“We’re just as American as everyone else,” Joe Hernandez-Kolski said.
That should settle any race issues and allow Hernandez-Kolski and Joshua Silverstein, aka Pocho Joe and Silverstein, to pursue their craft — an award-winning multimedia mix of rhythm, commentary, music, news, comedy, dance — but it doesn’t.
They identify as Latino, black, Jewish and white and ask: how do you get any more American than that?
Even if Silverstein identifies as black, he gets dumbfounded looks and a follow-up questions: You’re black? You don’t look black?
Hernandez-Kolski thought he wouldn’t be Latino enough if his Spanish wasn’t fluent or his skin wasn’t the requisite shade of brown. But he knows that problem is not his. The ethnicity box is one you can define for yourself and is not reserved for those squares on some government form.
“My goal is to be the Glinda the Good Witch of the North for ethnically ambiguous munchkins, so I can encourage all of those people who are hiding that it’s OK, you can come out,” Hernandez-Kolski said. “The wicked witch is dead. Come out, enjoy your native life.”
So, they take their show where it leads them. The 14-year collaboration includes the live act, So Fresh and So Clean.
Shooting episode 5 pic.twitter.com/CM0YsffYfI
— Joshua Silverstein (@joshuasilverbat) April 27, 2015
Currently, one of those outlets is a series on mitú’s YouTube channel — Pocho Joe & Silverstein — where they deliver the front page, the back page and underreported stories while connecting it to the inclusively broader reach of who they believe they are.
“What we do is find a way to be entertaining, but also revealing and I don’t know how else to express ourselves,” said Silverstein, who is Jewish and African-American. “If you said, ‘Here’s the Internet. Create content.’ We would definitely utilize it to make fun of ourselves and show how ridiculous we are, but it would also be a commentary on gender or the male ego or society or racism. It’s always whatever’s on our minds. I don’t think entertainment is entertainment if it isn’t saying something to build a greater truth.”
Joe handles the headlines while Josh provides beatbox rhythms and both inject nuance to a particular story.
That could be — “When I go to Disneyland, I want to get on, It’s a Small World. I don’t to get it’s a small pox” — in reference to the measles outbreak at the theme park and the subsequent vaccine debate.
Or compare the recently contested Manny Pacquiao/Floyd Mayweather Jr. fight to finally dating the prom queen you crushed on, after kids and two divorces.
“In the stand-up world, in which both Josh and I have experience equally, you have to be funny. You have to be funny. If you have something to say, that’s a bonus,” said Hernandez-Kolski, who is Polish and Mexican. “When you combine those two, you get what we do and that is combining satire with a unique point of view.”
These are not just a pair of kids with a camera and some clever lines.
Chicago native Hernandez-Kolski is a stand-up veteran and HBO Def Poet with a history degree from Princeton, who spent some time in the White House during the Clinton administration. He worked in the communications department to help craft health care speeches and later was the Assistant to the Associate Director of Public Liaison and focused on Latino community outreach. Hernandez-Kolski also worked on the 1996 Clinton/Gore reelection campaign.
Courtesy of Joe Hernandez-Kolski
Silverstein’s beatboxing goes back to the age of five or so, but his pro career got legs in the late 90s working with a variety of jazz and hip-hop musicians, including Cal Bennett and Doug E. Fresh around his Los Angeles hometown. Silverstein also spent three years with Declare Yourself, a campaign founded by TV producer and writer Norman Lear to encourage young adults to vote.
“First we need to empower young people to believe in themselves before they can even feel their vote counts. They have to believe their voice counts,” said Silverstein.
The passion to get the younger demographic to vote still burns for Silverstein.
“For me it’s one of those things like, I’ve been voting since I could vote and I do it because my grandparents worked for the party and it’s instilled in me,” Silverstein said. “It isn’t a second thought. It’s just something I do.”
Courtesy of Joshua Silverstein
It is this strong conviction of who they are that helps to fuel both of these men, not only for their own identities but to empower those who might otherwise feel marginalized by the mainstream.
Because, as they see it, they are the mainstream. They are Americans.
“I represent America more so, in my opinion, than those who think they represent America,” Hernandez-Kolski said. “So racists, and sexists and homophobes, I want to pat them on the head and go, ‘Aww. You guys are so cute. You really think you know what you’re talking about. You really don’t.’ And we believe that we do.”