Thinking about Latinas in Popular Culture

August 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

The fearless progressive crusaders at Latina Fatale, have had their hands full.

Their post, “Shame on Latina Magazine” struck a cord with people in cyberspace, and Latina Fatale is now dealing with a firestorm of site traffic in solidarity with the sentiments in the post, which called for protest against Latina Magazine‘s trumpeting of all the memorable times Latinas have played maids in Hollywood (in honor of the movie, The Help). 

Latina Fatale wrote:

It’s already bad enough that women of color, Latinas included, are relegated to stereotypical roles such as a maid. Now we have a magazine that is supposed to be targeting the Latina population acting like it’s a great thing that one actress played a maid role over 300 times?

How many lead roles have Latinas played? How often do hit movies feature Latinas in strong roles, as opposed to roles such as maids, gangsters, and other stereotypical roles? I can bet that Latinas play maid roles more often than not, because other roles are not offered to them.

I do believe it is problematic that Latinas are overwhelmingly shown in such stereotypical roles as maids and housekeepers in Hollywood and other media. What is problematic is that by and large, Hollywood and other outlets of popular culture simply cannot imagine Latinas in any other roles.

If it is not the maid or housekeeper role that we so often see in mass media, it is the sexy Latina– She is all breasts and hips, long dark hair and boy does she get fired up. Muy caliente. One of my favorite actresses, Salma Hayek, recently spoke about this image in her September Allure magazine interview. She said, “When I first started, I found that I had to play the part of something they could swallow in Hollywood, which was the sexy Latin girl, I was not dressing like that in Mexico.”

But can we re-imagine the Latina in popular culture? Can she be something more diverse, less stereotypical? More empowered?

In response to this clear problem in mainstream popular culture, I am beginning a new series on my blog called Imagínate, where we will do just this– encourage the re-imagining of the Latina image in American culture and media. We will begin by highlighting the work of female writers and artists who are breaking the mold. I want to raise the profile of women who are doing things that current popular culture rarely imagines they are doing.

We already have enough depictions of hard-working Latinas and women of color as domestic workers (could this be because there are so few women directors/writers in Hollywood?) So let’s turn the spotlight on other women working hard in other kinds careers. I welcome your suggestions as to who to profile, and encourage you to spread the word.

Mexico Lindo

August 20, 2011 § 1 Comment

So often, my heart breaks for Mexico. I keep a keen eye out for news from there… one of my homes, a home of my heart, if not my physical home at the moment.

Today I read three stories concerning Mexico. One, from the New York Times, detailing a soccer game that was suspended due to gunfire. My heart sank as I read this. I thought of the final scene in the film, Traffic, where kids are playing baseball at night with lights. The message from that very well done Soderberg scene was that investing in infrastructure and in communities will help to stem the flow of drug violence and the power and lure of drug cartels.

The drug cartels are killing with impunity, more so than any time in history. That we know. But now, it seems that nothing is sacred. Not parks, not soccer games, not journalists, not foreigners, not children.

It is a dream, especially with the faltering economy here in the U.S., to think that this country could place a greater interest in Mexico at this time. Still, the second news story I read seemed to lend a bit more hope for a better relationship. Today, here in San Diego, people on both sides of the border are celebrating the 40th anniversary of Friendship Park on the U.S.-Mexico border, where then First Lady Pat Nixon reached her hand through the fence to greet residents of the other side.

Today there was “a cross-border salsa lesson, a bi-national music jam session, and testimonies from families who have used the park as a meeting place.” After 9/11 a triple layer border fence destroyed Friendship Park, but there are plans in the works to bring back this cross-border meeting space, without compromising security.

Serendipitously, I was researching writers to feature in Writing from the Margins for Her Circle Ezine, and I came across this speech by Meredith Tax about Mexican writer and feminist activist Lydia Cacho. Ms. Cacho was awarded the Ginetta Sagan prize by Amnesty International USA. Her struggle against censorship led to a change in Mexico’s federal law, decriminalizing defamation. Ms. Tax paints a very vivid picture of the ways the U.S. and Mexico are economically and politically entwined. Then, she closes her speech with a quote from Ms. Cacho, which captures my thoughts about Mexico today perfectly:

“It is impossible not to ask why, with these assembly plants that produce millions of dollars for owners of companies with foreign names, there is no investment in public works, there are no parks or gardens, or schools, only barren places, ready for sowing of garbage and death, surrounding the transnational buildings. Who cares about Juárez City? The abandonment of the streets reflects the abandonment of its people, the myopia of its governments, the death of its women and children, the solitude of the forgotten border.”

The solitude of the forgotten border. Her quote is found poetry. As much as I am passionate about free speech, removing barriers to the world’s receiving of the written voices of women and girls, I am also passionate that the U.S.-Mexico border and its pressing issues not be forgotten. All of these issues come together in Ms. Cacho’s story, and I am inspired. I want to know more, I want to do more.

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