I can’t say that I listen to a lot of music that’s “political” in nature but from the opening bass line of “Mexican Chef,” I was hooked.
I found it on a 2016 “best songs of the year” list. At first, I only listened to the catchy tune. The lyrics seemed a bit non-sensical until I really began to listen to them. Then I realized that Xenia Rubinos had something important and poignant to say about the experience of people of color in the United States.
From the opening lyrics: “French bistro … Dominican chef … Italian restaurant … Boricua* chef … Chinese takeout … Mexican chef …Noveau America … Bachata* in the back”
To the meat of the song: “Brown walks your baby, Brown walks your dog, Brown raised America in place of its mom. Brown cleans your house, Brown takes the trash, Brown even wipes your granddaddy’s ass.”
To the refrain that may be stuck in your head for days: “I want it, want it all now. I want it all now. We build the ghettos and we tear them down.”
Rubinos is talking about how people of color do much of the hard, important labor that keeps America going, and how they get so little recognition for it that they are often lumped into one indistinguishable category of “brown.”
Some people may find that offensive, or it may make them feel defensive, but I find it fresh and insightful. I like that she took a sensitive, serious topic and packaged it in a way that people will get into because it’s both fun and relatable. Plus, she’s got some great dance moves.
It was a fitting song, I think, for 2016 and certainly deserved its place on a “best of” list.
*Perhaps, like me, you know little Spanish. Boricua is a colloquial term for Puerto Ricans, especially those living in the U.S. Bachata is a particular type of music & dance that originated in the Dominican Republic.