Remixing Science: Raquel Cepeda’s Bird of Paradise
by David J Leonard
Raquel Cepeda is hip-hop. Her work, her experiences, and her voice encapsulate the history and aesthetics of the hip-hop generation. Cepeda, a leading journalist whose work has appeared in People, the Associated Press, The Village Voice, MTV News, CNN.com, has shaped the conversation about hip-hop for decades. Her film, Bling: A Planet Rock, “takes a hard-hitting look at how the flashy world of commercial hip-hop played a significant role in the 10-year civil war in Sierra Leone, West Africa” and her edited collection And It Don’t Stop: The Best Hip-Hop Journalism of the Last 25 Years are two significant works within the hip-hop landscape. A career of reflecting on artistry, identity, culture, and a generation looking for voice, Cepeda turns inward with her memoir Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina (Atria Books, 2013). Telling the story of a young women whose life was turned upside down over and over again, Bird of Paradise is her story of redemption, of a her search to understand her identity in a society that told her over and over again that she did not matter.
Bird of Paradise speaks to the growing intersections of ethnography, memoir and science. It points to the changing nature of looking backward not only for exploring personal histories but those of the communities. The work points to a growing willingness among the hip-hop generation to push aside conventions, to expose personal vulnerability and uncertainty alongside of scientific discovery.
At one level it is a story of hip-hop, and how it influenced her life. Hip-hop offered acceptance otherwise unavailable outside of paradise. As with many books on the history of hip-hop and memoirs about members of the hip-hop generation, Cepeda highlights the environmental factors that gave rise to the hip-hop generation. Violence, alienation, invisibility and failing schools all shaped Cepeda’s childhood, which was defined by instability resulting from abandonment, abuse, and difficulty finding acceptance and peace. For Cepeda these painful experiences didn’t simply define her childhood but contributed to her love of hip-hop, which spoke to her, have her voice, and provided a nurturing home that had been absent through her early years.
Where others sought to define her identity, to see her as a wanna-be, neither white nor black, as stuck-up, where society sought to render her voice, her passion, and her joy invisible, hip-hop provided hope and power. Bird of Paradise speaks to the importance hip-hop has on a generation. It provided her with the tools to navigate the sometimes-competing demands of “the old-school social and cultural standards of our parents, their respective homelands, and this American one, the latter growing increasingly hostile to our presence.” Hip-Hop, from Public Enemy to Spoken Word, from graffiti to journalism, provided a path through the trials and tribulations associated with the double consciousness and the contradictions that defined her early life. Her work as a journalist, her contributions as a documentarian and the book itself are the flower that sprouted from the seeds planted by hip-hop
Continue reading at Dr. David J. Leonard: Remixing Science: Raquel Cepeda’s Bird of Paradise.