Latina Identity, Media Cathexes and the Politics of Representation
It can be argued that media is the most contemporary and global manifestation of all art – a statement as dangerous as it is progressive. Marshall McLuhan said, “All media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values”. It is no less true that those arbitrary values and artificial perceptions create a social reality with very real social consequences – Consequences that need to be examined but very rarely are. For instance, nearly 20 million Latinas currently reside within the U.S. Yet despite composing such a large part of the American population, they are drastically underrepresented within American media. In addition to their lack of adequate representation, the few depictions of Latinas that do exist present them as hypersexual or domestic. From West Side Story to Desperate Housewives, Hispanic women are portrayed as little more than sexy, sassy vixens or homely, dependent ‘ladies of the house’. American popular media fails to represent the rich diversity of the American Latina experience. As a consequence, Latinas receive concerning messages about how American culture perceives them and what is expected of them. Some find ways to pull strengths from these images. Others drown in the conflicting, rigid and superficial standards to which they feel they must adhere. Via snow-ball sampling, this study collects the oral narratives of 30 second-generation Latinas, between the ages of 18 and 32, who reside in the New York metropolitan area – narratives strongly connecting the arts to society. They reveal the rigidity of Latina stereotypes, the conflicting nature of bicultural expectations, and a cathecting response toward Latina media icons and artists, such as Jennifer Lopez. They expose the vulnerability of consumers, explore the responsibility of art forms such as film-making and music and give voice to the experiences of 30 Latinas, navigating the politics of their media representation.
Keywords: Latinas, Media Representation, Intersectionality
PhD Candidate, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Fordham University