New #SanJoseSong featuring New Zealander raises concerns
Photo courtesy of Team San Jose.

San Jose’s tourism leaders are trying to get more people talking about and visiting the city. People are definitely talking now.

For many in the 10th largest city in America, San Jose is their hometown. For Grace Kelly, that’s not the case. That’s why people are sounding off about the city’s new music promo, featuring Kelly singing a “love letter” to San Jose, which was launched to encourage people to visit the city. The video shows Kelly, a teenager from New Zealand who lived in San Jose as a child and now lives back in New Zealand, riding her scooter through Willow Glen and walking around Santana Row, among other places.

After Karolyn Kirchgesler — CEO of Team San Jose, the city’s visitors authority — discovered Kelly’s country pop song about her beloved Silicon Valley city, she asked Team San Jose’s vice president of marketing, Laura Chmielewski, to produce and promote a music video for the song to boost tourism and outside engagement with San Jose.

But not everyone is convinced the song captures the cultural spirit and deep diversity of the city.

Assemblyman Ash Kalra suggested on Twitter that the city could have chosen another song to showcase the city, The Hometown — a mariachi-infused rap song by San Jose local hip hop artist, Rey Resurreccion from 2012, with a beat by local producer DJ Cutso.

“The city released an ode to San Jose from talented New Zealander,” Kalra tweeted last week. “I appreciate she sees SJ as a 2nd home. There are SJ natives who can represent our city just fine.”

Many locals agree, saying the hills and scooters in Kelly’s country ode don’t look like the pho noodle bistros or the taquerias on the South side of the city off Monterey Road. That’s the San Jose Resurreccion knows — with the trumpets and the dancing, the bikes and the buckets.

Chmielewski said that the video’s promotion meant two things — the company’s CEO liked the song, and the marketing team wanted to use it to bring people to San Jose.

“It started because the CEO was sent the song and she kind of liked it, and so she called in a few other people on the staff and they thought it was catchy too,” she said. “We’re here to drive visitation, so a song from a young girl about visiting San Jose and why she loves to spend time here worked with everything we try to do to draw people in to keep the tax base lower.

“Our job is to find things that will bring people in,” Chmielewski added. “Hopefully in this case we did that.”

Shortly after Kelly’s video was released, the local Filipino emcee caught wind of his old song making rounds through the internet.

“Personally, I’ve got nothing against Grace Kelly and what she’s trying to do,” Resurreccion, 35, told San José Spotlight. “I feel like the main issue for all of us — the people who have been speaking about it, people close to The Hometown — the issue is that Visit San Jose is branding it as the San Jose anthem.”

People took to social media to express their thoughts on the new music promo from Visit San Jose — some with disdain and others with support for the city’s choice of music. San Jose resident Jeremiah Haze tweeted to Mayor Sam Liccardo after the mayor tweeted Kelly’s video: “Hey Sam! Can you tell @VisitSanJose to let the #community decide instead? This song has way more heart and way more SAN JOSE in it.”

Liccardo replied “I love it” and commented on the 2012 video’s “great imagery.”

“There’s a lot to San Jose from every side, every neighborhood. You can drive 5, 10 minutes and be in a totally different vibe, a totally different area,” Resurreccion said. “I think the diversity and the mixing of all the cultures together for me has been a real identifier for San Jose.”

The artist added that a song used to promote San Jose’s brand should reflect its deep history, including its ethnic diversity.

“If it’s not genuine, they can do as many country songs as they want, if that’s their intention. I only want them to represent real San Jose if their intention is to show people who we really are, and what we’re really about, and to represent us,” Resurreccion said. “My main intention when I spoke about this is for us to tell our own story, and not wait for Visit San Jose or anybody else for that matter, to tell it for us.”

Also on Thursday, a collective of arts groups including MACLA, The School of Arts and Culture and Giant Creative denounced the video in an open letter to Kirchgesler and Team San Jose. The local groups said they found it “disturbing” that officials felt the need to “outsource musical talent and creative production.”

The group said that it’s “apparent that Team San Jose is not interested in celebrating its own homegrown talent and vibrancy.”

“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,” the letter said. “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?”

The letter also questioned whether Kirchgesler included “San Jose natives and people of color” to inform decisions about how to represent San Jose to 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,” the letter concluded.

Read the full letter here.

Contact Kyle Martin at kylebmartin96@gmail.com or follow him @Kyle_Martin35 on Twitter.

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