Bad Bunny went silent on May 19. The Puerto Rican artist Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, who has collaborated with stars like Cardi B, Drake and J Balvin, had just released two albums, set off a controversy by cross-dressing in a hit music video and graced the cover of Rolling Stone. After all that activity, it was time to disconnect, even from his cell phone.
Just a few days later, the callous killing of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer as three other officers looked on set off a series of protests in the U.S. that reinvigorated movements for racial justice around the world. Normally, Martínez does not shy away from politics: last year, he canceled a tour to join anti-corruption protests in Puerto Rico that ultimately led to the resignation of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló. He has made no secret of his disdain for President Trump. And he has become a de facto advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, a notable development from an artist in a musical tradition that has long espoused a culture of machismo.
Now, Martínez is breaking his silence to share, exclusively with TIME, a response to the Black Lives Matter movement, in the form of a “lyrical statement” that speaks to his current headspace. “There are many simple but powerful ways of helping, such as teaching, educating your community, your family, your friends,” he told TIME in an email exchange from Puerto Rico, where he is currently self-isolating. “At the moment, we are working on where to contribute seriously, economically and humanely, using the resources we have to support and in some way be part of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.” He remains off of social media. “I simply do not have a phone,” he explains. “But I know I can contribute much more from here and from the heart, as I always do.”
Martínez is not the first non-Black celebrity to speak out in support of Black Lives Matter, nor is he the first musical artist or celebrity to release a statement reflecting on the importance of justice and equality. Pop stars like Pink and Harry Styles have been spotted marching in protests; Billie Eilish was one of many to share a long statement on social media; Chris Evans and Angelina Jolie have made donations to related funds. Fellow Latinx artists, including Ricky Martin and Camila Cabello, have also displayed solidarity for the movement. Some gestures have landed better than others.
But Martínez, whose own home of Puerto Rico has also hosted Black Lives Matter protests in recent weeks, has been absent from the conversation until now — to the dismay of some of his fans. In a recent interview with EW, comedian George Lopez criticized the silence of many Latinx celebrities in the face of global protests. Meanwhile, in some U.S. cities, Latinx communities are displaying solidarity with the mission of Black Lives Matter, calling out the fact that systemic discrimination disproportionately affects them as well. Race has long been a fraught subject in Latin American countries, where the legacy of European colonialism remains and discrimination persists against Black and indigenous people. And reggaeton music, more specifically, has been called out with allegations of anti-Blackness.
“There are artists who only upload a photo or a basic message just to calm public pressure or to look ‘good,'” Martínez told TIME. “Not me… I want to go deeper and see in what way I can serve, how I can support the fight against a systematic monster that has been [around for] centuries. It’s a problem that perhaps will not have been solved when I die, but at least I will know that I have contributed something for future generations that, with faith, will enjoy freedom and justice.”
When asked about his place in this struggle, Martínez was clear: it is an intersectional issue. “In the case of reggaeton music, we have always struggled against discrimination, and even though today it is the world’s number one Latino genre, we continue to suffer from that discrimination, both in the world for being Latino, and in the Latino community itself for being a genre that comes from the street.” Reggaeton has a Black history that is often overlooked. He also noted President Trump’s attitude towards Latinos. “The President of the United States has made it clear since the beginning of his presidency that discrimination against Latinos is more than present; he has given even more power to racism at this time.” And in this broader struggle against racism, Martínez says, both Latinos and Black people suffer the consequences.
His full statement is written like a song. “In a world like this,” he writes, “none of us can breathe.” Below, it is shared in both the original Spanish as well as an English translation.
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