A song promoted by San Jose’s tourism bureau as the city’s new official anthem has been widely panned on social media this past week for being so out of touch with the local culture. Called simply “San Jose,” the pop-country tune was penned by a New Zealand teen and parlayed into a frothy music video bankrolled by Team San Jose and shot by an out-of-town production company.
The lyrics name-check Willow Glen and the VTA light rail, but the video does little to reflect San Jose’s identity as one of the most culturally diverse cities on the planet. That, and the fact that Team San Jose excluded homegrown talent from a project that sought to capture the city’s essence, prompted a public rebuke from a group of local artists.
In an open letter to Team San Jose CEO Karolyn Kirchgesler, the Multicultural Arts Leadership Institute urged the tourism agency to do better. Here’s what they wrote.
Dear Ms. Kirchgesler:
Unfortunately, we are compelled to reach out to you again. After San Jose’s multicultural community encouraged the production of Team San Jose’s tourism video “Where Cultures Shine” in 2016, we dared to hope that Team San Jose would choose to highlight the creative legacy and cultural diversity of San Jose. Yet, with the release of “San Jose” by New Zealand-based, Grace Kelly, it is apparent that Team San Jose is not interested in celebrating its own homegrown talent and vibrancy.
The Multicultural Arts Leadership Institute (MALI) is comprised of 200 people, including local artists and small business owners of color. We want to highlight our collective disappointment and indignation about this latest Visit San Jose video. We find your choice of Kiwi, Grace Kelly, as the face and voice of an advertisement promoting San Jose to be deeply offensive and dismissive of San Jose’s creative and artistic culture.
To be clear, our issue is not with Ms. Kelly, who is a talented musician and singer. Rather, we take exception to the notion that, in order to promote San Jose, we needed to outsource musical talent and creative production. We are left with the disturbing impression that Team San Jose would rather use local talent as silent props while showcasing a young, white woman as the hostess and global ambassador for our beloved city to visitors. In her song, Kelly belts out “San Jose—my second home.”
Where are the voices of those who call San Jose their first and only home? We hope that you and your Team San Jose colleagues did not willfully overlook and discount our local, award-winning artists, like the Bangerz, Amy Dabalos, and Cellista.
Ms. Kirchgesler, we question how many San Jose natives and people of color are in the room to help inform your decisions and assist in framing how to present our city to the rest of the world. Authentic representation—both on screen and at the decision-making table—is absolutely necessary to capture the essence of what makes San Jose worth visiting, and also, worth fighting for.
We would like to invite you to a conversation with our extended creative community at a time that is best for you. We hope that you will accept our invitation.
Executive Director, School of Arts and Culture at MHP
Senior Program Manager, School of Arts and Culture at MHP
Ron P. Muriera
Owner/Arts & Culture Consultant, RPM Consulting
Executive Director, MACLA/Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana
Quynh-Mai Productions, Sonido Clash
President, Sangam Arts
Owner, Needle To The Groove Records
Juan Carlos Araujo and Jennifer Ahn
Owners, Empire Seven Studios
Executive Director, Exhibition District
Executive Director, Chopsticks Alley
Silicon Valley De Bug
Principal, Giant Creative Services
Thomas Ramon Aguilar
Minister of Operations, Universal Grammar
Owner, Kooltura Marketing