The mass consumption of particular kinds of Latinx popular culture can play a role in the erasure of blackness and perpetuate a sentiment of anti-blackness in Latinx communities. How can we reverse the top-down movement of culture, which begins with cultural industries and trickles down to the consumers, and instead create cultural flow from below by using popular culture to have difficult conversations about issues of importance to us? We model what this looks like during this conversation, where we’ll dig into our Abuelas’ complicated love for Celia Cruz.
Laura G. Gutiérrez
Laura G. Gutiérrez is Associate Professor in the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies at The University of Texas at Austin, with affiliations in CWGS, LGBTQ studies, LLILAS, CMAS, and the Latino Media Arts Program. Her research and teaching interests are in Mexican and Latinx performance studies and visual culture studies; popular culture; feminist theory; queer theory; critical race theory. Gutiérrez is the author of Performing Mexicanidad: Vendidas y Cabareteras on the Transnational Stage and she is completing a monograph on queer intimacies in contemporary Latinx visual art, performance art, and video/film work, as well as another one on racial and sexual panics in mid-twentieth century Mexico through an analysis of films from the era.
Jesús I. Valles
Jesús I. Valles is a queer Mexican immigrant writer-performer from Cd. Juarez, México/El Paso, TX. Jesús is a 2019 Lambda Literary fellow, a 2019 fellow of the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, a 2018 Undocupoets fellow, and a 2018 Tin House scholar. They have received support from Fine Arts Work Center, Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, Idyllwild Arts, and The Poetry Incubator. Their work is published in The New Republic, Palabritas, The Acentos Review, Quarterly West, Tin House, and BOAAT. They are the author and performer of the solo show, (Un)Documents.
For additional information, reading materials and resources, please visit:
- Miriam Jiménez Roman and Juan Flores, The Afro-Latin@ Reader: History and Culture in the United States, Duke University Press, 2010
- Afro-Peruvian Music, Art, Performance: Nicomedes Santa Cruz, Victoria Santa Cruz, Susana Baca. Victoria Santa Cruz, “Me gritaron Negra” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZBHvMaTiuU
- The African Presence in Mexico: From Yanga to the Present, an exhibit organized by the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago: https://www.si.edu/newsdesk/releases/african-presence-m-xico-yanga-present-opens-anacostia-community-museum-nov-8
- Alan Pelaez López, “The Principles of Pride: The Riot Black and Indigenous Trans People Deserve.” Autostraddle Follow Alan @migrantscribble on Instagram and @MigrantScribble on Twitter
- Eduardo Cepeda, “Cri-Cri El Grillito Cantor is Beloved by Mexican Children, But It Has an Unexamined Problematic Past” Remezcla Follow Eduardo on Twitter @EduardoSCepeda
- Karma R. ChávezAssociate Professor and Chair of the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies at the University of Texas at Austin | @queermigrations
[0:00:02 Speaker 1] Mm hmm. Mhm. You’re listening to Latin Experts, A podcast of Latino studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Latin. Experts features the voices of faculty, staff and students, as well as friends and alumni of the Department of Mexican American and Latino Latino Studies, the Latino Research Institute and the Center for Mexican American Studies. So what do we mean by experts? An expert is a person who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area. Latinos aren’t often associated with expertise. A Latin expert then occupies the space cautiously. A Latin expert admits they have knowledge and an important perspective, but leads with questions instead of answers, acknowledges what they don’t know and is always accountable to. Latin X communities. Join us for this episode of Latin Experts Police and vigilante violence against black people in the United States never stops, but sometimes certain instances of anti black harm catalyzed the people to rise up in rebellion to demand that things change. Such is the case of the spring and summer of 2020. As we lived with the ever present threat of the Covid 19 pandemic, four police or vigilante murders grabbed national attention. Ahmad Armory in Atlanta, Georgia. Brianna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, Tony McDade in Tallahassee, Florida, and George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Despite the health risk, people took their rage to the streets, and at the time I speak, they continue to take those streets, demanding an end to police violence and asserting that black lives matter. The Pew Research Center reports that as many as one in four U. S Latinos identify as Afro Latin X. The movement for black lives, then, is deeply integral to Latin X communities. Yet for many throughout the United States, regardless of their ethnic or racial identity, Latino is synonymous with mestizo or brown nous. For many white and mestizo Latin X folks, blackness and black issues seems separate from Latin X issues, an implicitly and often explicitly anti black racist point of view. The Department of Mexican American and Latino Latino Studies at U T is comprised largely of non Afro Latin X faculty. A group of these faculty decided it is our responsibility to provide resources to our communities to be able to address anti blackness in Latin X communities. This multi part series of Latin experts is our imperfect attempt to do just that, to be clear, although some of the voice is featured in this series are Afro Latina sex and experts and questions related to Afro Latino communities and anti blackness. Many of us are not. We are simply Latin, X people and Latino studies scholars with the political obligation to ask hard questions, share what we know and have experienced and hold ourselves in our communities accountable to black people. Join us as we launch our new podcast with a special multi part series on anti Blackness and Afro Latina DOT and Latin X Communities. Episode one. Why does Grandma love Celia Cruz but hate black people? In this episode, we will hear from Laura G. Gutierrez and Jesus I. Various. Gutierrez is associate professor in the Department of Mexican American and Latino Latino Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research and teaching interests are in Mexican and Latin X performance studies and visual culture studies, popular culture, feminist theory, queer theory and critical race theory. She is the author of Performing Mexican Dad Banderas Laboratories on the Transnational Stage, and she’s completing a monograph on Queer Intimacies and contemporary Latin X visual art, performance, art and video film work. Jesus I’ve IAS is a queer Mexican immigrant and writer performer from Juarez, Mexico, and El Paso, Texas. Jesus is a 2019 Lambda Literary fellow, a 2019 fellow of the Sawani Writers Conference, a 2018 and Daki Poets fellow and a 2018 10 house scholar. They have received support from Fine Arts Work Center community of writers at Squaw Valley, Ottawa, Wild Arts and the Poetry Incubator. Their work is published in The New Republic. Paula Britta’s The Ascent owes Review. Quarterly Rest in Tin House They are the author and performer of the solo show Undocumented. Let’s Listen to Laura and Jesus
[0:05:08 Speaker 0] Hi everyone so happy to be here with his Whose values? To have this conversation about anti blackness in Latin, X communities. Um, and one of the things that we want to talk about more so than offer answers because we don’t presume to have answers but just open up important conversations, is the ways it’s through pop culture, right? Um, even the question that opens up are are serious. Um, with this episode, whitelist Grandma love Celia Cruz, but hate black people. It’s already problematic, right? Because it presumes that the grandmother I will eat the hair is, you know, um a non, um black, um, Grandma. Right. So sort of just start off with that. Acknowledging the the assumption there. Um, but it’s a question that I post to my undergrad students here at UT. Whenever we talk about, um, performers, musicians, singers, um, blackbody, performers, musicians, singers, like Celia Cruz within Latino to. So I wanted to sort of have his cell is here with me to just engage these pop culture conversations and anti blackness in Latina.
[0:06:34 Speaker 2] Yeah. Yeah. I find the question really, really interesting. Um, one, because I also think, um, and it’s interesting that this this question of the abuela, right as the sort of, um, the final gatekeeper, your last barrier the sort of final frontier in negotiating cultural conversations. I think in so many Latinos, contests, contexts, um, always returns to the abuela, right? Like, just just in thinking about, um, diasporas and and and different Latina diasporas, right? I’m also thinking about what the conversation is. Um, and what connections there are between this question of why does abuelita, uh, love Celia Cruz, But hate black people. And where is that question? Also, in conversation with the question lanista, Um, which is which is one that you hear a
[0:07:25 Speaker 0] lot, right? Grandmother in the closet. Right. Which is
[0:07:29 Speaker 2] something that I think you hear a lot. Um, do you definitely hear it? A lot more, Um, in in Caribbean Latino communities. But I think it’s interesting that that so often that question is one, um, one that ends and begins at the matriarch. And to, um What does it mean for for this sort of interesting split between, um, what we see as the cultural product and the the person embodying it, uh, in popular culture in general? Because Because I do think, um, so just to be sort of specific and upfront, um, I grew up in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, and my introduction, I think, to blackness and to thinking about blackness was first grounded in in Mexican. That right And what what blackness meant in the sort of visual, um, spectrum of Mexican pop culture specifically in telenovelas. So I’m thinking about, um, the first. The first thing that I can think about is corrosive de las Americas and the way in which the black characters in the in that show our one relegated to this kind of really strange, um, nobility and the nobility is all based off of their failure to please or comply with whiteness, right? You have the capacity to sort of playing this kind of like object of desire even in the Children’s novella, which I think is super bizarre. But, you know, it is what it is, Um, and that for me, I think first, I think so many Mexican Children, um, at least in the nineties was sort of our it was our introduction. You know, um, flash forward to today where I think we’re, I think so many of the folks who are closer closer to the age that I was when I was first sort of introduced to blackness in Latinos. Context. Um, I think are now having the conversation much more explicitly, much more openly, uh, in much more complex ways. And I think so much of that is due to, um, you know, uh, Yucatan. And to it’s it’s audio landscape. And to what absences are present there. Um, so it’s It’s interesting, I think I think there’s there’s obviously so much to be said about this. Um, and and I actually would love to ask you, um, where does the framing for? For the conversation to be. Why does abuelita love Celia Cruz? But hate black people? Like, where do you think that question is developed or or born or where? Where where is that? That’s where is that? How is it that that question emerges? I guess.
[0:10:22 Speaker 0] Um, wow. Yeah. Thank you for for that, um, it actually has a lot to do with what you were saying earlier in relationship to sort of the ways in which I’ve both personally and professionally have encountered blackness within Latina dot um and it has to do with the consumption of pop culture. And when you mentioned the telenovela, um, that sort of is your first access to blackness. Um, in Mexico, Canada, I thought that you were actually going to sort of go back further. Um, which is, you know, um probably sort of. I’m thinking about myself and my own kind of entry into blackness within the telenovela genre and Mexican dad with, you know, el derecho de Nacer. Um, and that reiteration, right? The right to be born that has has to do with, you know, having that, you know, sort of black past the black grandmother in in the closet. She’s in the closet, she’s invisible. And she doesn’t deserve to be, uh, out of the closet as a grandma, as sort of a biological, uh, connection with this. You know, this, um, this woman who, like, is, um, hating on her mulatto child as a white woman, she bears a mulatto child. Um, anyway, I won’t tell you the story because it’s sort of so present and so irrelevant and so prevalent within, um, within that visual landscape of Mexican edad. Um, but, you know, I actually has to do with the ways in which I think the the entertainment sort of aspect of blackness is often relegated to sort of, uh, the backdrop or sort of the black dancing doll, which is also another prevalent figure within Mexican Ida. Right, So that kind of like absence, but in the background. And if your foreground it is for the entertainment of the, you know, of the of the public right of the Mexican Ms dissemination of of Mexico. Um, but in relationship to the ways in which this question comes up is with my students here at U T. And in other locations in the Southwest where, you know, it’s sort of mostly Mexican. And the students are mostly mestizos. First generation students who are mostly mestizos of Mexican background, who tell me that you know, they know of Celia Cruz because their grandmother loves Celia Cruz. So we use Celia Cruz, sort of as a way to sort of prop that question open, right in terms of sort of thinking about why Celia Cruz is accepted as a Latina performer, but not as a black person. Right? So that’s where that question comes from, from sort of having that conversation with my students. Um, and again, as you said, we can sort of continue to sort of dig deeper into in more complex ways, right? But yeah,
[0:13:46 Speaker 2] I’m really fascinated by the idea of reaching back right that there is this kind of continuum between, um, you know, watching Carcel de Las Americas, which is like early nineties and then a little in a certain and and even the language that I think is is easily, um, offered culturally to folks to talk about blackness right, Like, um, in in describing, uh, this this mixed race person, I think the like. The use of the word, um mulatto mulatto to I think is also really, really interesting because it, you know, it’s it’s, um uh, an inheritance. It’s an heirloom, right of of the cast, A system, and the way that that particular, that particular popular cultural product in its time sort of became the thing that helped to dictate, um, language that relegated blackness, too, um, to like an Amelia or to To To To the animal and two. And what that did to sort of frame how people think about blackness. Um, today, you know, even today when? When when we think about larger conversations about how the black body is viewed in Latino families. Um, and this is a conversation that I think has happened a lot more recently. Um, as as a lot of younger folks who are tuned into how cultural products are made are watching Univision and Telemundo report on the uprisings that are happening here in the United States, and they’re watching their parents react, and and I think it’s a really interesting moment of reckoning because I think all of these conversations about how popular culture influences how we talk about blackness in in, um, non black Latino communities and families. I think it’s It’s a kind of It’s a kind of moment where all of these things are coming to a head because now we’re watching our parents actively participate and watch these and watch these images watch the uprisings, watch the news with only pop culture as their primary tool for for sense making. And here you have a new generation of folks of a lot of younger Latinos, um, non black folks who I think are now sort of struggling and trying to carry that question of of what it means to to have that confrontation with their with their families and with their parents, Um, and also try to negotiate that through pop culture, right? So what does it mean to listen to Bad Bunny and know that the all of the threads that make his music work, all of the things that make his sonic choices, um, popular and and and palatable right are are because they are, um, they are remnants of a very specific kind of of colonialism and anti black violence that takes the music and takes the cultural product and leaves behind the body that originates it or makes it, um, which I think is really, really interesting because, uh, it’s interesting that all of this is happening in living rooms, right? That these larger conversations that I think a lot of times we want to say happen in academic spaces can actually happen at the kitchen table in the living room. And I’m really interested in in in what those conversations might be. And I think it would be fascinating to also think about like, what cultural products people are are sort of screening and thinking about blackness through in this moment. Um uh, in terms of thinking about about our current moment, right and what’s happening now, Um, what’s your sort of taker? Or what are your thoughts on on the way that celebrities like Selena Gomez or Bad Bunny have responded to our to this moment? Right. And in this movement, Yeah,
[0:17:46 Speaker 0] I actually, you know, I was thinking about Bad Bunny too, um, in relationship to sort of the ways in which, you know, these legacies are continued through in sort of mostly the sort of the 20th century’s, which is the moment in which I I move my students through and kind of already begin to tell them that a lot of the modes of representation that they’re being critical about because we have, you know, quite a sort of group of walk students that are analyzing everything through the lens of race and class and gender and sexuality. Um, but one of the things that I do is to sort of pry open the contemporary moment and say, You know, there’s actually legacies and histories of performers from early 20th century that we’re doing the same exact thing, right? You know, how is it different? How is it, um, working differently? Um, so totally. I mean, Bad Bunny would be an example of the ways in which, you know, sort of the the use of Afro diaspora IQ music moves through his body and through his song through his, As you said, Audio Escape of Bad Bunny, but makes it palatable. That’s like the question for us always. You know, in in, um, in my classes, which has to do with, you know, pop culture. As you know, part of this sort of capitalist driven system of, you know, of of profit gain. Um, so there’s always money behind your not. And what is the belief? The belief is that, you know, the only sort of palatable images palatable or sounds through Certain types of bodies are going to be consumed or consumable, right? And the students are, you know, And in general, this generation that you’re talking about is putting a stop to it, you know, and having these difficult conversations with Mom, Dad, grandma, grandpa and the rest of the family. Right. Um, so, you know, they’re the ones that are also bringing these conversations to the classroom, right? So it’s like not only just about racial hierarchies that are, you know, sort of perpetuated through telenovelas, but also, you know, sort of the gender and the sexism and the misogyny telenovelas that the students were like putting a stop to that too. Right? So, um, I think that, you know, hopefully this will kind of change, since these people will be the ones who are going to be producing, you know? Uh huh. Culture in the future. That. Yeah, but you know what’s interesting to me about Bad bunny is that there was, like, silence from him, like no one was like. Everyone was like, What is bad? What his but money like he was so open about, You know, during the sort of the covid moment, and and, you know, we were we knew what he was doing in his, you know, um, compound in Puerto Rico. And yet, you know, the uprising happened and silence from him, and there was so much expectation. And then he comes out with this very lame kind of, um I don’t know, um, support. Uh, I think he disappointed a lot of people that were wanting more from bad bunny, Um,
[0:21:12 Speaker 2] the meager nous of the response.
[0:21:14 Speaker 0] Whereas someone like Selena Gomez comes out and surprises people and then, you know, the one that was is often critique of like, exploiting her Latina is like the one that says, I’m just going to give up my instagram, uh, and use my platform and just sort of, you know, just take a back seat and, you know, sort of just let people take over my instagram, um, black people, black people who have been in the movement and are, you know, figures that we all should know. And the use of a platform is sort of alter the way that I perceived Selena. Right? Selena Gomez. So, um, that’s also sort of an interesting moment that were sort of finding ourselves in right where we have so little expectation from someone like Selena Gomez who comes out and surprises us, whereas Bad Bunny’s, like not there or not with that strength that people were expecting.
[0:22:15 Speaker 2] Yeah, I’m actually really, really interested in this sort of what’s interesting, too, about about the kind of, um, interruption that social media has. No, I don’t even know if it’s interruption, but a kind of mediation, right? That that social mediation media, um, that social Media has had on these conversations specifically because I I’m thinking a lot about the ways in which the political or social cultural happens and usually right the logic would say, the political moment, the cultural moment, the inciting incident right happens, and then the celebrity responds. Or or the cultural makers, um responds via product or statement. And I think what has happened with social media and I’m specifically thinking about Instagram and tiktok about those two platforms is that their now kind of providing this third pronged where the audience is also creating cultural products. Right? Like that, Um, a fan can get enough likes or follows or retweets or re posts or re grams right in their post. That calls out the silence from these celebrities and also become a kind of popular culture maker, Right, that the meme also intervenes. And I’m really taken by that, by the way in which so many of the folks who are consuming popular culture are also now making the cultural products that respond to it. And and they’re they’re becoming the bridge. That sort of attempts to have these more difficult conversations and attempts to understand in place. The cultural products are consuming right? The music, the videos, the shows, um, in in a larger conversation and in a larger context. And I’m in many ways really sort of inspired by the by the possibility that that, um what I’ll call it the meme, right? But but yeah, the response, the screenshot, the tweet thread, how those things get passed around and become cultural products that become shorthand for so many of these conversations. And as I think my my friend Tracy McMillan. Cotton, who is a sociologist. Um, I think she she phrased it best on on Sunday night. She tweeted, um, this this generation really did the reading, and and that, to me, is really inspiring. And I hope