They’ve been called the "two random Dominican dudes," but you may know them as the comedic faces of the new viral sensation called "Pan Con Queso."
The music video (seen below), a spoof based on rapper Wiz Khalifa’s wildly popular ode to Pittsburgh “Black and Yellow,” stars two lip-synching Dominicans -- Michael Diaz, 33, aka Juan Bago and Oscar Martinez, 24, aka "O." They wake up one morning with nothing to eat, and so begins their fictional quest for a traditional Dominican breakfast favorite "Pan Con Queso" (Bread and Cheese) with a side of Cafecito (Coffee).
Barely three weeks after the first YouTube post on February 5th, the group's video has nearly 200,000 hits and has been picked up by radio stations -- even as far as Spain -- and popular blogs including ones from Dominican Republic and Billboard.
"It happened so quickly," Diaz said. "It started as a 3 a.m. phone call and in less than two weeks we had a video."
But behind the music there is a growing movement of Dominican Americans who are unifying through the arts and are helping to define what it means to be Dominican in this country.
For close to a year now, Diaz has been organizing mixers for Dominican artists that aim to do exactly that through his production company Heights Entertainment. He is an actor and a producer and believes the song is nothing but positive.
“There is no sex, violence, or drugs in the video, unless you consider my gyrating when I finally get my cafecito sexual,” Diaz joked. "We love that awkward comedy."
He leads events throughout the Heights in the hopes of uniting creative voices in his community.
Arts, he said, need to be better supported among Dominicans, particularly in Washington Heights, known as New York City’s center of Dominican American culture and a place that looms large in the cultural landscape of the Dominican diaspora.
Diaz's concerns about gentrification in the Heights, and the declining population of Dominicans, are backed by statistics. According to the American Community Survey, the 15th congressional district, which includes all of Upper Manhattan and Upper West Sides, the Dominican population fell by 30,000 from 174,241 in 2003 to 143,480 in 2009.
Diaz’s community partner, Rainey Cruz, 27, agrees. He said the real goal is to connect the Dominican American community in an effort to open more doors for young artists looking to become successful in fields such as film, poetry, spoken word, photography, graphic design, music, and more.
“You don’t have too many diversified examples of young professionals amongst Dominicans,” Cruz said. “We are allowing people to see one another in the community as good examples and that is at the core of these mixers and events.”
Rainey believes "Pan Con Queso" has brought these ideals of culture, art, and Dominican pride to the mainstream.
“I think what the song represents for Dominican heritage and independence is the new age Dominican, a bilingual Dominican that is enlightened about his or her opportunities here and also reaching back and looking at the roots of the island,” he said.
To solidify their push for "renaissance" in Washington Heights, Diaz and his business partners, including Cruz, will begin to work hand in hand with the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance, or NOMAA, a non-profit art service that has given out over 283,000 art grants in its three and a half years upholding their mission to cultivate the works of artists in Washington Heights and Inwood.
“I think the Dominican Republic has a lot to be proud of with these kids,” said Sandra Garcia Betancourt, executive director of NOMAA. “This community has influenced the changes in the Dominican Republic and they are opening doors for other Dominicans yet to come.”
Highlighting the group's emergence as a symbol of today's Dominican American culture, "Pan Con Queso" will open for Dominican artist Maluca at the Dominican Independence Day concert in Soho sponsored by SOBS this Sunday.
““We were really interested in the fact that their song is really resonating around the Latino community” Kozza Babumba, Director of marketing and publicity at SOBS, said. “This group is kind of saying we are going to take a Spanish speaking legacy and give it a new twist.”
“It makes me very happy that we are using the media and different outlets to show what kind of people we are,” said Dominican Manny Pimentel founder and webmaster of the blog ThatsDominican.com. “We are known for trying to make people laugh and having a good time. Everyone seems to be enjoying the video.”
This latest viral phenomenon represents the importance of the influence that bicultural Dominicans -- who have grown up outside the Dominican Republic -- are having on overall Dominican identity. In a prime example of the strong connection between the Dominican Republic and its immigrants in the U.S., Washington Heights native Leonel Fernandez returned to the Dominican Republic and became president.
“What we are seeing is an evolution to a very much distinguished Dominican American culture and with nearly 2 million Dominicans in the United States it is very common to have a divergence from the traditional,” said Cid Wilson, vice chairman of the National American Latino Museum commission and prominent leader in the U.S. Dominican community.
“This younger generation is looking for ways to show their ‘Dominicanness’ and are doing it in a very youthful and Americanized way,” Wilson said. “That’s what we are going to be seeing, people who are very proud of their culture, even if they’ve lost their language, understanding the importance of passing down those roots.”
As for Diaz, and Heights Entertainment, the song is now available on iTunes and said it is their responsibility to continue to come out with great work.
"Look out for a new parody coming in March," he said. Asked for any hints, he said: "It'll be about Latinas."