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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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My mother always talks about her life as a Mexican immigrant in the United States. Since, my father worked all day, my mother would often times be alone in their apartment. She clearly remembers that around twelve in the afternoon, Univision, an American Spanish-language television network aimed at Hispanic Americans, would start broadcasting. This network has made my mother, along with millions of Latina/os in the United States, feel they were not alone in this country. According to the United States Census of 2000, Latinos made up more than twelve percent of the total U.S. population . In California (the most populated state in the U.S), “non- Hispanic Whites” were no longer the majority racial group, and Latinas/os surpassed African Americans as the second largest ethnic-racial group in the United States. From politicians to media marketing specialists, mainstream U.S. institutions are slowly recognizing the social, economic and political presence and power of one of the fastest growing ethnic groups. Although many believed that the main contributors to this skyrocketing Latino ethnic group were men, I argue that women also played critical roles in expanding Chicano identity. I will be elaborating my argument focusing on Jennifer Lopez.  

The contemporary demographic shift in the United States, popularly nicknamed the “browning of America,” has caused the U.S government and corporations to rethink dominion constructs of U.S. citizenship, marketing, and consumption . For many years before, Latina/o marketing and advertising agencies worked diligently to reframe discourses about the U.S. Latino audience as ethnically homogenous, radically non-White, Spanish-dominant, socioeconomically poor and most often of Mexican origin. With the growth of the Latino population, Latina/o marketing professionals slowly tried to redefine mainstream industry perceptions about the U.S. Latina/o audience by highlighting the commercial profits from dual language marketing and the existence of more than one million Latino/a households with incomes of more than $50,000 living in the United States. In the overall climate of “shopping for ethnicities” corporations have moderately increased spending levels on “Hispanic” marketing. With that came a strong demand from Latin American audiences for U.S. programing and from U.S. Latino/a audiences for more inclusive programing that increased the production of film and television shows that appeal to audiences across a matrix of race, ethnicity, gender, and class. With Warner Brother's 1997 release of Selena, starring Jennifer Lopez (actress), Hollywood had then realized the potential of movies that target Latin American and U.S. Latino/a audiences, as well as a spectrum of ethnic and racial categories. Selena was a moneymaker that would finally prove that the soon-to-be largest minority in “America” will pay to see “themselves" on the big screen.

Jennifer Lynn Lopez was born in The Bronx on July 24, 1969 . She is the second born of three children. Jennifer's parents, Guadalupe Rodriquez and David Lopez, were both born in Ponce, Puerto Rico. The two emigrated to the continental United States during their childhood and, eventually, met while living in New York City. As a child living in the South Bronx, Jennifer was exposed to and fell in love with a variety of musical genres. Although she loved music, the film industry also intrigued her. She cites Rita Moreno and her performance in West Side Story as one of her earliest influences. She began formal lessons in both singing and dancing at the age of five. López continued her lessons after graduation while working at a law firm during the day. In 1990, she won a spot among the sexy, talented Fly Girls on the newly released TV comedy In Living Color. She went on to dance with Janet Jackson and New Kids on the Block, among others. Lopez's first big break came when she was chosen to play the title role in Selena, a biopic of the Tejano pop singer Selena Quintillana-Perez, who was killed by a fan in 1995. She earned widespread praise for her performance, but also a lot of criticism.

Jennifer embodied the ideal “Latin” beauty -that is, neither too dark nor too light- but the Puerto Rican label wasn't mentioned in White media. She was simply referred as a New York native of “Puerto Rican descent,” born and raised in the Bronx. Only until the pre-release hype of Selena was when Lopez explicitly became Puerto Rican in response to some Mexican American activists who highly criticized her for being cast as a Chicana and wanted a Mexican American actress. “While many of her fans of Mexican descent anxiously awaited the opening of the movie, some are angry that a Puerto Rican was cast as Selena.”   Although Lopez was born in the United States, her parents are of Puerto Rican origin. By alternating between identifying herself as Puerto Rican, Nuyorican (culture of the Puerto Rican diaspora located in or around New York City), and “American,” Lopez exemplifies the trans-national identity of most U.S. Latina/os. Both women, one Nuyorican and the other Tejana, embody the emerging politics of Latina/o identity .

For the longest time, Lopez refused to engage in the public discussion over Latina and Mexican authenticity by privileging her identity as a Latina and the shared experiences of Latinas. On the other hand, Mexican actress Salma Hayek for the film Frida (2002), waged a publicity campaign explicitly arguing that she as the “true” Mexican should be the one to portray Kahlo's life. In an interview debating over authenticity, Hayek stated:

“I don't believe in the so-called Latino explosion when it comes to movies. Jennifer Lopez doesn't have an accent. She grew up in New York speaking English and not Spanish. Her success is very important because she represents a different culture, but it doesn't help me. I grew up in Mexico, not the U.S., and the fact is that there just aren't any parts for Latin actresses. I have to persuade people that my accent won't be a problem.”

Salma didn't make such arguments when it came to auditions for the role of Selena, a Tejana who did not speak Spanish. Constantly doubted by the media on the disapproval that met her being cast for the part, Lopez argued that she was well-suited to play Selena because they shared an ethnic identity as Latinas beyond their national identities . “I don't think the actress who played her had to be Mexican-American because Selena was,“ Lopez said, “Selena and I are both Latinas and both had the common experience of growing up Latina in this country. This was good enough.” Many contemporary Latina/o studies examine this notion of authenticity. The fact is not all nor most U.S. Latinas/os necessarily speak Spanish. Latin American women historically have been forced or have chosen to engage in mixed racial and ethnic relationships. The growing literature on La Malinche, especially Chicana and Latina feminist scholarship, attests to this history of hybridity by abstaining the masculinist framework of sexual and cultural prostitution, of selling out one's body and culture in favor of the progressive and redeeming feminine narrative of inter- cultural translator and creator of a new hybrid, cosmic race .

Jennifer Lopez is constantly being asked to speak about her own butt in interviews before and after the movie's release. In talk shows during the promotion of Selena, there came a moment during the interview when the question had to be posed on Jennifer Lopez: ¿Todo eso es tuyo? (Is that body for real?). In other words, is that big butt yours or is it prosthetic? Although a fair question for many Hollywood actresses' faces and breast, Jennifer stood up gave a 360-degree turn, patted her butt, and triumphantly sat down: “Todo es mio.” (It's all mine). The Latina bodies of Jennifer Lopez and Selena, similarly marked by curvy bottoms, full lips, and dark hair, have become symbols of ethnic pride.  But these features have also become a high demand commodities and used for advertising campaigns. Daily Mail, a British paper, credited Jennifer Lopez's rounded posterior “marking curvy bottoms trendy again and is said by American plastic surgeons to have created a demand for silicone buttock implants”. Popularized versions of “Latin beauty” have caught on with North Americans to such an extent than an article in the National Post, a Canadian paper, posed the question, “Are Latinas the new blond bombshell?”

Lopez's body is not only the structure through which her claim to ethnicity is staked, but also the means through which her public persona has been commodified, commercialized, and marketed extensively . In addition to using her body to claim Puerto Ricaness, she seems to be using her body to claim other positionalities and to sell a specific product, ethic taps into issues of legitimacy, not only for Lopez herself, but for anyone buying the product. Myra Mendible notes that Hispanic-themed marketing campaigns shape images of and for Latino/as; they sell products lifestyles identified with U.S. consumer society and convey normative ideals of cultural citizenship and belonging. As Halter tells us, “When individuals purchase something considered representative of a culture, whether buying a piece of their own heritage or branching out to expose themselves to another's, they expect a certain level of legitimacy.”  Jennifer Lopez is the icon for Latinos in that her parents are Puerto Rican, but also for Anglo American based on that she is was born and raised in the Bronx.

With the growing number of Latinas being involved in film, why did I choose Jennifer Lopez? While many questioning her authenticity (in films and real life), Lopez had an agenda of her own making sure she left her mark in history and in the lives of thousands of women. Jennifer's film “Bordertown,” was produced to expose the multitude of women being murdered in Ciudad Juarez. Since 1993, the bodies of more than 400 female victims, many raped and mutilated, have been found in the areas around Ciudad Juarez, a sprawling metropolis where many poor women work for maquiladoras (factories). Women have also been reported missing throughout the region across Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. Director Gregory Nava and executive producer Barbara Martinez Jitner expected their movie to stir up strong reactions. Not only did Nava expect the Mexico government to be upset for the blame on the women being murdered but also the United States for their participation in the multinational assembly plants spawned by the North American Free Trade Agreement. Of course, while shooting the film in Mexico, reactions included death threats against Nava and the cast and stolen equipment and intimidation of film crew members, but this didn't stop the team in being the voice for these women.  As Reed Johnson noted in a Los Angeles Times article on February 14, 2007 , Nava and Lopez previously worked together on "My Family" (1995) and on the biopic "Selena" (1997) and so he approached Lopez in 1998 about joining on with "Bordertown" and she agreed. "I felt it was really something that was screaming to be talked about and brought to the surface," said Lopez, "What we hope to do with the movie is just getting people aware of what's going on down there." López received the Artists for Amnesty International Award "in recognition of her work as producer and star of “Bordertown.” She has also been recognized for her efforts by Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa A.C., an organization consisting of the parents of murdered and missing women of Juárez.

At $13 million dollars per movie, Forbes magazine declares Lopez the highest paid Latina identified actress in Hollywood history and richest person of Latin American descent.

It was during my fifth period careers course in ninth grade when my professor was passing back our research papers. He called out my name to pick up my paper in front of the class.  It's been over 8 years since that day and I clearly remember his voice saying “hurry up, J. Lo,” as I walked towards him. I've always wondered what made it so easy for him to make that comment. Should I have been flattered? Should I have been offended? Was it because I was a Latina who at such a young age had defined curves? Or was it because of my skin color calling out my otherness? Or was it my long, dark hair and the way it swayed as I walked across the room?

My mother always talks about her life as a Mexican immigrant in the United States. Since, my father worked all day, my mother would often times be alone in their apartment. She clearly remembers that around twelve in the afternoon, Univision, an American Spanish-language television network aimed at Hispanic Americans, would start broadcasting. This network has made my mother, along with millions of Latina/os in the United States, feel they were not alone in this country. According to the United States Census of 2000, Latinos made up more than twelve percent of the total U.S. population . In California (the most populated state in the U.S), “non- Hispanic Whites” were no longer the majority racial group, and Latinas/os surpassed African Americans as the second largest ethnic-racial group in the United States. From politicians to media marketing specialists, mainstream U.S. institutions are slowly recognizing the social, economic and political presence and power of one of the fastest growing ethnic groups. Although many believed that the main contributors to this skyrocketing Latino ethnic group were men, I argue that women also played critical roles in expanding Chicano identity. I will be elaborating my argument focusing on Jennifer Lopez.  

The contemporary demographic shift in the United States, popularly nicknamed the “browning of America,” has caused the U.S government and corporations to rethink dominion constructs of U.S. citizenship, marketing, and consumption . For many years before, Latina/o marketing and advertising agencies worked diligently to reframe discourses about the U.S. Latino audience as ethnically homogenous, radically non-White, Spanish-dominant, socioeconomically poor and most often of Mexican origin. With the growth of the Latino population, Latina/o marketing professionals slowly tried to redefine mainstream industry perceptions about the U.S. Latina/o audience by highlighting the commercial profits from dual language marketing and the existence of more than one million Latino/a households with incomes of more than $50,000 living in the United States. In the overall climate of “shopping for ethnicities” corporations have moderately increased spending levels on “Hispanic” marketing. With that came a strong demand from Latin American audiences for U.S. programing and from U.S. Latino/a audiences for more inclusive programing that increased the production of film and television shows that appeal to audiences across a matrix of race, ethnicity, gender, and class. With Warner Brother's 1997 release of Selena, starring Jennifer Lopez (actress), Hollywood had then realized the potential of movies that target Latin American and U.S. Latino/a audiences, as well as a spectrum of ethnic and racial categories. Selena was a moneymaker that would finally prove that the soon-to-be largest minority in “America” will pay to see “themselves" on the big screen.

Jennifer Lynn Lopez was born in The Bronx on July 24, 1969 . She is the second born of three children. Jennifer's parents, Guadalupe Rodriquez and David Lopez, were both born in Ponce, Puerto Rico. The two emigrated to the continental United States during their childhood and, eventually, met while living in New York City. As a child living in the South Bronx, Jennifer was exposed to and fell in love with a variety of musical genres. Although she loved music, the film industry also intrigued her. She cites Rita Moreno and her performance in West Side Story as one of her earliest influences. She began formal lessons in both singing and dancing at the age of five. López continued her lessons after graduation while working at a law firm during the day. In 1990, she won a spot among the sexy, talented Fly Girls on the newly released TV comedy In Living Color. She went on to dance with Janet Jackson and New Kids on the Block, among others. Lopez's first big break came when she was chosen to play the title role in Selena, a biopic of the Tejano pop singer Selena Quintillana-Perez, who was killed by a fan in 1995. She earned widespread praise for her performance, but also a lot of criticism.

Jennifer embodied the ideal “Latin” beauty -that is, neither too dark nor too light- but the Puerto Rican label wasn't mentioned in White media. She was simply referred as a New York native of “Puerto Rican descent,” born and raised in the Bronx. Only until the pre-release hype of Selena was when Lopez explicitly became Puerto Rican in response to some Mexican American activists who highly criticized her for being cast as a Chicana and wanted a Mexican American actress. “While many of her fans of Mexican descent anxiously awaited the opening of the movie, some are angry that a Puerto Rican was cast as Selena.”   Although Lopez was born in the United States, her parents are of Puerto Rican origin. By alternating between identifying herself as Puerto Rican, Nuyorican (culture of the Puerto Rican diaspora located in or around New York City), and “American,” Lopez exemplifies the trans-national identity of most U.S. Latina/os. Both women, one Nuyorican and the other Tejana, embody the emerging politics of Latina/o identity .

For the longest time, Lopez refused to engage in the public discussion over Latina and Mexican authenticity by privileging her identity as a Latina and the shared experiences of Latinas. On the other hand, Mexican actress Salma Hayek for the film Frida (2002), waged a publicity campaign explicitly arguing that she as the “true” Mexican should be the one to portray Kahlo's life. In an interview debating over authenticity, Hayek stated:

“I don't believe in the so-called Latino explosion when it comes to movies. Jennifer Lopez doesn't have an accent. She grew up in New York speaking English and not Spanish. Her success is very important because she represents a different culture, but it doesn't help me. I grew up in Mexico, not the U.S., and the fact is that there just aren't any parts for Latin actresses. I have to persuade people that my accent won't be a problem.”

Salma didn't make such arguments when it came to auditions for the role of Selena, a Tejana who did not speak Spanish. Constantly doubted by the media on the disapproval that met her being cast for the part, Lopez argued that she was well-suited to play Selena because they shared an ethnic identity as Latinas beyond their national identities . “I don't think the actress who played her had to be Mexican-American because Selena was,“ Lopez said, “Selena and I are both Latinas and both had the common experience of growing up Latina in this country. This was good enough.” Many contemporary Latina/o studies examine this notion of authenticity. The fact is not all nor most U.S. Latinas/os necessarily speak Spanish. Latin American women historically have been forced or have chosen to engage in mixed racial and ethnic relationships. The growing literature on La Malinche, especially Chicana and Latina feminist scholarship, attests to this history of hybridity by abstaining the masculinist framework of sexual and cultural prostitution, of selling out one's body and culture in favor of the progressive and redeeming feminine narrative of inter- cultural translator and creator of a new hybrid, cosmic race .

Jennifer Lopez is constantly being asked to speak about her own butt in interviews before and after the movie's release. In talk shows during the promotion of Selena, there came a moment during the interview when the question had to be posed on Jennifer Lopez: ¿Todo eso es tuyo? (Is that body for real?). In other words, is that big butt yours or is it prosthetic? Although a fair question for many Hollywood actresses' faces and breast, Jennifer stood up gave a 360-degree turn, patted her butt, and triumphantly sat down: “Todo es mio.” (It's all mine). The Latina bodies of Jennifer Lopez and Selena, similarly marked by curvy bottoms, full lips, and dark hair, have become symbols of ethnic pride.  But these features have also become a high demand commodities and used for advertising campaigns. Daily Mail, a British paper, credited Jennifer Lopez's rounded posterior “marking curvy bottoms trendy again and is said by American plastic surgeons to have created a demand for silicone buttock implants”. Popularized versions of “Latin beauty” have caught on with North Americans to such an extent than an article in the National Post, a Canadian paper, posed the question, “Are Latinas the new blond bombshell?”

Lopez's body is not only the structure through which her claim to ethnicity is staked, but also the means through which her public persona has been commodified, commercialized, and marketed extensively . In addition to using her body to claim Puerto Ricaness, she seems to be using her body to claim other positionalities and to sell a specific product, ethic taps into issues of legitimacy, not only for Lopez herself, but for anyone buying the product. Myra Mendible notes that Hispanic-themed marketing campaigns shape images of and for Latino/as; they sell products lifestyles identified with U.S. consumer society and convey normative ideals of cultural citizenship and belonging. As Halter tells us, “When individuals purchase something considered representative of a culture, whether buying a piece of their own heritage or branching out to expose themselves to another's, they expect a certain level of legitimacy.”  Jennifer Lopez is the icon for Latinos in that her parents are Puerto Rican, but also for Anglo American based on that she is was born and raised in the Bronx.

With the growing number of Latinas being involved in film, why did I choose Jennifer Lopez? While many questioning her authenticity (in films and real life), Lopez had an agenda of her own making sure she left her mark in history and in the lives of thousands of women. Jennifer's film “Bordertown,” was produced to expose the multitude of women being murdered in Ciudad Juarez. Since 1993, the bodies of more than 400 female victims, many raped and mutilated, have been found in the areas around Ciudad Juarez, a sprawling metropolis where many poor women work for maquiladoras (factories). Women have also been reported missing throughout the region across Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. Director Gregory Nava and executive producer Barbara Martinez Jitner expected their movie to stir up strong reactions. Not only did Nava expect the Mexico government to be upset for the blame on the women being murdered but also the United States for their participation in the multinational assembly plants spawned by the North American Free Trade Agreement. Of course, while shooting the film in Mexico, reactions included death threats against Nava and the cast and stolen equipment and intimidation of film crew members, but this didn't stop the team in being the voice for these women.  As Reed Johnson noted in a Los Angeles Times article on February 14, 2007 , Nava and Lopez previously worked together on "My Family" (1995) and on the biopic "Selena" (1997) and so he approached Lopez in 1998 about joining on with "Bordertown" and she agreed. "I felt it was really something that was screaming to be talked about and brought to the surface," said Lopez, "What we hope to do with the movie is just getting people aware of what's going on down there." López received the Artists for Amnesty International Award "in recognition of her work as producer and star of “Bordertown.” She has also been recognized for her efforts by Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa A.C., an organization consisting of the parents of murdered and missing women of Juárez.

At $13 million dollars per movie, Forbes magazine declares Lopez the highest paid Latina identified actress in Hollywood history and richest person of Latin American descent.

It was during my fifth period careers course in ninth grade when my professor was passing back our research papers. He called out my name to pick up my paper in front of the class.  It's been over 8 years since that day and I clearly remember his voice saying “hurry up, J. Lo,” as I walked towards him. I've always wondered what made it so easy for him to make that comment. Should I have been flattered? Should I have been offended? Was it because I was a Latina who at such a young age had defined curves? Or was it because of my skin color calling out my otherness? Or was it my long, dark hair and the way it swayed as I walked across the room?

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