My favorite part of the film process is color grading. The pay off for creating anything visual is the final touch that accentuates the beauty of what was shot and gives mood to the story being told. For me, it is the most satisfying part of creating any piece - still picture or moving. I felt it was a compelling metaphor to some deeper things I have processed about my own ethnicity and identity and chose to combine the concept on the track Color Grade Agape (one of my favorite from our "Upside Eternal" LP. Having finished the video recently, Moral One & the homie Taelor Gray pushed me to write out my explanation of the song as a spring board for not only my personal expression but for the benefit at large of discussing where true ultimate identity is found - a timely subject indeed.
In the track Color Grade Agape, I dove into some real personal spaces, some deep introspective identity caves and explored the issues that have colored me, if I can stretch the metaphor, both ethnically and spiritually.
For some background, as you hear in the beginning lines of my lyrics;
// “A story rarely told, but one that used to haunt me since I figured I was odd
Being not the main color, nor the creed of my hood…” //
For the majority of my life, I have not fit neatly into anyone’s pre-supposed ethnic categories. Being half Caucasian American and half Hispanic American (but not from the typical stereotypes most know as ‘Hispanic’) I received various kinds of treatment from folks - depending on the circles I was in and their knowledge of race/ethnicity/or cultural history - especially about Latin America.
I still remember the day when I was around the kitchen table at my home church with my boys - a overall multiethnic mix up - riding on each other for the colors and cultural customs each one represented. In the midst I remember twice being called out for awkwardly laughing at another person’s background and being put out there for being a “Spic too” and a “white boy” at the same time. Distinctively I recall the words, “Esteban, you can’t win on either side bro”. Wounds can cut deep - we all know them and the years of adolescence deepened those trenches in me seeing the broader implication of segregation and hate in Chicago - many times with instances that affected me deeply. All the while, I heard identity messages from the Scriptures but lies are slippery slope and experiences can shape us easily. The truth didn’t take root in my identity yet. As noted,
// “Black called me black, so I felt that,
White all flight, so I hated that,
Called Spic, but never Spic enough
So I fought that ignorance blow or bluff
Booga caging up, quick to rage on a ignant chump…” //
My reaction was either shame or an exaggerated pride in my ethnic background. Both sides wanted to be another icognito or recognized and overall, I was mainly jealous that I was different and was forced to think through cultural and ethnic issues more than most of the people I knew. 7th grade on had me incredibly proud to the point of fist o’ cuffs to have people know my Bolivian/South American heritage or shame had me cussing the Southern roots that were from my mom’s side because they seemed so foreign to where I was living and how most identified me. In all cases, my inner person was either bullied, shoved or flattered by what others thought or perceived…or what I thought they perceived. Mention the topic of race or ethnicity and my mind was in waves. Even the satisfaction eventually of connecting and learning more of my heritage on both sides left me undone. Ultimately, I felt like there was a foundation deeper for my person that trumped even the deepest of identifiers found in ethnicity and culture (even though they became appropriately valued as time went on and I grew).
// “Reconnecting to my roots,
still left me undone,
cause I never measured up
to that mirror that I hung.” //
Beyond ethnicity though, the 2nd verse of Color Grade Agape layers another aspect of the identity soul searching I had - culture and performance.
// “Fantasy, fortune, females and the ‘Game’ used to call my name from lies Hip Hop played.” //
Naturally engrained in my neighborhood and the vibrant city, Hip Hop culture felt like the nest for me called home. B-Boy battles and shows were more eclectic than any church I had experienced and overall the mini-community felt alive. For the most part it was, but even Hip hop, music and gaining a name through the arts started to be a rocky base to build my person upon. When music went well and shows were booked I felt like I was being who I was made to be - the likeness of an MC and the image of a sought-after-individual. When the man next to me got the shine, my stage collapsed and left me looking for a steady ground to stand on internally - even with a steady voice of truth in my ear from my father Jaime Shedd.
// Pop’s told me who I was,
but I was purely to blame,
Still Hip Hop seemed a fit
it seemed to welcome me in,
Just a hood full of misfits fitting like kin,
But competition was itching,
the glue to which our friendship was hinged,
Comparison to other man, yup called me again,
But if I wasn’t that man…
my purpose and my call getting questioned again.” //
Culture, ethnic upbringing and an absorbed sub-culture all are gifts from God and part of likeness but by the time I went into my 20’s I knew my basis for my being was shook and needed grounding. On top of that, I didn’t have a proper worldview to appreciate the aspects of life that are to be celebrated without consuming the identity of a person. The idea being that without God, even the sweetest of gifts becomes an idol.
To this point it’s all been introspective but please tell me this doesn’t apply outward to us and our society. Black Lives Matter. Derogatory laced ethnic blows on Twitter towards immigration. Pro-White America Right dogma. ‘Isms on every door step of our slippery hearts. Identity variations marking and shelving us like the merchandise of a bodega - many and mixed, clambering for the top shelf - all wanting place to fit.
// Side note: I’ve seen folks call my %100 Puerto Rican wife "not Puerto Rican" for not speaking Spanish perfectly or being dark enough. My African friends call out my African American friends for not being black enough or too black. Well-off whites looking down at Appalachian poor whites. People misuse the terms ethnicity/race/nationality out of proper context and understanding. "La Raza" being exaggerated like Latino's have "a" blood type. Terms. Names. Groups. Division. Ignorance. Misunderstanding. A scramble to fit in or stand out.
You name it, we see it. //
Identity is typically a fortified pedestal for ‘pride and put-down’ or a shame filled raft trying to to escape into a land called disassociation.
So I honestly asked a question in the chorus: “Do we know where (REAL) image lies?”
// "Brown skin, Blue eyes, Exterior Design
White Skin, Green eyes, Do we know where Image lies?
Different Tongues, Different Minds, Interior Design
That’s all good, It’s all fine But Color Grade Agape I’m" //
Where does our ultimate identity and likeness find its foundation? Where are we ultimately color graded and finessed into a beautiful image? Is it possible to appreciate our different mixed cultures, sub-cultures and variations in a world of separation and tribalism?
These questions converge in the post chorus that represents my doxology of praise and truth - an answer that has become my foundation of identity and a medium to love my mixed upbringing and others’ backgrounds even more without letting it be my prime foundation for self-identification.
We can have a deeper identity that rests in a spiritual core and likeness that ‘color grades’ us in a place deeper than skin, eye color, acclaim or badge - while loving those markers in us given by our Creator’s touch and design.
// “(I’m) Colored by his infinite love, I’ve been loved,
Colored by Agape, Adopted like sons,
Knowing who we are, who we are about to become,
Colored by Agape, the image of love” //
Love. The bloody red love of Jesus given to save and re-create for forgiveness and a redeemed image for any who receives Him. Everything to do with forgiveness? For sure. But also everything to do with identity in our Creator.
My main turning point of being content in who I am came in one main conversation with my father in the recent years. How powerful it was to hear my father Jaime tell me who I was when others didn't understand what 'Boliviano' was or being mixed in background. When folks spewed ugliness at me - a father's words can trump all lies. It's even more grounding, when a Heavenly Father speaks to your deeper spiritual roots as a human being redeemed by faith in Christ and receiving identity in Him (Psalms 139 expresses this amazingly).
My peace came with knowing who I became and was made to be in God through Jesus Christ and also that I was designed for a purpose and time (Ephesians 2:8-10). These verses have become a bedrock for me where I build my identity and form my sense of value. The means in which I understood and appreciated my mixed background, specially purposed and divinely made unique was when I understood the Father of all nations made me in His likeness. The stabilizer for identity lying in applause or the lack there of, being immersed in fresh sub-cultures or being on the outside looking into no longer defined me. Peace.
In plain man’s language: when you know you are deeply loved and valued by God the Father you can blunt the ugly that this world will cut you with out of their ignorance or pure hate and curb the waves of insecurity that lie in all of us from the inner place of a rested identity in our Creator.
Do ignorant comments still bother me? For sure. Does the ignorance of people in the arena of ethnicity/race and nationality still get under my skin? Yes. Do I ever have times of not fitting in and sensing some insecurity. Most definitely. But I have roots in a deeper place and the Scriptures remind me of His love everyday - my foundation’s solid. Also, I am grateful my wrestlings have produced empathy and knowledge in me for others. There is a purpose great er than me for "not fitting in"
So to answer the question I have been asked a million times - "Naw, I'm not Boricua or Cuban (influenced heavily perhaps) but now you know what I am. It's in 'ink', video and song. Ha. But on everything, it's love to know my greater identity as an adopted son of God - my Heavenly Father.
The greatest color grade on us comes from His Agape Love and Designing Hands - setting the tone of His beautiful identity on all of us.
Here’s one for being vulnerable. Hope it blesses the ya'll in thought.
- Boogalu of Alert312 // Esteban Shedd