Imagínate 1: Ana Castillo

August 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

Welcome to Imagínate.
Here we will encourage the re-imagining of the Latina in American popular culture. 

Sparked by a highlighting in Latina Magazine of the many, many times Latinas have played maids and housekeepers in Hollywood, I started this section to raise the profile of women who are doing things that current popular culture rarely imagines they are doing.

We as Latinas are so incredibly diverse, we have so many faces and origins, so many stories to tell. I think it is time that mass culture reflects this.

To help fuel a new image, I will post short bios–with lots of links–about prominent (or emerging) writers and artists who are currently breaking the mold. Let us imagine a world where, when someone says “Latina” people think Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Ana Castillo, not just Jennifer Lopez, with or without her maid’s uniform. I’d love your help in spreading the word– share this post- tweet it, Facebook it, all of the above.

Today, in Imagínate 1, we highlight American Book award-winning writer Ana Castillo.

Ana Castillo is by no means an unknown name to those the literary world. She has managed to cross into the “mainstream” publishing novels, poetry and nonfiction works that seek to challenge our notions of not just Latinos and Latin culture, but our ideas about gender roles, sexuality, spirituality, family and culture.

Castillo began as a young activist in the 1970s, using poetry as a form of social protest. She says of that time: “Being of Mexican background, being Indian-looking, being a female, coming from a working-class background, and then becoming politicized in high school, that was my direction . . . I was a Chicana protest poet, a complete renegade–and I continue to write that way”

How then, did Castillo cross into the mainstream, becoming a widely-read author glowingly reviewed by media like the Los Angeles Times and acclaimed writers such as Barbara Kingsolver, Oscar Hijuelos and Luis Alberto Urrea? She is simply a beautifully moving writer, and the world noticed. She began winning such prestigious awards as National Endowment for the Arts fellowships (1990 and 1995), and the Carl Sandburg Literary Award in 1993 for her novel So Far from God (1993).

Castillo’s most recent novel is The Guardians. Says Booklist: “Castillo writes fiction and poetry of earthy sensuality, wry social commentary, and lyrical spiritualism that confront the cruel injustices accorded women and Mexicans in America, legal and otherwise….In this tightly coiled and powerful tale….At once shatteringly realistic and dramatically mystical, Castillo’s incandescent novel of suffering and love traces life’s movement toward the light even in the bleakest of places.”

Ana Castillo is one to watch, and one the Latina community can proudly hold out as a woman breaking boundaries, bringing important issues to the attention of many in an unforgettable, un-ignorable way.

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.

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