Jennifer Lopez at the Biden inauguration ceremony.
Enrique Limón, The Independent
Joseph Robinette Biden’s swearing in as the 46th president came when the nation needed a unifying message the most. It was also a day of firsts: one wherein flags staked on the National Mall grounds replaced the usual cheering hordes; and one during which Kamala Harris was minted as the first woman in US history, as well as the first Black person and first person of South Asian descent, to take the office of the vice presidency.
It was also one that broke tradition, with 96-year-old former president Jimmy Carter skipping the pomp for the first time in four decades due to health concerns, and Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, choosing to duck out as the final temper tantrum in his checkered presidency.
For those of us with accent marks on our names and a higher concentration of melanin in our skin, it was also a banner day in terms of representation. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor swore-in Harris—using a bible once owned by the late Thurgood Marshall, no less.
But it didn’t stop there. Enter Jennifer Lopez, decked in winter white, singing a mashup of “This Land Is Your Land” and “America the Beautiful.” Then, two minutes and 15 seconds in, the record scratch heard across many a caucasian household: “¡Una nación bajo Dios, indivisible, con libertad y justicia para todos!” (The Pledge of Allegiance’s “One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”)
Like so many Latinos in the US, because of my name, cultural heritage, the comfort food I eat, the language I speak when I’m with my mom and siblings (in public and elsewhere), many other aspects of my past lived experience, and my current day-to-day, I have been othered my entire life. Growing up, mass media representation came in spurts and instances. They were also few and far between. Witnessing Lopez’s en Espanol adlib was enough to make my Grinchy journalist heart grow three sizes, and almost forgive her for immediately segwaying to a sample of her own 1999 hit, “Let’s Get Loud”—almost.
Jennifer Lopez is Puerto Rican, and I’m not. She is a multimillionaire Hollywood star, and I’m not. But we share a common multiculturalism vein (one that’s become a hot topic as of late.)
Seeing her take center stage at the Capitol Building’s West Front, the same spot that became ground zero for the insurrectionist attack two weeks ago, I was filled with pride. I couldn’t help to think about Selena Quintanilla, the slain Tejano singer who Lopez played during her first big Hollywood break. I’m not knocking Lopez’ accomplishments as in the almost 24 years since the biopic came out, she’s become an entertainment juggernaut in her own right, but I still found myself thinking that in an alternate reality where Selena would still be alive, she would have surely taken part in today’s ceremony.
Perhaps it was the percolating reality that the barbaric past four years are now in the rearview mirror. Maybe it was the fresh memory of the high school Nuevo Santander mariachi band performing their own rendition of “This Land Is Your Land” during last night’s under-the-radar virtual Latino Inaugural, but Lopez’ bilingual turn on such a grand scale touched some deep, sensitive fibers.
With the inefficacy of Trump’s COVID-19 response, plus its effect on the economy, joblessness and national morale (not to mention foreign relations and immigrant, transgender, and many other rights curently in shambles), it’s clear the Biden administration will face an uphill battle.
But for an hour on Wednesday, I, along with the millions of people who watched the broadcast, found myself to be the most hopeful I’ve been in a long while, with Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman’s words “We will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one” resonating in my own bronze-pounded chest.
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