The British public was perhaps first introduced to the concept of the Latina woman in 2005 in the form of Gabrielle Solis in Desperate Housewives. Tanned, dark eyed and stunningly beautiful alongside her white co-wives, the part played by Eva Longoria was a back story of a Texas-born, self-hating Mexican who went from rags to riches. Her storyline kicked off with a sizzling affair with her gardener before she was tormented by the return of her abusive step-father. The looks and narrative of named Latina characters in fiction has remained surprisingly consistent – from Gloria in Modern Family to Agent Zapata in Blindspot – a brunette beauty who has successfully assimilated into white American society, but whose tragic, dysfunctional or humble Latin origins come back to screw her over every now and again.
To many, being Latino or Latina refers to belonging to a culture which can be inclusive of all skin colours; from Dominican blacks, Argentinian whites, Indigenous Bolivians, Japanese Peruvians, or indeed any combination under the sun. But to those outside of the community (I’m talking about The Great British Public), Latino has been dramatically shaped by the face that Western media and popular culture chooses to show. The USA has many more Latina women than the UK and so we accept the picture they often paint of the sultry sex symbol or, increasingly, the vulnerable yet still attractive working-class immigrant. If this has passed you by, try watching Narcos on Netflix or listen to Foreign by the rapper Trey Songz.
When Justin Beiber featured on Despacito and it blew up in the UK charts, almost half a year after the song peaked in Latin America I didn’t anticipate this would be the start of a Latin music explosion. Little Mix quickly followed with their version of Reggaeton Lento; Enrique Iglesias recorded English verses of Súbeme La Radio and swapped out Latino rappers for the more recognisable Sean Paul; whilst Beyonce lent her voice to J Balvin’s catchy Mi Gente.
On the one hand, as a British woman with Latina heritage, I was delighted to hear the reggaeton genre every day on the radio on my drive to work. On the other, I felt like I was at least partly beginning to understand how some black people feel about white music artists adopting (and profiting) from historically black music genres. Music producers clearly feel the need to bring a Western artist into the song or record it in English in order to make it appealing to the majority.
This week saw the launch of Dímelo on the airwaves – Rak-Su’s debut song as winners of the X Factor 2017. The chorus includes the lyrics “You got the boom like your name’s J-Lo, you got them hips like Shakira, smile like Camila, got me feeling Latino”. Would everyone would be singing along if it was a white R&B artist singing “Got me feeling black”?
Whilst there are undoubtedly drawbacks to the Latina stereotype that permeates Western culture, it is at this point that I must acknowledge the white privilege that comes with it, provided you look the way you are “meant to”. Tanned and dark haired enough to be exotic and exciting but still Anglo-looking enough to fit conventional Western standards of beauty, it’s no wonder why we’re witnessing the rise of the Latina woman. What we must not forget is that this popularity does not come from a position of power and it will only satisfy the male gaze temporarily. Soon another ethnic minority will take the spotlight and be open to the same fetishisation; and it will be up to all of us to put aside our biases and stand together as feminists to face into it.
About the Author
Kitty is a marketing professional working in the corporate world. Despite being an open feminist, she prefers to keep her thoughts on gender anonymous. One of her life ambitions is to make women feel just as awesome as men.