The first extensive study of the representation of the Latina body in U.S. popular culture, from “Latin bombshell” Carmen Miranda in the 1940s to Jennifer Lopez and Salma Hayek today.
From the exuberant excesses of Carmen Miranda in the "tutti frutti hat" to the curvaceous posterior of Jennifer Lopez, the Latina body has long been a signifier of Latina/o identity in U.S. popular culture. But how does this stereotype of the exotic, erotic Latina "bombshell" relate, if at all, to real Latina women who represent a wide spectrum of ethnicities, national origins, cultures, and physical appearances? How are ideas about "Latinidad" imagined, challenged, and inscribed on Latina bodies? What racial, class, and other markers of identity do representations of the Latina body signal or reject?
In this broadly interdisciplinary book, experts from the fields of Latina/o studies, media studies, communication, comparative literature, women's studies, and sociology come together to offer the first wide-ranging look at the construction and representation of Latina identity in U.S. popular culture. The authors consider such popular figures as actresses Lupe Vélez, Salma Hayek, and Jennifer Lopez; singers Shakira and Celia Cruz; and even the Hispanic Barbie doll in her many guises. They investigate the media discourses surrounding controversial Latinas such as Lorena Bobbitt and Marisleysis González. And they discuss Latina representations in Lupe Solano's series of mystery books and in the popular TV shows El Show de Cristina and Laura en América. This extensive treatment of Latina representation in popular culture not only sheds new light on how meaning is produced through images of the Latina body, but also on how these representations of Latinas are received, revised, and challenged.
- Introduction: Embodying "Latinidad": An Overview (Myra Mendible)
- Section One. Case Studies: Silent and Classic Film Era
- 1. Film Viewing in Latino Communities, 1896-1934: Puerto Rico as Microcosm (Clara E. Rodríguez)
- 2. Lupe Vélez: Queen of the B's (Rosa Linda Fregoso)
- 3. Lupe Vélez Regurgitated: Cautionary, Indigestion-Causing Ruminations on "Mexicans" in "American" Toilets Perpetrated While Covetously Screening "Veronica" (William A. Nericcio)
- Section Two. Performing Bodies: Contemporary Film and Music Media
- 4. Celia's Shoes (Frances Negrón-Muntaner)
- 5. Salma Hayek's Frida: Transnational Latina Bodies in Popular Culture (Isabel Molina Guzmán)
- 6. Is Penelope to J.Lo as Culture Is to Nature? Eurocentric Approaches to "Latin" Beauties (Angharad Valdivia)
- 7. Jennifer Lopez: The New Wave of Border Crossing (Tara Lockhart)
- 8. "There's My Territory": Shakira Crossing Over (Cynthia Fuchs)
- 9. "Hey, Killer": The Construction of a Macho Latina, or the Perils and Enticements of Girlfight (Karen R. Tolchin)
- Section Three. Sensational Bodies: Discourses of Latina Femininity
- 10. On the Semiotics of Lorena Bobbitt (Charla Ogaz)
- 11. Disorderly Bodies and Discourses of Latinidad in the Elián González Story (Isabel Molina Guzmán)
- 12. The Body in Question: The Latina Detective in the Lupe Solano Mystery Series (Ana Patricia Rodríguez)
- 13. La Princesa Plástica: Hegemonic and Oppositional Representations of Latinidad in Hispanic Barbie (Karen Goldman)
- 14. Chusmas, Chismes, y Escándalos: Latinas Talk Back to El Show de Cristina and Laura en América (Viviana Rojas)
- Notes on Contributors
Miss Lopez's rounded posterior is credited with making curvy bottoms trendy again and is said by American plastic surgeons to have created a demand for silicone buttock implants.
Daily Mail (London), February 27, 2003
Despite the promise implicit in the title of this collection of essays, there is no such thing as "the Latina body." While the words evoke a set of predictable responses ("she" is hot-blooded, tempestuous, hypersexual, and in current manifestations has a big butt), "the Latina body" is a convenient fiction—a historically contingent, mass-produced combination of myth, desire, location, marketing, and political expedience. Mediated through various forms of visual representation and discourse, "the Latina body" functions within a social and cultural taxonomy that registers but an echo of the clamor, complexity, and variety of women who embody Latina identities. Building on a feminist assertion that "woman" exists as a social construct subject to renegotiations and mediations, this anthology proceeds from the assumption that "the Latin woman" is a doubly inscribed fantasy—a multiply inflected and variably experienced category. Implicit in this assumption is the understanding that several forces converge in producing acculturated, gendered bodies and that these forces have very real consequences for Latinas in the United States and abroad.
This book explores some of the ways that a shared understanding of Latina sexuality, subjectivity, and difference is constructed and represented. Several related concerns informed its conception, though an overriding objective was to respond critically to the "conspicuous consumption" of Latina bodies realized via marketing and entertainment vectors. Such a project is especially pertinent in light of recent celebrations of the "Latina body" (buttocks, curves) evidenced in cultural phenomena from the plastic surgery craze cited in my epigraph to an explosion of on-line porn sites promising intimate access to "hot" Latina bodies. Popularized versions of "Latin beauty" have caught on with North Americans to such an extent that an article in the National Post, a Canadian paper, posed the question, "Are Latinas the new blond bombshell?"
Such apparent notice of the Latina body (particularly of what plastic surgeons call the "gluteal aesthetic") produces a mixed bag of consequences. On the one hand, I welcome any departure from a dominant aesthetic inherited, as Shohat and Stam have argued, from a colonialist discourse that "exiled people of color from their own bodies" (1994, 322). Latinas are said to be embracing another standard of beauty and reclaiming, along with Jennifer Lopez, "a curvaceous Latin body." Several critics express this optimism, maintaining, like Mary Beltrán, that for Lopez "to declare beautiful and unashamedly display her well-endowed posterior . . . could be viewed as nothing less than positive—a revolutionary act with respect to Anglo beauty ideals" (2000, 73). Frances Aparicio notes that the Latina bodies of Jennifer Lopez and Selena, similarly marked by curvy bottoms, full lips, and dark hair, have become symbols of ethnic pride (2003, 98), while Frances Negrón-Muntaner contends that Latinas' insistent focus on "big butts" is "a response to the pain of being ignored, thought of as ugly, treated as low, yet surviving—even thriving—through a belly-down epistemology" (1997, 192). Josefina Lopez's successful play, Real Women Have Curves, builds on this implicit relationship between celebrations of the fuller (presumably "real") Latina body and an affirmative Latina selfhood. As Maria Figueroa puts it, Lopez's text "reclaims and redefines the Latina body from its 'fat,' 'undesirable,' and 'marginal' status, thus rescuing this body from its abject state and transforming it into a body 'that matters'" (2003, 265).
On the other hand, various attendant signs and conditions complicate matters. Although I agree with Figueroa that Latina body images inspired by a "Selena aesthetic" or a J.Lo butt are "more inclusive of diverse physicalities," I also recognize, as she does, the risk that "the Latina body suddenly becomes only a Latina body, racially marked for cultural and commodified circulation" (2003, 271). Leading renditions of "Latin beauty" are performed in harmony with prevailing commercial, political, and cultural repertoires; these are aligned with an epistemology of the body consistently used to justify hierarchies of race, ethnicity, and gender. Latinas' identification with any exclusive set of physical attributes deemed "natural" or "authentic" (in this case, the Latina body as callipygian ideal) performs an unambiguous self-tropicalization, binding Latina femininity to bodily excess, sexuality, or indulgence and imbuing Latinidad with a fixed set of traits, values, and images (Aparicio and Chávez-Silverman 1997). Such acts comply with racialized dualisms of self/other, the very structures that enforce beauty norms and a hierarchy of body types. Most important, if this much-touted validation of "Latin beauty" indeed marks a genuine change in dominant aesthetic patterns—a turn toward what Shohat and Stam (1994, 322) call "an open, non-essentialist approach to looks and identity"—then why are prominent "Latin beauties" still dyeing their hair blonde, slimming their bodies, or wearing blue contact lenses to "whiten" their looks? Why, despite all the hype about Latinas reclaiming a "curvaceous Latin body," are eating disorders increasing rapidly among young Latina females?
Throughout this collection of essays, "the Latina body" refers generally to an amalgam of eroticized, racialized tropes about Latinas that inform U.S. popular culture. A complex history undergirds these imaginings, many of which still evoke familiar caricatures of "Latinness." Thus, a related task of this book is to explore various deployments of Latina identity and sexuality in light of current work in body theory, which has emerged as an investigative field in its own right. Across the humanities, critics foreground the body in analyses that stress the constructed and performative nature of all subjectivities; body theory also informs a range of investigations in history, sociology, psychoanalysis, and legal studies, and there is now a journal devoted exclusively to the subject. Of course, the body has consistently been at the core of much that concerns feminist theorists, many of whom have reformulated the work of thinkers such as Freud, de Beauvoir, Lacan, Merleau-Ponty, and Foucault and paved the way for new directions in film and media analyses. Feminist philosophers in particular have offered powerful critiques of a dualistic tradition that asserted the supremacy of the (masculine) mind over the (feminine) body. While cultural studies extend these conversations to include other layers of differentiation inscribed on the bodies of men and women—the particulars of race, ethnicity, disability, and transgender identity—this anthology situates the Latina body at the center of its analysis, exploring its constitutive role in the production, contestation, and consumption of Latinidad in the United States.
Our project extends Judith Butler's notion of gender performativity (1990, 1993) to the construction of Latinidad, building on the notion that ethnic groups are constituted through various classificatory, discursive acts and corporeal exchanges. Reconceptualizing identity as an effect that is produced or generated, Butler argues, "opens up possibilities of 'agency' that are insidiously foreclosed by positions that take identity categories as foundational and fixed" (1990, 147). The essays collected here engage Latinidad as a fluid set of cultural boundaries that are consistently reinforced, challenged, or negotiated by and through Latina bodies. Gloria Anzaldúa's conception of the mestiza body as borderland/battleground comes to mind in this regard, for any constitution of ethnic borders is socially mediated and politically contingent. While our collective work seeks to destabilize essentialist notions that frame Latinidad within narrowly prescribed borders—distinguishing, for example, among mediations of "Nuyorican," Cuban, or Chicana identities, it also speaks to the political prospects inherent in group affirmation and participation. We hope to contribute to ongoing debates about what constitutes Latinidad in both national and transnational forms, not with the goal of settling the question but with the aim of affirming the potential for Latina/o self-fashioning and solidarity.
The term Latinidad, implicated in a history of U.S. marketing and entertainment distortions of Latino/a cultures, has understandably met resistance from many Chicano and Latino critics. Critics have questioned the usefulness and effect of such labeling, for example, its tendency to homogenize peoples whose histories, language usage, and circumstances may differ significantly or to alienate U.S.-born Latinos, who may not speak Spanish or share other identifying criteria. There are also legitimate reasons to suspect bureaucratic attempts to regulate, profile, and monitor a growing constituency of over 40 million people. Such cataloguing is useful in assessing the special needs of target groups, but it can also bolster stereotypes and misconceptions. As an undifferentiated statistical category, the Hispanic/Latino umbrella masks differences in migration histories, English-language skills, socioeconomic status, and other determinants, often producing data that are inherently flawed or intentionally misleading. Indeed, these taxonomies form part of what Rey Chow in her reading of Foucault recognizes as "mechanisms of regulation and administration" whereby biopower gains momentum "precisely by (repressively) subjugating bodies and controlling populations (through surveillance of birthrate, longevity, public health, housing, and migration" (2002, 13).
Frances Aparicio rightly considers, however, the implications of such opposition for efforts directed at collective resistance, intergroup cooperation, and dialogue. Aparicio suggests that Latino/a critics consider reclaiming Latinidad as a site for exploring "interlatino affinities, desires, and conflicts" and for producing public knowledge about Latino/as (2003, 93). Others have endorsed articulations of Latinidad that are situational and tactical, suggesting that these set the stage for strategic interventions and mobilizations. Suzanne Oboler points out that U.S. Latino/a identity is always already inflected by its internalized others, by the interplay of competing interests that shapes Latino/as as an ethnic group. Oboler cites Stuart Hall's contention that identity is always in process, reminding us that debates about Latino identity also participate in its discursive formation. She argues that "identifying oneself as Latino/a and participating in a Latino social movement is a political decision" that can help Latino advocates "express the strength of la comunidad with greater force" (2002, 86). Oboler's assertion tacitly recognizes the challenges posed by an era in which Latinas' symbolic value outweighs their political or material clout. It also echoes the call of Latina and particularly Chicana feminists who have resisted constructs of Latinidad detached from social praxis and embodied experience; many of these critics envision Latinidad as a situated, contingent, and negotiable work-in-progress.
The diverse essays collected here speak to the potential of such an endeavor: we aim to affirm the role of individual agency in the constitution and decoding of our ethnic corporeality, even as we "talk back" to the dominant media that render Latino/as visible and knowable. In showcasing the Latina body as a site of knowledge production, we claim a space for Latinidad that is invariably gendered, hybrid, and transactional. Our analyses proceed from the assumption that Latino/as are multifaceted, and that identity is always subject to the vicissitudes of routine encounters, reciprocities, and exchanges. We understand that even when shared contingencies of history, ancestry, language, or material conditions serve to foster the illusion of cohesion, embodied selves rarely comply with the terms or theories that attempt to define them. Our work therefore traces the contours of the Latina body in the interstices where lived reality and public fantasies converge, in those myriad encounters and pleasures that embody the "politics and erotics of culture." This emphasis recognizes that the "ethnic" self is relational, constructed through discursive and bodily mediations that signal its relative status.
Of interest to me in this regard is how ethnic difference, signed and transacted through bodies, visibly connotes the terms and conditions of "Americanness."16The ideological construction of "American identity" (and, by extension, "American interests") entails more than assimilation into the particulars of lifestyle or normative cultural values; it has historically involved the foregrounding of physical characteristics said to best represent "Americanness" and register moral and intellectual fitness. From early anthropological debates about the existence of an "American type" (determined by head shape and size and other "scientific" accounts of the body) to contemporary images of "all-American girls" as blonde and blue-eyed, dominant notions of American identity have relied on embodiment for reification. My line of thinking here follows Butler's idea that "to be a woman is to have become a woman, to compel the body to conform to an historical idea of 'woman,' to induce the body to become a cultural sign, to materialize oneself in obedience to an historically delimited possibility, and to do this as a sustained and repeated corporeal project" (1990, 404-405).
Similarly, "becoming American" can be said to involve an epistemology of the body: privileged body types function as connotative codes that structure a cultural order. "Americanness" is frequently reified through deployments of what Amy Kaplan refers to as "the 'look' that United States media and advertising industries disseminate as some kind of ideal toward which all people living in America and counted as American must aspire" (1997, xx). Through the title of her book, Latin Looks, Clara Rodríguez intentionally plays with this notion in terms of how Latina/os are represented, underscoring "the tendency to view Latinos as if they all looked the same"(1997, 6). This binary relationship between body types helps to structure and define the "all-American" self against its others. While this coding process is polysemic in that it engages diverse discourses, it nevertheless functions within a hierarchy of values that relegates certain bodies to prominence and others to relative status. Stuart Hall rightly distinguishes polysemy from pluralism, for connotative codes "are not equal among themselves." A society's various classifications constitute its dominant cultural order, but these rankings are "neither univocal nor uncontested" (1993b, 98).
Social relations and material conditions reflect the status afforded privileged bodies within a dominant cultural order. Richard Dyer's remark that "white" is not recognized as a particularizing quality (it is "no colour because it is all colours") suggests that this hierarchy of bodies is naturalized to such an extent that it is "invisible." In Dyer's view, the property of white "to be everything and nothing" is the very source of its representational power (1988, 45). The historically privileged subject of American cultural discourse has been forged against this white canvas. Whereas concepts of identity are intangible and elusive, stars are significant for their ability to make such metaphysical notions "a visible show." It is this "visualizing of identity," Dyer notes, "which makes the bodies of stars and the actions performed by those bodies into such a key element of a star's meaning" (1986, 40). To the extent that U.S. Latinas sign in for hybridity, a racial construct between "white" and "black" Americans, the Latina body functions as floating signifier within the American cultural imaginary. Jennifer Lopez recognizes her place within this fluid racial category, commenting about her role in Money Train: "They wanted a Latina . . . somebody who could be with Wesley, and with Woody. Apparently in Hollywood, brown is some kind of mediating color between black and white." Of course, as Monique Wittig points out, physical features are neutral in themselves, so that what we perceive as racial difference is only a "mythic construction, an imaginary formation" (1997, 313). Bodies are marked by social systems and reinterpreted through the "network of relationships in which they are perceived. (They are seen as black, therefore they are black; they are seen as women, therefore, they are women. But before being seen that way, they first had to be made that way)."
From Bananas to Buttocks explores some of the ways that certain women's bodies are seen and made as "Latinas." It is our contention that this public fashioning of "the Latina body" warrants critical scrutiny, and that stakeholders in Latinidad must look to mediations of the Latina body for both a history and a map. In the United States, the Latina body has signed in for somatic differences (body type, coloring, facial features) and differences in culture, class, language, religion, and sexuality. Consistently, its sign value has been linked to ideological currents, economic conditions, and political expediency. Most notably, the Latina body has served as figurative terrain for the nation's defining allegories, a range of which is suggested by this book's title. My ironic reference to bananas and buttocks intentionally conjures images of banana republics and fertile natural resources—literal and figurative "booty." Both have functioned as commodities, and thus by definition as fetishized objects consumed within an economics of desire that obscures the social relationships of its producers. Both connote a history of U.S. tropicalizations vis-à-vis Latin America and evoke the kind of ambivalent desire and disgust that characterizes North-South relations and, by extension, inflects the Latina body as transnational signifier.
The Body Politic: Latin America as Bounty and Booty
The most succulent item of all / the United Fruit Company Incorporated / reserved to itself . . . the delectable waist of America.
The "delectable waist" of America is more than a geographical border between North and South: it functions as a critical sign in defining metaphors of nation, difference, and sexuality. While Neruda's lines imagine the body of America as the whole of North and South America, forging a distinct U.S. national identity has involved a dis/membering process—an often violent project of differentiation and exclusion. Throughout this process, America's "delectable waist" has figured as a metaphysical divide, a "torrid zone" between northern mind and southern body. As metonym for Latin America, the Latina body has signaled a permeable racial and national border, a field of diverse oppositions between rationality and sensuality, culture and nature, domestic and foreign. This body metaphor has informed America's defining myths, providing basic themes and motifs for a variety of cultural narratives. Specifically, it has served to justify U.S. corporate exploitation of Latin American labor and resources, invasions and border violations, and the "internal colonization" of U.S. Latino groups.
Narratives of race and gender are crucial vehicles in the production of national identity, and in this sense the Latina body has played a formative role in the defining discourses of "America." Since the early nineteenth century, her racially marked sexuality signaled a threat to the body politic, a foreign other against whom the ideals of the domestic self, particularly its narratives of white femininity and moral virtue, could be defined. At the same time, the Latina body offered a tempting alter/native: an exotic object of imperial and sexual desire. Gendered, raced tropes framed debates about immigration, territorial expansion, and nationhood. More than asserting the United States' difference and independence from Europe, these tropes symbolized its dominant role in the hemisphere. For even as the grand narrative of Anglo-Saxon "manifest destiny" justified the acquisition of land, it complicated myths of racial and national purity. Isolationists argued that territorial expansion threatened to contaminate the national body with inferior races. Both those who favored and those who opposed annexation of Mexico employed erotically charged rhetoric to defend their positions.
In particular, the U.S.-Mexican War (1846-1848) produced political allegories that made their way into popular "story papers" and dime fiction. Shelly Streeby's (2002) comprehensive study of popular fiction during this period shows that the Mexican woman (and, by extension, Mexico itself) figured in numerous imperial romances and sensational novels; these imagined U.S.-Mexico relations as relations between male and female, with U.S. national strength metaphorically aligned with manhood (84). The Mexican woman appeared on the one hand as a suitable marriage partner for the Anglo man and on the other as an unruly and irredeemable other. Streeby contends that questions "about whether 'she' [Mexico] was an appropriate romantic partner for the United States were inseparable from debates about the boundaries of race and the significance of empire for the white republic" (84). Her investigation suggests that these gender metaphors both transmitted and shaped discourses of American nationality and imperialist expansion in ways that would significantly influence early twentieth-century films.
Much of the silent film era's mediation of Latin American identity, for example, reflected the residual hostilities resulting from territorial disputes and clashes with Mexico. As the pretty señorita anxious to give herself (and her territory) to the Anglo male or as the hypersexed and treacherous foil to the virtuous Anglo heroine, the Latina body figured prominently in cinematic depictions of U.S. nation building. Film images translated nationalist fantasies and power relations into iconographic and ethnographic shorthand. As signifier, the Latina's erotic sexuality served to affirm the desirability of the Anglo male and, by extension, his national superiority; it also served as moral foil to her more principled feminine counterpart, the wholesome "all-American gal." Yet it is important to note that most roles calling for Latina characters were played by Anglo actresses, whose darkened hair and skin were meant to signal their ethnicity and lend "authenticity" to their portrayals. Latina identity in these films was thus figuratively disembodied: present only in familiar metaphorical relation to the imagined national self.26
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's administration turned what had been a dysfunctional relationship at best and a hostile one at worst into a love affair between compatible partners. During this period the United States romanticized its relationship with Latin America through the Latina star body.27 Both Hoover and Roosevelt sought to improve Latin American relations, but Roosevelt's Pan-American Day speech in April of 1933 openly "repudiated the 'erroneous interpretations' of the Monroe Doctrine that justified U.S. intervention, and extolled 'the principle of consultation' and the 'promotion of commerce' as the bases for improved hemispheric relations" (Roorda 1998, 88). Latin America emerged as an accommodating, inviting movie set, and "South American girls" Dolores del Río, Maria Montez, Lupe Vélez, and Carmen Miranda enticed American audiences with their exoticism, eroticism, or impish charm. Thus, by April 1945, eighty-four films featuring Latin American stars or locales had been produced.
A primary embodiment of this apolitical, carefree South America was, of course, Carmen Miranda, the "Brazilian Bombshell" in exaggerated headdresses and platform shoes. Familiar to American audiences as the generic "South American girl," Miranda's bared midriff and gyrating hips would provide Americans with frivolous images of an undifferentiated landmass somewhere south of the border. Critics referred to Miranda's exposed midriff as the "torrid zone," thus conflating, as Shari Roberts points out, Miranda's body with Latin America, "equating her 'equator' with that of the planet's, the 'torrid zone' of South America" (1993, 11). Roberts observes that the popular press typically characterized Miranda in terms of her body, like an exotic animal—such as a 1939 Time magazine reporter's description of Miranda "swaying and wriggling, chattering macawlike" (quoted in Roberts 1993, 10).
Miranda's ethnic star body served as a synecdoche for Latin America; her banana-laden headpieces in The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat enacted the "agricultural reductionism" of Latin America but also functioned as "phallic symbols, here raised by 'voluptuous' Latinas over circular, quasi-vaginal forms" (Shohat and Stam 1994, 158). In Busby Berkely's The Gang's All Here (1943), "Americans" Alice Faye and James Ellison dance the "serious" numbers, whereas "Latin American" characters perform their ethnicity through excessive dance numbers involving "swaying hips, exaggerated facial expressions, caricaturally sexy costumes, and 'think-big' props" (158). Shohat and Stam argue that emblematic character behavior and interaction allegorize North-South relations and reflect ambivalent feelings of attraction and repulsion toward the culturally different (231). The phallic symbolism suggested by such scenes did not escape Brazil's president, Getulio Vargas, who censored Berkely's film in Brazil (Woll 1980). Neither did it escape the New York Times critic who remarked, "Mr. Berkely has some sly notions under his busby. One or two of his dance spectacles seem to stem straight from Freud and, if interpreted, might bring a rosy blush to several cheeks in the Hays office." The film's S.S. Brazil arrives in New York harbor loaded with a rich cargo ranging from sacks of sugar and coffee to baskets of tropical fruits; Miranda appears beside this staged cornucopia as the very embodiment of Latin American bountifulness.
Born in Portugal and raised in Brazil, Maria do Carmo Miranda da Cunha had achieved considerable popularity in her adopted homeland before her move to Hollywood. Yet Miranda's tremendous success in the United States (she became the highest paid female performer in her day) inspired mixed reactions in Brazil. Many resented what they perceived was a caricature of their folk culture, and others accused Miranda of having sold out to an imperialist North. Miranda's biographer, Martha Gil-Montero, notes that Miranda was most pained by the accusation that she had become "Americanized" and had thus betrayed her "authentic" Brazilian national identity. In 1952, critic David Nassar chastised Miranda in the magazine O Cruzeiro for neglecting Brazilian audiences, suggesting that Miranda felt superior to the bugres (a pejorative term for savages) who had "always adored her with a passion reserved only to a white goddess" (quoted in Gil-Montero 1989, 225).
At the height of Miranda's U.S. popularity, the largest grower and marketer of bananas, United Fruit Company, created the half-banana, half-woman cartoon character, Chiquita Banana. Modeled on Miranda's lavish reinterpretation of the Brazilian market woman, this feminized banana served as the "friendly face" of the company seen by American housewives. The name itself, ending in the diminutive -ita, means "small" and constitutes a literal downsizing of the Latina's potential threat or power. Cynthia Enloe suggests that Miranda's movies helped to make "Latin America safe for American banana companies at a time when American imperialism was coming under wider regional criticism" (2000, 124). Between 1880 and 1930, the United States had colonized or invaded the Hawaiian islands, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Nicaragua, each valuable for plantation crops. In Enloe's words, "Miranda personified a culture full of zest and charm, unclouded by intense emotion or political ambivalence" (2000, 127). This feminized Latin America, with its subjunctive status and compromised sovereignty, is still reflected in the notion of "banana republics." Here the American self deflects its own involvement in the formation of this corrupt and inept other, disavowing U.S. government complicity and corporate America's own stake in the booty. Despite United Fruit Company's use of the Chiquita cartoon as cheerful façade, the company had been involved in numerous labor disputes with its Latin American workers since 1918. During the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, United Fruit exercised its powerful control over the leaders of the republics in which it operated. As historians Stephen Schlesinger and Stephen Kinzer have demonstrated (1999), the United Fruit Company became a "swaggering behemoth" by applying a range of strong-arm tactics including bribery, fraud, extortion, and tax evasion.
Toward the end of her short life, Miranda used a variety of pills to stave off depression and anxiety. While Shari Roberts and others have noted Miranda's complicity in producing her own caricature and have suggested a more subversive reading of Miranda's "ethnic masquerade," there are certainly signs that Miranda became disillusioned with her role. She may have transformed herself into "sheer spectacle" with a wink toward the camera's eye, but it was a difficult role to sustain, and one that seems to have wearied and saddened her. For Miranda's status as ethnic spectacle seems to me less a sign of her self-parody than of her bounded role as perpetual "foreigner." Fixed and contained within these performative boundaries, the Brazilian Bombshell and "scandalous outsider" became, to use Roland Barthes's words in another context, "a pure object, a spectacle, a clown" (1975, 151). Yet in reconsidering Brazil's love-hate relationship with Miranda, composer and singer Caetano Veloso writes, "For the generation of Brazilians who . . . became adults at the height of the Brazilian military dictatorship and the international wave of the counterculture . . . Carmen Miranda was, first, a cause for both pride and shame, and later, a symbol that inspired the merciless gaze we began to cast upon ourselves" (1991, 34). Culling the discomfort that her name inspired among many of his generation, Veloso and other Brazilian intellectuals founded a movement in 1967 known as Tropicalismo. Veloso explains, "We had discovered that she was both our caricature and our X-ray, and we began to take notice of her destiny" (1991, 34).
Miranda's body's function as ethnic commodity—and unwitting marketing rep for U.S. corporate exploitation of Latin American labor and natural resources—does seem strangely prophetic of the relations that would shape not only North-South intercultural economies but also U.S. Latino/as in the age of globalization. In the current climate of post-NAFTA economic policy, U.S. culture is again redefining itself in the context of territorial expansion, now admitting Mexico and other Latin American nations into a hemispheric "free trade" zone where commodities can flow unencumbered across borders. Once again, expansion and trade raise questions about the extent to which the U.S. national body will be "invaded" by such transaction and exchange, especially given that Mexico attempted to use NAFTA as a bargaining chip in renegotiating immigration policy with the United States. Again there arises a tension between, on the one hand, a desire on the part of U.S. multinationals to incorporate (and domesticate) Latin America into the U.S. global economic order, and on the other, the fear that the social body will be corrupted or violated by "their" drugs and vices. But given the fresh incentives generated by a global U.S. economy and its increasing interdependency, a crop of so-called "crossover" Latina performers—many born and raised in the United States—now mediates this "new" and decidedly multicultural America, their bodies enticing symbols of equal access, cultural negotiation, and transgression.
Consuming Bodies: In/Corp/orating Latinidad
In today's global economy, the Latina body figures as a kind of negotiable currency, its exchange value fluctuating according to market and political conditions. Latina bodies can help sell America's "new" multicultural image while reaffirming its most enduring defining myths. As a commercial construct, the Latina body is packaged and marketed as an alter/native "type" available for consumption and sale, its design specs, desirability, and visibility held sway to reigning market forces. Here "ethnic" beauty is not negated or assimilated; on the contrary, it is incorporated—turned into a spectacle of inclusion and participation. Images of fashionably dressed Latinas with disposable incomes and discriminating tastes add dashes of color to the American dreamscape, affirming the nation's self-image as a meritocracy with opportunity and products for all.
Arlene Dávila's Latinos, Inc. (2001) provides a useful analysis of the ways that Latino culture is constituted and popularized through mainstream advertising, where Latina bodies figure as both repositories of traditional "family values" and purveyors of modern consumerism. As Dávila demonstrates, Hispanic-themed marketing campaigns shape images of and for Latino/as; they sell products and lifestyles identified with U.S. consumer society and convey normative ideals of cultural citizenship and belonging. The rise of Hispanic media in the United States, Dávila points out, signals the emergence of an alternative "public sphere" for increasing commercial investment in a minority population and for projecting identity in mass-mediated, multicultural environments. More significantly, it authorizes a field in which to quantify, circumscribe, and standardize "Hispanics" as a constituency, legitimizing their appeal as a viable market for corporate clients and thus "authenticating" the role of Hispanic media professionals in the industry. Dávila's analysis suggests that mutually sustaining interests and alliances structure this transnational commercial enterprise; her interviews with top-level Hispanic media executives, most of whom are Latin American born and highly educated, challenge the assumption that mass-produced Latino/a stereotypes and clichés emerge from a dichotomous and antagonistic relationship between "corporate America" and "authentic" Latinos. Instead, Dávila shows how such representations are "produced in conversation and often complicity with—rather than as a response or challenge to—dominant hierarchies of race, culture, and nationality" (5).
In constructing Latinos as an imagined community of consumers and a viable niche market in the United States, Hispanic media professionals formulate and circulate marketable versions of "Latinness." In doing so, they negotiate the contradictory demands posed by a minority population's need to challenge negative stereotypes ascribed to them and their desire to resist homogenization. Hispanic media professionals are thus engaged in an antithetical process of rejecting and promoting stereotypes. Latina bodies help mediate and reconcile these antithetical claims. For example, advertising images of the Latin woman as upscale, white, and modern challenge the Carmen Miranda stereotype and evoke more sophisticated views of Hispanics (42). They also promote a generic "Latin look" that reflects existing social hierarchies and narrows the representational field. As Dávila explains, the generic Latina in U.S.-based ads must be both aspirational (beautiful, educated, accomplished) and representative (that is, not too light or too dark). Interestingly, this translates into a Latin look that privileges whiteness and its prevailing beauty myths.
Critical in the production of a nonthreatening, predictable, and generic pan-Latino market and imagined citizenry is the trope of the Latin family, which serves to communicate values associated with Hispanic culture. As vehicles in the production of "positive" cultural role models, Latina bodies mediate a variety of commercially expedient myths and desires. Compared with her Anglo counterpart, the prototypical "Latina consumer" is presumably more family-centered and domesticated. One advertising professional explained that "unlike Anglo women, Hispanic women beautify themselves not for 'selfish, me-oriented purposes,' but in order to please others and obtain their approval and praise" (quoted in Dávila 2001, 95-96). While dominant representations of Latinas in imported Latin American television programming (such as novellas or talk shows) consistently feature glamorous, sexualized, and alluringly dressed Latina bodies, the preferred Latina icon in TV ads targeting U.S. Hispanics is "a mom who is young, light-skinned, long-haired, 'soft-featured,' and beautiful . . . [who] is most of all a caretaker and guardian of the family" (131). Dávila notes that the virginal Latinas portrayed in these ads are often predicated on assumptions about "the threatening sexuality that pervades both Anglo and Latino prototypes of Latinas and is always in need of some sort of accommodation" (132). Dávila's study reveals the complex strategies, negotiations, and compromises that constitute the Latina body as both desiring subject of consumer goods and as a carefully crafted product.
Although Dávila is skeptical about the degree to which Hispanic marketing professionals can challenge normative ideals of U.S. cultural citizenship or empower Latinos as a political constituency, Vicki Mayer (2003) offers a more optimistic assessment. Her interviews with San Antonio's Mexican American media producers suggest that many see themselves "as actors in the final stage of a civil rights movement" (20). The Chicano movement provided a shared history of struggle for many of the industry's forerunners, shaping their role as media professionals and binding them to a broader project of social activism. Mayer notes that many of these "envisioned mass media as a space where they could potentially gain respect as Mexican Americans and achieve success" (27). A subsequent generation, more diverse in terms of gender, class, geographic background, and political orientation than its predecessors, does not claim an inherent connection to Chicano activism or to its ethnicity. Interestingly, many in this group attribute their interest in Latino/a culture to their consumption of mass media, which reintroduced them to the language and cultural products of their parents or grandparents. Working from within corporate structures, these younger media professionals have created corporate partnerships with Mexican American communities, initiating industry sponsorships of local literacy campaigns, after-school projects, and hospital fund drives (41). Mayer concludes that this new generation has "gained symbolic capital to construct Mexican Americans as citizens and consumers across cultural and political spheres of life" (43).
Yet this affirmative portrait of upward mobility and increased access is complicated by the limited roles that Latina bodies play as producers. As one Mexican American media worker told Mayer, "It's still a male dominated industry" (38). Mayer's interviewees noted the dearth of female Mexican American media professionals, the near invisibility of Latina writers for mass media, and the scarcity of Mexican American females in directorial positions and on shooting crews. These concerns suggest that Latinas' increased visibility as consumer subjects has yet to empower them as producers or citizens (38). To begin with, Latinas' symbolic value as repositories and emissaries of "Latin culture" concurrently deflects their role as self-directed individualists with desires and interests of their own. Ad campaigns targeting a generic "Latin woman" foreground normative gender roles and behaviors that are not conducive to upward mobility in a highly competitive corporate culture. Furthermore, media kits and ads celebrating the emerging status of Latino/as as affluent consumers and empowered citizens also mask vast economic differences within and across Latino subgroups and between Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites (Dávila 2001, 69). And even as mainstream magazines proclaim the rise of Hispanic entertainment, a recent Screen Actor's Guild survey found that acting roles for Hispanics in Hollywood fell 10.5 percent in 2003.
In the broader social equation, Latinas' signifying power in various consumer tales belies their embodied status as citizens: U.S. Latinas are overrepresented in high school dropout and teen pregnancy rates, while foreign-born Latinas account for a majority share of low-wage factory or domestic jobs. Statistically, U.S. Latinas remain second-class citizens. Clearly, a complex array of competing interests and discursive forces produced the idea of "the Latin woman," and it will take the collective efforts of Latino/a scholars, independent filmmakers, feminist writers, activists, and embodied others to slowly strip the myth of its power to bind or denigrate. For as Judith Ortiz Cofer reminds us, thousands of Latinas without the privilege of an education or the survival skills needed to "belong" in mainstream society continue to "struggle against the misconceptions perpetuated by the myth of the Latina as whore, domestic or criminal" (1995, 107). The diverse essays collected in this volume should remind us, however, that the complex relationships of domination and resistance in which class, race, gender, and sexuality are so intimately woven make all simplistic dichotomies—self/other, public/private, discursive/material, black/white, exploitation/resistance—vulnerable to recuperation and subversion.
One of the challenges I faced in the selection process for this anthology was the slippery terrain that constitutes "popular culture," particularly as the term is often bound to a reductive set of binary oppositions as well. There is a tendency to imagine the popular in terms of oppositions between high and low, vulgar and elite, center and margin, while ignoring the cross-fertilization that is itself a mark of the popular. Commentators on both the right and the left bemoan the effects of mass-mediated entertainment forms. To the right of the political spectrum, critics object to its vulgar sexual enticements, while to the left, popular culture's pleasures are decried not for their tendency to incite but to placate the masses. Yet the allures and pleasures of Hollywood films, pop music, and other forms of mass entertainment cut across class, race, ethnicity, gender—and political affiliation. They create a spectacular "peep show" where all of us can catch glimpses of our various others and form identificatory bonds and affiliations. The selections in this anthology do not claim popular culture as the terrain of "the people" (conceived either as the "vulgar masses" or as the idealized body of participatory democracy). Neither are they intended to imply a hierarchy of values and aesthetic judgments—say, a preference for Jennifer Lopez over Lupe Ontiveros.
The selections do focus particular attention on star texts that are widely circulated and available. Thus, readers may notice that essays highlight Hollywood stars and divas rather than lesser-known Latina performers or indies. My emphasis on these mass-mediated texts is not based on a set of aesthetic values or judgments about popular tastes but on economic and social realities. As Chon Noriega (1992) points out, "Studios have yet to commit themselves to the grass-roots marketing strategies that ethnic and other specialty films require," opting instead for traditional saturation campaigns that play into stereotypes and alienate potential viewers (147). Writers, scholars, and filmmakers are making strides in promoting and showcasing Latino/a self-representation, and such efforts, combined with increasing economic resources and institutional support, will no doubt widen their reach. But as of this writing, most independent U.S. Latino/a films do not have the wide distribution networks needed to reach mass audiences; many remain accessible primarily in cosmopolitan areas with art house theaters or to students in large urban universities with Latino/a or film studies programs. Highstepping over this material reality ignores a large majority of the U.S. viewing and reading public, who nevertheless form and act on their conceptions of Latino/as founded primarily on Hollywood films and music channels. Patricia Cardoso's critically acclaimed film version of Real Women Have Curves, for example, opened in the United States on October 20, 2002, on fifty-five screens. Maid in Manhattan, starring Jennifer Lopez, opened December 15, 2002, on over 2,800 screens in the United States alone; it was seen by almost 19 million viewers during its opening weekend alone, and within six months it had been seen by almost 60,000 Argentines, 1.5 million Germans, and over 1 million Spaniards. Aesthetic judgments aside, which of these films is more likely to shape mass perception and knowledge of Latino/as in the United States and abroad?
The good news is that audience reception of these mass-mediated texts is rarely as predictable or as manageable as its producers envision. As several essays in this collection demonstrate, these star texts are co-produced by viewers themselves in various ways. Weblogs, fan clubs, chatrooms, and other "unofficial" forms of discourse engender and circulate meanings. These too form a part of the complex processes through which versions of Latinidad are revised and embodied. While it is true that Latina star bodies serve as emblems of Latinidad in the popular imagination, they also, as Alberto Sandoval-Sánchez contends, "put into question who is Latino/a, what is Latino identity, and which images of Latinidad predominate and circulate" (2003, 16). This cross-fertilization informs "external" views of Latina/o identity and sparks powerful internal censors as well, disabling and enabling various forms of self-identification. In response, Ana Lopez has advocated a shift in Latino/a film criticism away from the analysis of mimetic relationships and toward critical readings of "the historical-political construction of self-other relations—the articulation of forms of difference—sexual and ethnic" structuring Hollywood's power as ethnographer, creator, and translator of otherness (1991, 405).
This collection contributes to such a project. Given the U.S. film industry's global power and significant ethnographic function, the first two sections are weighted in favor of film and star text analyses, while the third traverses a nexus of cultural production and consumption. Our work begins with a retrospective glance at the Latina body, locating founding assumptions about Latina sexuality within broader frameworks of nation building and film spectatorship. Clara Rodríguez's "Film Viewing in Latino Communities, 1896-1934: Puerto Rico as Microcosm" contributes new insights for Latino film scholars, situating Puerto Rico at the inception of transnational film production, distribution, and spectatorship. Rodríguez's research reveals the interplay of identities produced by the U.S. film industry's initial border crossings into post-independence Puerto Rico; her analysis of the reception and influence of silent films during this formative stage in the development of Puerto Rican national identity alerts readers to the surprisingly early advent of U.S. films into Latino international markets.
This case study sets the stage for our bifocal look at Lupe Vélez, whose body, overtly sexualized and uncompromisingly other, registers the birth of a U.S. cinematic "Latina body" that endures to this day. Rosa Linda Fregoso examines Vélez's embodied otherness as a metaphor for shifting, ambiguous social positions, recognizing in the contradictory responses to Vélez the seeds of what would later characterize aspects of Chicana identity. William Nericcio ransacks a history of gossip, cinematic stereotypes, theoretical musings, and racialized imagery to consider their residual effects on Latina embodiment. Nericcio's essay situates Vélez's body—overly determined, reproduced, overly consumed and consuming, within a matrix of desire that both intoxicates and nauseates in its excess. Nericcio and Fregoso both comment on Vélez's suicide, their different approaches speaking not only to their different aims or stylistics but also to the enormously productive and seductive power of star texts.
The second section scans the contemporary entertainment field, focusing on Latina film stars and music divas whose bodies negotiate popular visions of Latinidad and challenge the homogeneity of "Latina" as a category. Reading Celia Cruz's star persona—particularly her wigs, costumes, and shoes—as a marker for class, race, and gender, Frances Negrón-Muntaner offers a fitting tribute to the beloved "Queen of Salsa." Muntaner's engaging analysis of Celia's insistent "Cubanidad" also comments on her unique status in the all-male club of salsa, for as Muntaner argues, Celia was accepted as "one of the boys," unlike La Lupe and La India. Isabel Molina Guzmán explores Salma Hayek's star text as a reconfiguration of exoticism, transgression, and opportunistic entrepreneurship, while Angharad Valdivia analyzes magazine photographs of Penelope Cruz and Jennifer Lopez to locate the representational strategies now emerging in the media's "selective differentiations" of Latinidad. Tara Lockhart considers Lopez's ethnic "cross-dressings" both in Lopez's film embodiment of Selena and in circulating for different audiences. Lockhart's inclusion of Web postings and fan club dialogues provides a fascinating glimpse into the ways that diverse ethnic constituencies see and make Lopez as "Latina" within shifting racial categories. Cynthia Fuchs looks at the pop music scene, commenting on Shakira's ability to navigate national and ideological borders. As Fuchs suggests, Shakira's agility in producing and exploiting her own multilayered identities has allowed her to capture and captivate both South American and U.S. markets and fans. Karen Tolchin's essay investigates the challenges posed to conventional notions about Latina femininity by Michelle Rodríguez's character in the film Girlfight, offering a refreshing take on the emergent "macho Latina" figure and suggesting both its promise and pitfalls.
The final section expands our focus to explore relevant phenomena in broadcast media, literature, news, and toy production. Charla Ogaz and Isabel Molina Guzmán each look at Latinas whose bodies became the focus of sensational news stories, Lorena Bobbitt and Marisleysis González, respectively. Ogaz's critique considers Lorena's objectification and racialization during and after her trial for the "malicious wounding" of her husband, arguing that media interpolated Lorena's otherness while suppressing the causal role of marital rape and abuse. Molina Guzmán examines press coverage of the Elián González custody battle in relation to broader significations of Latinidad in the national media and specifically Cuban-American political and ethnic positioning. Ana Patricia Rodríguez turns to the detective novel, exploring the best-selling Lupe Solano Mystery series written by Carolina García-Aguilera, formerly a Cuban American private eye. Rodríguez suggests that Solano's body signs in for the Miami Cuban exile community, which is caught in ambivalent tension between a desire for material success in the United States and for vindication against Castro's "crime." Karen Goldman reviews the literal reconstructions of the Latina body posited by Mattel's versions of Hispanic Barbie and challenged by parodic counterrepresentations. Finally, in "Chusmas, Chismes, y Escándalos" (which loosely translates as "Vixens, Gossip, and Scandals"), Viviana Rojas examines Latinas' varied appraisals of Spanish-language television and suggests the effects of class, gender, and social positioning on their assessments of the popular talk shows, El Show Cristina and Laura en América. Readers will recognize in these various essays an ongoing will to power among desires, resources, and meanings—a struggle that reminds us that unlike the categories and labels that fix and tame them, bodies are often messy, unruly, hungering things.
Stuart Hall reminds us that we all "write and speak from a particular place and time, from a history and a culture which is specific" (1993, 68). In the course of editing this collection, the academic in me has sought to denaturalize "the Latina body" as sign and attend to its imagining and inscriptions. In doing so, I have wondered what such a project means for my own embodiment. I am certainly aware of the ways that I celebrate and perform my own versions of Latinidad. As a child growing up in a Cuban enclave in Miami, I delighted in the exuberant physicality I experienced through my parents and their friends. Every Saturday night, long after the age when their bodies were to have submitted to the proverbial rocking chair, my parents joined their compatriots at the local "Centro Marianao" for a despelote (figuratively "letting it all out"), an evening of sweaty abandon spent dancing to the bawdy rhythms of Cuban son and guaguanco. My body still responds to rhythmic beats like a reflex, despite my need to "Americanize" and blend into my colleagues' more reserved social gatherings. For many women of color in the United States, even a simple act—dancing—is loaded with gendered, racialized baggage; in a single butt-shaking instant, this Latina body can resurrect a history of stereotypes, preconceptions, and prejudices.
Gloria Anzaldúa has remarked that the struggle played out on the bicultural body of the mestiza "has always been inner, and is played out in the outer terrains. Awareness of our situation must come before inner changes. . . . Nothing happens in the 'real' world unless it first happens in the images in our heads" (1997, 242). It dawned on me that my concerns had focused on what stereotypes constitute and produce, rather than on what they exclude, repress, or deny—what cannot be made flesh. Yet reclaiming Latinidad involves not just a deconstruction but also an excavation—a disinterment of bodies less docile. For in subduing that other body, the one that too boldly expresses my version of a Latino and familial heritage, I personally reenact a Foucauldian drama of disciplinary power.36 And so I am reminded of the formative role I play, of the ways that all of us who contributed to this collection are helping to write and rewrite Latina bodies. Most important, I am reminded of Anzaldúa's marvelously simple observation: "For silence to transform into speech, sounds and words, it must first traverse through our female bodies. For the body to give birth to utterance, the human entity must recognize itself as carnal. . . . When she transforms silence into language, a woman transgresses" (1997, 242). Therein lies the heart of this book, in the bodies of Latinas who dare to speak, to write, or to dance, with abandon.