Latina feminist media studies addresses the intersectional themes of gender, ethnicity, nation, and media in relation to that recently constructed category of Latina/os, i.e., a segment of the US population of Latin American origin. As such, this category both differs from, and overlaps with, “Latin American,” as many US Latinas experience transnational lives through personal travel and migration, enduring family and community connections, and media consumption of both US and Latin American cultural forms. In media studies, there is a strong corpus of research about this subject, with a range of scholarship from Chicano and Puerto Rican studies of film and performance. Falling between “black/Afro-American media studies” and “media studies” (which tends to center on whiteness), Latina feminist media studies explores the production, consumption, content, and effects of media from perspectives that foreground gender and ethnicity.
Fregoso’s (1993) and Valdivia’s (2003, 2005) work on the production of media – at the individual, organizational, and institutional levels of analysis – demonstrates that most mainstream media production remains in the hands of white, male producers. The rules that govern the production of media, as well as the values and beliefs that shape both organizations and individuals, contribute to a media production that tends to marginalize the input and narratives of Latinas. Celebrities such as Salma Hayek, Jennifer Lopez, and Gloria Estefan stand out as examples of exceptional Latinas who are involved in the production of media. The highly acclaimed prime-time US television show Ugly Betty has won numerous awards for its portrayal of a non-normative young Latina in the fashion industry, and the pop singer Shakira’s cross-over success echoes transnational flows of people, music, style, and culture across all continents.
The vast majority of research on Latinas focuses on representations and content. Racialized and gendered media representations render feminized images less valuable and powerful than masculine ones. Feminist media scholars have studied all narratives, particular bodies, and types of media. As a signifier of difference and the arrival of the Latina body, Jennifer Lopez’s butt has been a focus of research interest (Negrón-Muntaner 1997; Barrera 2000; Molina Guzmán & Valdivia 2004). Molina Guzmán and Valdivia (2004) find that “the female ethnic subject is othered through its categorization and marginalization in relation to dominant constructions of Whiteness and femininity . . . Latinas fall beyond the margins of socially acceptable femininity and beauty” (p. 206).
Mainstream popular culture creates and adheres to tropes in its representations of Latinas. Frances Aparicio and Susanna Chávez-Silverman (1997) identify “tropicalization” as a dominant trope used to signify Latinas. Tropicalization renders Latinas as hot, dynamic, nearly combustible, and hyperfertile. Most notable as a figure in this vein is the actress Carmen Miranda, whose representation endures in myriad advertising campaigns. María Victoria Ruiz (2002) has studied popular fears of the hyperfertile Latina in both medical literature and freeway signs. Ruby Tapia (2005) extends this analysis to a study of teenage-pregnancy campaigns wherein the implicit pregnant body is Latina.
Latina feminist media studies also includes research on popular music, magazines, children, and girl culture. Jillian Báez (2006) explores individual performers such as Ivy Queen and hybrid cultural forms like “reggaetón” in terms of gender, ethnicity, and nation. Research on salsa by Frances Aparicio (1998) informs much of the contemporary study of Latina feminist popular music of other stars, such as Celia Cruz and La India, and Valdivia’s (2003) work on salsa as a form to construct Latinidad in the midwest US. In magazine studies, both Katynka Martínez (2004) and Melissa Johnson (2003) explore the construction of femininity and masculinity in Latina magazine as well as the development of models of acculturation in Latina women’s magazines. Research on American Girl dolls and products conducted by Acosta-Alzuru and Roushanzamir (2003) and the analysis, conducted by Harewood and Valdivia (2005), of the chat streams linked to the children’s television show Dora the explorer, examine the highly profitable commodification of girl-culture and its incorporation of Latinas. Much less studied is radio. Here Inés Casillas’s (forthcoming) work on masculinity in talk radio in the Los Angeles area stands out.
Audience interpretation is underresearched. Little is known about what kind of media Latinas use, how they identify with characters and interpret themes and narratives, or how Latina characters are interpreted by wider audiences. Viviana Rojas’s (2004) work on Spanish-language television found ambivalence and recognition on the part of a number of Latinas, and Mayer’s (2003) work on San Antonio girls found that class limited their ability to engage with media and popular culture. Vargas (forthcoming), like Mayer, also finds that girls use transnational media to retain a connection to their recent or ancestral countries of origin.
- Acosta-Alzuru, C., & Lester Roushanzamir, E. P. (2003). “Everything we do is a celebration of you!” Pleasant company constructs American girlhood. Communication Review, 6, 45 – 69.
- Aparicio, F. R. (1998). Listening to salsa: Gender, popular music, and Puerto Rican cultures. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England.
- Aparicio, F. R., & Chávez-Silverman, S. (1997). Tropicalizations. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England.
- Báez, J. M. (2006). “En mi imperio”: Competing discourses of identity in Ivy Queen’s Reggaeton. Centro Journal, 18(11), 63 – 81.
- Barrera, M. (2000). Hottentot 2000: Jennifer Lopez and her butt. In K. Phillips & B. Real (eds.), Sexualities in history: A reader. New York: Routledge, pp. 110 –133.
- Casillas, D. I. (forthcoming). A morning dose of Latino masculinity: US Spanish-language radio and the politics of gender. In A. N. Valdivia (ed.), Latina/o Communication Studies Today. New York: Peter Lang.
- Fregoso, R. L. (2003). The bronze screen: Chicana and Chicano film culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
- Harewood, S. J., & Valdivia, A. N. (2005). Exploring Dora: Re-embodied Latinidad on the web. In S. R. Mazzarella (ed.), Girl wide web: Girls, the Internet, and the negotiation of identity. New York: Peter Lang, pp. 159 –174.
- Johnson, M. A. (2003). Constructing a new model of ethnic media: image saturated Latina magazines as touchstones. In A. N. Valdivia (ed.), A companion to media studies. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 272 –292.
- Martínez, K. Z. (2004). Latina magazine and the invocation of a panethnic family: Latino identity as it is informed by celebrities and Papis Chulos. Communication Review, 7(2), 155 –174.
- Mayer, Vicki (2003). Producing dreams, consuming youth: Mexican Americans and mass media. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
- Molina Guzmán, I., & Valdivia, A. N. (2004). Brain, brow or booty: Latina iconicity in U.S. popular culture. Communication Review, 7(2), 205 –221.
- Negrón-Muntaner, F. (1997). Jennifer’s butt. Aztlán, 22(2), 181–194.
- Paredez, D. (2002). Remembering Selena, re-membering Latinidad. Theatre Journal, 54(1), 63 – 84.
- Rojas, V. (2004). The gender of Latinidad: Latinas speak about Hispanic television. Communication Review, 7(2), 125 –153.
- Ruiz, M. V. (2002). Border narratives, HIV/AIDS, and Latina/o health in the United States: A cultural analysis. Feminist Media Studies, 2(1), 37– 62.
- Tapia, R. C. (2005). Impregnating images: Visions of race, sex, and citizenship in California’s teen pregnancy prevention campaigns. Feminist Media Studies, 5(1), 7–22.
- Valdivia, A. N. (2003). Salsa as popular culture: Ethnic audiences constructing an identity. In A. Valdivia (ed.), A companion to media studies. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 399 – 418.
- Valdivia, A. N. (2005). Geographies of Latinidad: Constructing identity in the face of radical hybridity. In W. Critchlow, G. Dimitriadis, N. Dolby, & C. McCarthy (eds.), Race, identity, and representation. New York: Routledge, pp. 307–317.
- Vargas, L. (forthcoming). Media practices and gendered identities among transnational Latina teens. In A. Valdivia (ed.), Latina/o communication studies today. New York: Peter Lang.