Last week, I went to watch Puss in Boots with my mother. I take every opportunity I can to support the Latino community, and this movie was no exception. It featured the voices of Salma Hayek and Antonio Banderas, who in my opinion have been truly instrumental in making Latinos more prominent in Hollywood.
In addition, the movie centered around a cat, and as a future crazy cat lady, I had to endorse it. I only expected something light and fun, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was very funny, but it didn’t fall back on stereotypes about Latinos in order to make it humorous. Many films fall back on outdated tropes, but this one did not.
In my opinion, it is this that has made the movie so successful. It features Latino characters, but it does not stereotype them. Hollywood should take notice, and create true Latino characters without relying on the “hot Latina” or the “cholo Latino”. In order to make a film about true Latinos, Hollywood needs to learn to create intricate, many-layered characters.
When I first heard of Shakira, she was a wild-haired singer with unique music. Years later, she is more commercialized. She has significantly conformed to mainstream society by dyeing her hair blonde, dressing more provocatively, and performing music that is accepted by more people. Additionally, she has made the crossover from singing Spanish songs to performing in English.
It would be easy to dismiss her as just another good musician turned pop. It would also be easy to say that in order to gain sales, she let herself become objectified as just another sexy Latina.
However, Shakira is much more than that. Through her popularity and her album sales, she has brought to the forefront the plight of the poor. She created the Pies Descalzos Foundation, and has raised millions to aid those in poverty and help educate them.
Shakira has gone mainstream, yes, but in my opinion, doing so has let her help more people in need. If she wasn’t as popular, she would not have the resources to do all the amazing humanitarian work she does.
This week, she was recognized as the Latin Grammy Person of the Year. Indeed, with her significant album sales and her humanitarian work, she is an example for all Latinas to follow.
It has been the case lately that whenever I watch a movie with a Latina character in it
I try very hard to not roll my eyes. It is simply difficult to understand why film directors cannot develop a Latina character as anything but a skimpily dressed woman. There are some Latina actresses that I love, but cannot truly look up to because the characters they play on film are often not that of a powerful Latina. One example is Eva Mendes. I love the Fast and the Furious franchise. I really do. They are fun action movies that feature beautiful cars. Additionally, the movies are full of Latin characters. However, when it comes to portraying women, even Eva Mendes plays the stereotypical hot Latina.
I understand that the target audience for this type of movie is men. However, don’t men want women to be more than just sexy? Stereotyping Latinas as just a sex object is damaging for men and women. It reduces men to people not interested in what a person can do, and it reduces women to something less than a person, valued only by her appearance. Not only does this diminish the Latina character in film, it also ends up diminishing the whole group of people that I belong in, because if people of other races only see Latinas as sex objects in film, then we will also be only seen as this. I might work hard to get good grades and become a contributing member of society, but if directors keep portraying someone like me as only a sex object in film, then I will only be seen as such by others. There are some directors, such as Quentin Tarantino, who portray women as yes, attractive. However, he still gives his women agency. In his film Death Proof for example, he gives the story of a group of women who are pursued my a man who wants to kill them, but ultimately fight back.
We need more empowered Latinas, and not just someone written in to look sexy for the male benefit.
Being Latina is something that I have always been proud of. Knowing that all my achievements are made even greater by the fact that I’m Latina is a plus. Even now, I see celebrities such as Eva Longoria that have done so much not only in their careers but also for causes they believe in and I feel so proud of my ethnicity. However, showing that Latinos are capable of greatness would not be possible if Eva Longoria totally denied that she is Latina.
This brings me to Jessica Alba.
Although Jessica is most certainly Latina, she refuses to be seen as such. In the past she has said, “My grandfather was the only Mexican at his college, the only Hispanic person at work and the only one at the all-white country club. He tried to forget his Mexican roots, because he never wanted his kids to be made to feel different in America. He and my grandmother didn’t speak Spanish to their children. Now, as a third-generation American, I feel as if I have finally cut loose.”
I can understand why Alba’s grandfather wanted to forget his Mexican roots. United States wasn’t the place it is now, and Latinos were much more oppressed than they are now. However, I do not see this same logic for Jessica Alba. She is a successful woman, and the audience would pretty much accept anything about her. Additionally, speaking of her having “cut loose” of her roots just makes me sad. Here is a woman who has achieved so much, and yet Latinas cannot look up to her because she does not identify with us.
It is a shame that young Latinas cannot see Jessica Alba as an example of how great it is to be Latina, because Alba just will not recognize her roots. I’m just glad that not every famous Latina feels this way, and to end in a more positive note, here is a video of Selena, who is without a doubt a great example to lead a life by, even if her life was cut short.
All through my childhood and teenage years, my mother and I had a daily ritual. At around 7:00 P.M., we would gather in the living room to watch the latest novela, a Mexican soap opera. Some of them made us angry, others made us laugh, others cry, and yet others were just plain ridiculous. The telenovela itself wasn’t important. It was the time we had to enjoy something together. Now that I am four hours away from her and can’t visit her all the time, I still watch telenovelas, so that every day we have something to bond over. Currently, we are in the process of watching Teresa, a telenovela about a beautiful young woman who is intelligent enough to succeed by herself, but has chosen a husband who will give her a prominent social position over true love.
The idea itself isn’t very original. My mother and I watched a story very similar to this one a few years ago. However, watching a telenovela isn’t about the story itself. If it was so, the often ridiculous storylines would not have an audience. It is always fun to hear my mother say something like, “That Teresa! She’s never going to learn!” We don’t take the “novela” seriously, but use it as something to laugh together about. And that is exactly what telenovelas are about: Togetherness. Telenovelas have become a part of Mexican families, and in turn, a part of Mexican culture. They are something that anchors someone like me to my roots.
With classes, an internship, and a part-time job on my plate, I really do not have the time to watch shows. However, I make time to watch Teresa on my TV or to search for the latest episode online. It is something that makes me feel closer to my mother, and in turn closer to my Mexican heritage. Unlike American soap operas, telenovelas have the ability to mean much more than a “cheesy” story. Rather, telenovelas can become part of a way of life.
Growing up with immigrant parents unfamiliar with the U.S. education system was a challenge. I’m lucky to have always been a straight-A student, because though my mother always offered encouragement, she couldn’t be of much help when it came to homework, study habits, and later on selecting a University and processing financial aid. Latinos are intelligent, but without active guidance opportunities are often overlooked. This is why La Feria Para Aprender (The Learning Fair) can have a positive impact for Latinos.
The Feria Para Aprender is an event that occurs in Dallas, Austin, and Los Angeles. It is focused on educating parents about the U.S. school system. The Feria features a pathway that is segmented into elementary, high school, university, and career/workforce sections to inform parents of what programs are available for each section. Rather than just place tables together and have parents come to them, each booth includes Spanish speakers that are trained to go up to parents and actively interact with them. Additionally, children take pictures wearing a doctor’s smock, a spacesuit and a police uniform, among others. This is done so that even at an early age children can begin to see the possibility of becoming a professional. The event includes science, technology, engineering, and math demonstrations as well as speakers respected in different fields. The Feria Para Aprender focuses on the future and on empowering parents so that they can in turn guide their children to success.
The next Feria will be held October 8 in Miami, Florida for the first time at the Miami-Dade College.