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Otherland

The Curve, CultureFirst, 2016—The culturally curious are banding together to form a welcoming wonderland where being an individualist is not only accepted, it’s embraced.

The Raw World

Gina Madrid (Raw-G) has always been an outsider. Growing up, she was drawn to hip-hop while her family listened to traditional ranchero and mariachi music. She was the first woman to join the nascent hip-hop scene in her native Guadalajara. And since moving to Oakland at 15 years old, Madrid has been an anomaly in the black- and male-dominated hip-hop world. “I have always been very different. That’s just in my nature,” she says. But for her, this outlier status is a source of pride. “I see it as a cool thing for me to crack jokes about my weirdness and make a statement about how everywhere you go, there are people of different kinds, different colors, different shapes. That’s just the world.”

And while a Latina rapper with dreadlocks and politically charged lyrics may sound like one of a kind, she’s riding a wave of acceptance and celebration of otherness that is happening throughout the country, from Portland, Maine, to West Texas. If you lift the curtain on the mainstream, you will find an America where the culturally mixed, super niche, and otherwise “different” feel at home. Of course, “Otherland” is a macro movement that’s wider-reaching than Latino culture alone, but, as the largest minority group in America, Hispanics are a big part of this strange new landscape.

The Others

What is your race?

What you might think of as a simple question has become more difficult to answer in an increasingly multicultural America, especially for Hispanics. This is because federal policy defines Hispanic not as a race but as an ethnicity, so Hispanics must identify themselves as either “White,” “Black/African American,” “Asian,” “American Indian/Alaska Native,” “Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander,” or “Some Other Race” on the U.S. Census. This resulted in a full third (37%) of Hispanics selecting “Some Other Race” on the 2010 Census, making the nebulous “Other” category the third-largest racial grouping in the country after “White” and “Black.” After all, when you’ve got Cuban and Dominican ancestry and brown skin, as did one respondent we met, trying to fit yourself into the boxes on the U.S. Census is an exercise in futility. Indeed, more than twice as many Hispanics (69%) as non-Hispanics (33%) expressed that it was frustrating to check off one race or ethnicity on forms, as they didn’t feel that they fit into any one category. (For more on the expanding continuum of race in America today, see Brownish.)


77% of millennials would prefer to be multicultural rather than monocultural.


However, for millennials, the most multicultural generation to date, the “Other” box has become a badge of honor. Even millennials for whom race is a simple question (such as white Anglo kids with single-culture backgrounds) are increasingly checking the “Other” box. They tell us that they want to be different, just like all of their multicultural friends. In fact, being “Other” has become such a source of pride that 44% of Caucasian millennials go so far as to say, “Being white is boring.”

Race is just one aspect of identity being affected by this fresh outlook: across the country, millennials’ embrace of the “Other” is extending beyond the checkbox and into new, radical, and niche areas.

Through the Looking Glass

Digital, of course, has been key to opening up the door to this new land of Others. With the expansive universes of Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and Snapchat, the once unheard of (or the previously nonexistent) is just a finger-swipe away. Take, for example, Tess Holliday, a size 20 model and body-positive Internet sensation who became the largest plus-size model ever to be signed by a mainstream modeling agency (Milk Management). Holliday is now leveraging her mainstream success to champion even more radical visions of beauty, including UK-based model Harnaam Kaur, a 25-year-old woman with a long, dark beard that grew due to polycystic ovary syndrome (which causes her body to produce extra male hormones).


72% of Hispanics and 56% of non-Hispanics report that social media has helped them to connect with a culture they would not have known about otherwise.


Beyond beauty, digital platforms have also engendered the rise of a multimillion-dollar movement of globetrotting Others: black urban travelers, a group that was previously ignored by mainstream travel agents, airlines, hoteliers, and even digitally savvy Airbnb. Online communities such as Nomadness Travel Tribe and Travel Noire have gained popularity, thanks to their focus on negotiating group travel rates and organizing itineraries so that minorities can travel together to exotic locales. (Read more about the black travel movement at All-Things-D-Versified.)

No age, shape, gender, or skin tone has a monopoly on feeling “other,” but for many minorities in America, especially Hispanics, the sentiment is innate. Perhaps that’s why we’re seeing Hispanics lead the charge toward Otherland. Case in point: Christine Tran, the cofounder of Witches of Bushwick, a creative collective of Brooklyn-based women engaged in the fields of art, fashion, music, and cultural exploration. The group’s name was inspired not by an interest in casting spells, but by the historical representation of the word “witches” as strong, independent women who formed communities outside of the mainstream. Tran told VICE’s women-centered website and digital video channel Broadly, “I’m a non-white, queer female, so I’m very much ‘the Other.’” The coven’s “exclusively inclusive” motto is reflected in its members, who include Frankie Hutchinson (the founder of Discwoman, a group that advocates for women and minorities in electronic dance music) and the black trans artist Juliana Huxtable.

In the Bronx, a similarly witchy spirit is brewing within Brujas, an all-girl skate crew. Brujas, once a derogatory word for witch in Spanish, is meant to convey the collective empowerment of sisterhood—and the crew, which consists of skaters ranging in age from 15 to 27, focuses heavily on welcoming Latina and female skaters of color. Arianna Maya Gil, a founding member, told the online magazine Browntourage that the commercial skate world tends to center around white people and white culture. “Growing up as second-generation Latina, we absorb New York skateboarding and street culture through the lens of a transnational immigrant politic,” Gil said. “We put forward a vision of a world where women from the barrio, girls like us, are powerful and have agency and channels to express themselves in the streets.” Whereas in the past Latinos, and especially Latinas, may have wanted to fit in at the skate park, these young women are standing out and making it their primary mission to attract others like them.

The embrace of otherness is increasingly spilling into mainstream culture as well, forever changing it and making it more welcoming to the avant-garde. Consider, for example, the pop star Sia, who hides her face behind huge outlandish wigs—she’s perhaps the world’s first pop diva whom most people wouldn’t recognize on the street (she’s white, although she uses dancers of all ages, races, and genders as her proxies during live performances). And 2015 was a year of major transgender acceptance with the emergence of Caitlyn Jenner, the most high-profile trans celebrity to date. Next up, we’ll soon see the first mainstream television network dedicated almost entirely to exploring Otherland: VICE TV will feature travel in the form of Gaycation with Ellen Page; food through the lens of Eddie Huang, the 21st century’s answer to Julia Child (if she were a sailor-mouthed Chinese sneakerhead); and Fashion Week coverage that goes beyond the Paris-and-Milan-only box to outsider catwalks like that in Karachi, Pakistan. While these examples obviously extend beyond the Hispanic populace, Otherland is cracking culture wide open to include a far more diverse range of out-of-the-box identities and points of view.


63% of Hispanic and non-Hispanic respondents agree that digital platforms have created more diversity of thought rather than more criticism of difference.


Interlatinality

One development that can’t be underestimated in the rise of Otherland is the trending concept of intersectionality, or the idea that identity today sits at the axis of multiple simultaneous factors, including gender, race, class, age, ability, sexual orientation, and religion. The classic example used most often to describe the theory of intersectionality, first coined in 1989 by the feminist scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, the founder and director of the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies at Columbia Law School, is that black feminists cannot be understood only in terms of being black or of being women. Assessments must include the interactions, complexities, pride, and challenges of the two. As one teen in Portland, Maine, put it, pop feminists like Lena Dunham, Emma Stone, and Taylor Swift are only “a good start,” and while they can shed light on the female experience, how can they possibly speak to the unique realities of being a queer woman of color straddling three cultures and two homelands? In recent years, intersectionality has been co-opted by other disciplines—as well as by the mainstream media (and millennials, according to one Bustle article featuring several intersectionality-themed Internet memes)—to bring to light the political connotations regarding the intersecting factors of all of our identities: you’re no longer just a 20-something girl. You’re a 20-something middle-class able-bodied Jewish Latina skate witch (or what have you). As Alice’s new wonderland opens the world up to an exponential range of otherness, we’ll all be seen—and see ourselves—in more complex terms.

While intersectionality encompasses all cultures, Hispanics have a unique understanding of the concept, due in part to the inherent doubleness of their identity: American and Latino. And Latinas have an even deeper understanding, as evidenced by Gina Madrid, aka Raw-G. While it’s one thing to be a rapper, it’s quite another to be a female rapper. Throw in her Mexican identity on top of that, and you’re looking at a real cultural collision. Melanie Davis, a self-described Latina lesbian biker, has leveraged her intersecting identities to grow her media empire. Alongside the nation’s top bilingual monthly newspaper, El Hispanic News, she started publishing the motorcycle magazine Tankside and PQ, an LGBTQ publication whose name stands for Proud Queer and that boasts the tagline “Every Letter, Every Color, Everywhere.”

But again, intersectionality isn’t reserved for bleeding-edge creatives or intellectual feminists; people from all backgrounds and states are increasingly embracing notions of otherness in and around them. Alejandra, a graphic designer, told us: “When I went to college, I came from a really small town to Austin, Texas, and saw all this diversity. Now I had to start factoring class and other things into who I was. I wasn’t just Latino anymore, like I was back in Decatur, Georgia. I was all this other stuff. There was a big intersecting process.” And as Pedro, 30, of Austin put it: “You definitely have to learn how to integrate, how to change. I wouldn’t say change your culture, but you need to know how to embrace it in a way that’s going to fit in.” The result is that instead of being March Hares outside of Wonderland, Hispanics are bringing a new wonderland out of the rabbit hole.

One of the most hopeful ideas we came across in our exploration of Otherland is that this cultural shift toward being and embracing Other could be a sign that we’re developing into a more tolerant society. After all, when “Other” is the third-largest race, the “Other” box loses whatever stigma it might have had. As Javier, 20, of Austin says: “I think people are becoming more tolerant of different identities and backgrounds. Tolerance has come a long way.”


79% of Hispanic respondents and 66% of non-Hispanic respondents agree: “I embrace my otherness—I like that I don’t exactly fit into mainstream society.”


 

Adventures in Otherland

Here are the culturally curious people, media, and brands making waves in the heady new frontier of Otherland:

Harnaam Kaur: The world’s first female model to sport a beard (without being the subject of a circus freak-show poster), the United Kingdom–based Kaur has turned a rare hormonal condition into a celebration of the radically different.

Nomadness Travel Tribe: Tired of being ignored by the mainstream travel industry, Evita Robinson formed her own nomadic tribe for black women like her and other minorities looking for urban adventures.

Mipsters: Muslim hipsters, such as Kuwaiti American Instagrammer Ascia Farraj, who has over 1.6 million followers, have carved out their own unique fashion cliques online, where they post pictures of their daily outfits, proving to mainstream America for perhaps the first time that a mix of religion, modesty, and hijabs can indeed be high fashion.

Witches of Bushwick: Finding little room for radical female artists in the mainstream art world, this collective of women brews up exhibitions and events for all of Brooklyn’s creative Others.

Brujas: This all-girls-of-color skateboarding crew fights stereotypes and gentrification in the Bronx while providing a supportive system of female camaraderie.

Blaxicans: Half Mexican and half black, these individuals don’t fit into any conventional box, so they had to create their own.

Metalachi: The unlikely mash-up of heavy metal and mariachi music may not make MTV, but it has some people getting down in the mosh pit.

Caitlyn Jenner: The retired Olympic athlete formerly known as Bruce is now a curvy female-identifying TV personality and advocate for transgender acceptance.

Sia: This Australian pop star prefers to remain a mystery by hiding her face behind big outlandish wigs.

Eddie Huang: The Julia Child of the modern age, this Chinese chef is VICE TV’s popular food channel personality and resident sneakerhead.

Shinola: Offering a surprising mix of high-end watches and hand-assembled, fashion-forward bicycles manufactured in Detroit, the business-world anomaly Shinola is built on the long-dead belief in “American made.” The company’s success proves that we really don’t know shit from Shinola.

Diesel: The brand’s AZ of Dance video celebrates otherness with 26 genres of dance, highlighting the classic (arabesque, rumba), the regional (Memphis jookin’, northern soul), the avant-garde (death drop, finger tut), and the just plain weird.

Undo-Ordinary: Uniting sweat and style, this indie magazine was founded by three minority women who felt that their likenesses—and swagger—weren’t being represented in mainstream sports media.

Brand Opportunities

OUTSIDERS ARE IN. 

With identity extending to a dizzying spectrum, there’s growing cachet around people who actually stand out, so it may pay off to buddy up with the outsiders and individualists.

GO SUPER NICHE.

In the era of the long tail of everything, there is no mass market anymore, but rather millions of miniscule markets to hyper-target.

HELP PEOPLE CONNECT WITH LIKE-MINDED INDIVIDUALS. 

The people who previously would have been loners can now connect to massive global communities of people just like them; new markets are emerging from this ability to make connections among the cultural fringe.

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