black. Being part of the urban popular culture and aesthetic, again, does not make you Black,” she argued. “Even more troubling, is that Lopez has a whole history of whitening her appearance and hair to pursue her Hollywood ambitions. Certainly, those are her choices to make, but it should then not be a surprise that her sudden gesture toward Blackness, from her perch of White privilege, would be received poorly by me and many others.”

Similarly, for Hilda Lloréns, a cultural anthropologist and assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Rhode Island, the song’s lyrics “are an insensitive move.”

“Time and again, J.Lo has reminded us that she seems to have lost touch with the social, cultural, and political realities facing minoritized people in the Bronx and other barrios throughout the United States and in the Americas more broadly,” she told the newspaper. “For instance, if J.Lo or her production team would have registered that Black, Afro-Latinxs, Latinxs, and Indigenous populations are over-represented in the U.S. prison population, she could have, if nothing else, worn a #BlackLivesMatter or #LasVidasNegrasImportan statement outfit in the video.” 

“Just because something is widespread doesn’t make it acceptable,” Lloréns adds regarding the argument of ‘negrita’ being a term of endearment in Latin American culture.

Once again, acculturation has proven to be one of the most problematic phenomena in translating, if not interpreting, the plurality in Latino culture. After all, identity begins with the word, and that power can be both transformative and annihilating in any instance.