6 Fusión Latina
6 Fusión Latina
- Ilan Stavans
What is fusión latina?
p. 114↵Spanish-language TV and radio have been instrumental in the forging of a Latino identity—what is called “fusión latina.” No other immigrant wave has built a media infrastructure with equal power. And media, of course, shapes behavior. The emblematic marriage of Lucy and Ricky is a paradigm of integration. Latino arts have undergone a bonanza since the 1980s. But the Latino sensibility isn’t only available before a microphone and a camera; folklore might well be its most vivid expression. That folklore is evident in a plethora of places, from stand-up comedy like that produced by George Lopez and Carlos Mencia, to cartoons like La Cucaracha, and to marketplaces and festivities like quinceañeras and Cinco de Mayo, which commemorates the fierce defense of 4,000 Mexico soldiers against an invading French army on May 5, 1862. It is also present in children’s songs and stories.
It is important to look at those cultural manifestations— music, dance, pictorial art, TV, cinema, radio, theater, and literature—on their own terms as well as in toto. I include sports in this manifestation as well, although they are often considered an aspect of culture, not of entertainment.
Is music the most vibrant of artistic manifestations among Latinos?
p. 115↵Yes. It is also the most heterogeneous. From plenas to salsa to reggaetón and jazz, the possibilities of rhythm appear to be infinite. Differences of race and class are often obliterated in music, as with the motherly icon Celia Cruz, who managed to unite Caribbeans of all backgrounds by simply saying “¡Azúcar!” Tito Puente made people turn on their feet with his drums. Yet the music of Latinos is also a record of their plight. And Shakira combines her Lebanese, Colombian, and American identities to sing about passion. The Mexican narcocorrido chronicles the adventures of drug traffickers while the Dominican merengue tells of immigrants looking for a ticket to the American Dream. The enthusiasm of fans is evident in concerts and dance clubs.
What kind of history does Latin music have in the United States?
Music is an invaluable tool for understanding a people. Since pre-Columbian times, music has played a major role in Hispanic civilization. Given the heterogeneity of Latinos, it is no surprise that each national group relates to some genres and not to others.
Do different national groups have different musical forms?
Bolero, with roots in an ancient Iberian dance of ternary (three-beat) rhythms even though today it has a binary (two-beat) form, is one of the most popular genres. It established its reputation in Cuba in the last third of the 19th century. It wasn’t until the 1940s that it made a crossover for Anglo audiences, acquiring English-language lyrics and becoming a success in the United States, first among Caribbean immigrants and their descendants, and then in the country at large. Conversely, the bomba and plena are the most endeared Puerto Rican musical p. 116↵forms, reflecting the connection between European and African influences in the Caribbean Basin. And in Mexico, ranchera music, often played by mariachi, is said to be an expression of the nation’s psyche. It started as a variety of rural music but in the second half of the 20th century made a transition to urban settings. There are classic ranchera songs and more experimental variations.
The most important genres in Latin music are corridos, tejano, salsa, bachata, merengue, reggaeton, jazz, and hip-hop. The journey made by some musical genres from Latin America to the United States resulted in important modifications. Sometimes these are only recognizable at the thematic level. Lyrics address the plight of immigrants, their quest to find a place away from home, and their loneliness and need for affection. Modifications are also palpable in the use of new instruments, the influence of other musical genres, and the need to adapt to a more diverse audience.
And classical music?
There are a number of Latino classical musicians whose oeuvre has brought them international reputation. Plácido Domingo, the opera tenor from Mexico, has interpreted every conceivable character from Verdi to Puccini. He has also directed opera.
The list of classical composers includes the Pulitzer Prize winner Mario Davidovsky, Orlando Jacinto García, Ricardo Lorenz, and Osvaldo Golijov. And there is Lalo Schifrin, who has written scores for many movies from Dirty Harry (1971) to the Mission Impossible series (1996–2018).
What different instruments are used?
Wind and string instruments are popular, including flute, clarinet, and saxophone, as well as guitar, cello, and bass. Jazz also uses piano. Accordion, drums, harp, and maracas p. 117↵are frequently played too. Each national tradition uses different instruments, which at times travel to the United States. In Cuba, musicians use batas, batijas, bongos, cajón, chekere, claves, congas, guataca, guiro, marimba, palitos, and timbales. Mexico favors marimba, pandero, bajo sexton, and gitarrón. Puerto Rico employs bomba, cuatro, guicharo, and panderetas. Argentina uses the bandoneón. And the Dominican Republic is known for the gira and tambora.
What is a corrido?
Etymologically, the word corrido comes from the Spanish infinitive correr, to run. It is used to describe a border ballad about a legendary hero or historical event. The origin of the corrido might date back to the medieval Spanish romancero. In Mexico there have been corridistas, makers of these types of songs, since the war of independence in the early 19th century. There are also those who trust that in the Americas the tradition reaches into the pre-Columbian past. On the US-Mexico border, there are songs about outlaws like Gregorio Cortez and Tiburcio Vasquez, mixing historical and fictional elements, from around the Spanish-American War. These songs told the adventures as acts of resistance and vindication. The structure was fixed, with simple four-line stanzas rhymed at the end and a chorus carrying on a political message. The corridos were delivered anonymously, borrowed from one ballad maker to another, usually accompanied by a strong instrument. As the corridista recited them from memory, elements were changed according to the singer’s needs.
Does the tradition continue?
Today there are corridos about President John F. Kennedy, Cesar Chavez, and the martyred tejana singer Selena.
p. 118↵With the growth of the illegal drug trade in the 1990s, a different form of corrido took shape in the United States, especially among Mexican American labor workers. Its themes concentrated on illegal immigrants, the drug cartel, and the run-ins with the US border and police patrol. Among the most famous narcocorridistas are Chalino Sánchez and the group Los Tigres del Norte.
What about tejano and conjunto music?
In Spanish the word conjunto might be understood to mean “band.” Conjunto music is a variety of tejano music that includes influences of Mexican music from the northern (norteño) part of the country and South Texas and also from black and immigrant rhythms from the Czechs, the Poles, the Germans, and the Italians.
Who was Selena?
Selena, née Selena Quintanilla, born in Houston in 1971, was a prodigious tejana singer killed by one of her staffers in 1995. She came from a humble background and began singing in her family’s restaurant. When she moved to Corpus Christi, Texas, she, with a soulful soprano voice, formed a group called Selena y los Dinos with her sister and brother. She mixed Tejano music with cumbias. She also did polkas, ballads, and romantic music. Her first record was Ven Conmigo, released in 1990. Her second one, Amor Prohibido, which came out four years later, was a huge success. And at the time of her death she was about to release Dreaming of You, a crossover album designed to expand her English-language base. The record appeared posthumously. A former employee, who had been president of her fan club and had been suspected of stealing money, shot her at a hotel in Corpus Christi. A film bio, with Jennifer Lopez as Selena, was released in 1997.
What are plenas?
p. 119↵They are musical pieces, made of syncopated rhythms, that are popular among Puerto Ricans. They use call-and-response vocal cadences and address current social issues. They are a relative of the bomba. The first plena was recorded in New York City in 1927. As time goes by, other more popular rhythms, like salsa and meringue, have eclipsed it.
Is there a difference between merengue and bachata in the Caribbean and in the United States?
Merengue has been described as “the prime maker of ethnic identity for Dominicans in the diaspora.” Musicians in New York use merengue but incorporate elements from other types of music found in the United States. Their lyrics recount stories of assimilation and nostalgia. Another similar music form is the bachata, which Juan Luis Guerra and his group Los 4.40 turned into an international sensation. Their music was about displacement but also about uncontrolled passion.
What kind of influence has Brazil exerted in Latino music?
Samba, bossa nova, baiao, tropicalia, and other rhythms have exerted a powerful influence. Brazil itself, like the Caribbean, brings together musical influences from Africa and the aboriginal population in a fusion at once traditional and invigorating. Samba, popularized by Carmen Miranda, highlights the racial and cultural mix. The extraordinary talent of figures like Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Chico Buarque, Jorge Ben, and Milton Nascimento has defined Latino music in the United States.
What different types of salsa are there?
Salsa is not a particular type of music. Instead, it is, according to the musicologist Cristóbal Díaz-Ayala, “a way, a mode p. 120↵of making music.” It combines elements from blues, pop, plena, bomba, and guagancó, among other styles. It developed in New York City in the first half of the 20th century, from the Cuban son. Famous salseros include Ray Barretto and Celia Cruz, Charlie and Eddie Palmieri, Johnny Pacheco, La Lupe, and Rubén Blades. Each developed a different repertoire. The Spanish Harlem style of Willie Colón and Daniel Santos is different to the Cuban approach of the Buena Vista Social Club.
Who was Celia Cruz?
Nicknamed the “Queen of Salsa,” she was born in Havana on October 21, 1925, and died in New Jersey on July 16, 2003. Celia Cruz was immensely popular, charismatic, and famous for using the word ¡Azúcar!, which means sugar in Spanish, to enliven her audience. She made her recording debut while still young with La Sonora Matancera, a famous Cuban band, and sang at clubs like the Tropicana. She left the island in 1960, after Fidel Castro’s revolution began to take hold, and settled in Miami and New York City. She recorded some 70 albums and established herself with songs like “Burundanga” and “La negra tiene tumbao.” Her Afro-Caribbean background is proof that in Latino music ethnic borders can be, if not erased, at least sidestepped. Her funeral was attended by millions of people in Miami.
What is Latino hip-hop?
Often ridiculed as simply hip-hop recorded by Latino musicians, Latino hip-hop pays tribute to the Puerto Rican roots of the rhythm, which took form in the 1970s in New York City, along with rap and graffiti. It is hip-hop with Spanish lyrics. It evolved through club DJs adapting the music of Tito Puente and others.
Why is reggaetón so popular?
p. 121↵Also spelled reguetón, it is a type of music with origins in Puerto Rico that combines Jamaican dancehall music with bomba, plena, and hip-hop. It started in the late 1990s and reached its climax in the early decade of the 21st century.
Who are the leaders of Latin Jazz?
Latin Jazz is a wing of more traditional jazz that incorporates elements of salsa, merengue, and other Latin rhythms. It is a fusion of Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis set in an Afro-Cuban context, and it has evolved to include other national traditions. Musicians are not happy with the term because they feel they are not seen as legitimate as standard jazz musicians. Yet the jazz scene itself has been invigorated by this fusion. It evolved from Brazilian bossa nova as it was mixed with salsa in New York City. Bebo and Chucho Valdés, Danilo Pérez, Chico O’Farrill, Paquito D’Rivera, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, and Omar Sosa have pushed the form to astonishing heights.
How about dance?
Dance is another favorite pastime of Latinos. Almost every musical rhythm comes along with its deliberate steps, often arranged for couples. The varieties of dance range from montuno, guaracha, jarabe, mambo, cha-cha-chá, danzón, cumbia, guajira, charanga, plena, bomba, and merengue. As in the case of music, the different types of dance are directly linked to their countries of origin. The varieties found in the Dominican Republic—meringue and bachata—are not practiced in Mexico. Likewise, the jarabe is from a particular province of Mexico and remains unknown in the Dominican Republic.
As the assimilation process has evolved, these dances have undergone changes to reflect the impact of Anglo civilization. p. 122↵The merengue danced in New York City is based on the one from the island, but the stories that animate the US versions are about immigrants. As well, the physical movement is less candid and a bit more inhibited.
How about dance clubs?
They are a feature of any Latino environment. Depending on the national and ethnic background, one might come across clubs specializing in conjunto music, salseros, musica tropical, merengue, rock, and technobanda.
Is pictorial art equally important?
Painting by Latinos in the United States is a centuries-old tradition. Religious art abounded in the region of the Southwest during the colonial period, as Christian iconography was a tool used to indoctrinate the aboriginal population. It also incorporated Indian elements. In New Mexico, perhaps the state with the deepest pictorial tradition, there were works in the European style, but also santeros, or holy images created for altars in mission churches. Some of these items are called retablos, decorated panels that use Catholic iconography. Texas has similar artifacts. The retablos are quite popular. People use them as expressions of faith, asking for divine intervention to protect a loved one, be cured from an illness, or improve one’s luck on all sorts of levels.
The fact that I’ve mentioned these two states is not arbitrary. Latino art has evolved across national and geographic lines. Martín Ramírez, a naïf artist—others would describe him as a folk artist—is the by-product of the Mexican Revolution and the migration to California that ensued. His work is different from that of the Cuban American artist Frank García, whose paintings are evocative of Italian renaissance art. In turn, García differs from Nuyorrican painters like Jean-Michel Basquiat, a graffiti artist of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent, p. 123↵who defined his aesthetics in the context of the Afro-Latino influences in New York in the 1970s and 1980s. (He died in 1988, at the age of 28.) These differences ought to preclude any generalizations in terms of technique, themes, or political and religious content.
How about muralism?
Muralism, as an ideological movement, consolidated its presence in the Spanish-speaking world after the Mexican Revolution of 1910. Artists like Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros used public spaces, painting frescos on street walls, cafeterias, and music civic centers to call attention to the ancestral desire of the mestizo to find his place in the modern world. They were Marxists by persuasion and expressionist by aesthetic conviction. Their influence reverberated into the United States during the civil rights era. A number of Chicano artists adapted their art into the landscape of the Southwest.
Muralism and graffiti are relatives. Graffiti—from the Italian word graffito, and commonly defined as “crude scratching upon public spaces”—might not be as versatile as a mural but it surely contains an equally strong political statement. Its technique uses aerosol paint, applied illegally on urban walls, trains, and other surfaces, at unlikely hours. The act of making graffiti needs to involve danger in order to be considered legitimate. Graffiti artists are also called “writers.”
And street art?
An integral part of the Chicano movement was the graphic art produced around strikes, marches, and other major gatherings. This art was also connected with graffiti and muralism. One of the legacies of the period is the astonishing array of murals by Chicano artists such as Judy Baca, Marcos Raya, Xavier González, José Aceves, René Yáñez, and Yolanda p. 124↵López, painted on public walls and other venues. The work of three Mexican muralists from the early part of the 20th century—Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros—serves as inspiration for these murals. Their work was intimately linked to Mexican nationalism and resulted from the armed struggles that swept their country in 1910, known as la revolución. The muralists depicted important moments and figures in the country’s history in order to raise political awareness. As their influence grew, Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros were invited to paint murals in the United States, in places like Detroit, Los Angeles, and New York. The Chicano muralists sought to explore history and myth in the same way, using public space to educate the masses about history. They produced posters in Los Angeles about Aztlán and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, with profiles of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. They also included images of the people, average Chicanos fighting for self-determination.
And comic strips?
Walt Disney and Hanna Barbera made characters like the Three Caballeros and Speedy González, but Latino cartoon makers produce outside the corporate world. The most significant artists are Lalo Alcaraz, the syndicate cartoonist who created La Cucaracha, featured in the Los Angeles Times and other publications, and the brothers Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, known for the successful alternative comic of the 1980s and 1990s, Love & Rockets.
Is there a particular type of Latino graffiti?
Graffiti evolved in the 1970s and 1980s in big metropolitan centers like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. It was the byproduct of black, Latino, Chinese, and Korean adolescents in search of expression. It not only coincided with but was part of the same aesthetic that produced hip-hop. Writers tagged their p. 125↵work with ALE, COMET, FUZZ 1, LSD OM, and TAKI 183. Several of them were immigrants from Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, and the Caribbean Basin. Some incorporated Aztec and Taino elements into their art, while others reflected the plight of Latinos in the United States through references to historical and local figures.
What are Lowriders?
A lowrider is a type of customized, old-fashioned, ornately decorated automobile with 13-inch wire-spoke wheels, hydraulic systems, and painting and carpentry designs. Fixing up lowriders (also spelled low riders) is a particular hobby in California, an expression of a curated aesthetic denoting a syncretized style.
What about Latino theater?
Spanish-language theater has been present in the United States since the colonial period, when actos, pastorelas, and other religious plays were enacted in the Southwest in plazas and missions. In the 19th century, carpas, itinerant theater troupes, entertained the lower class with comic acts. There was also vaudeville. Plus, professional companies from Spain and Latin America toured from one Spanish-language community to another.
The growth of Latino theater took place in the 20th century. In the next page I talk about Teatro Campesino, founded by Luis Valdez during the Chicano movement. In the Northeast, the Repertorio Español and the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater, stationed in New York City, are repertory companies devoted to the dissemination of Hispanic plays. They perform in bilingual format.
Chicano, Cuban, and Puerto Rican playwrights have made their stamp in English on the American stage. Their plays include René Marqués’s La Carreta (1953), María Irene Fornés’s Fefu and Her Friends (1977), and Miguel Piñero’s Short Eyes p. 126↵(1977), Dolores Prida’s Coser y cantar (1981), Carlos Morton’s The Many Deaths of Danny Rosales (1983), and Nilo Cruz’s Anna in the Tropics (2002). There is also the performance art, with slapstick overtones, of Guillermo Gomez-Pena.
Who was Luis Valdez?
Luis Valdez is also considered to be a leader of the Chicano movement, but his impact might be seen less at the political than at the artistic level.
Valdez was born in Delano, California, in 1940, to immigrant farm-worker parents. He was already writing for the stage in college, where his play The Shrunken Head of Pancho Villa was first produced. After college, he began to volunteer for Cesar Chavez’s union, the United Farm Workers. Conscious of the role the arts had in creating political awareness, he founded the Teatro Campesino with farm workers. His objective was to make plays about the plight of Mexican Americans and in support of la huelga. In fact, his one-act plays, known as actos (in the tradition of medieval Iberian theater), were performed to entertain strikers. Thus, his work had intra-ethnic, activist, and nationalist connotations.
What are Valdez’s most famous plays?
He is best known for Zoot Suit (1981), a Brechtian musical about the Los Angeles riots. The play had a successful 11-month run at the Mark Tapper in Los Angeles. It was then transferred to Broadway and ultimately became a film with Edward James Olmos, directed by Valdez himself. Valdez also directed La Bamba (1987), a bio film about the singer Ritchie Valens. His other plays include La gran carpa de la familia Rascuachi, Tiburcio Vasquez, and I Don’t Have to Show You No Stinking Badges! Along with the lawyer Oscar “Zeta” Acosta and the journalist Rubén Salazar, Valdez’s role in the Chicano movement has legendary proportions.
How about Lin-Manuel Miranda?
p. 127↵A theater phenomenon is Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator and actor of In the Heights (2008), about Latinos and neighborhood gentrification in Washington Heights. Miranda went on to make what is considered to be one of the most successful Broadway musicals ever: Hamilton (2015), a take on the Founding Fathers and the making of the United States through hip-hop music and with a multiethnic cast that portrays Hamilton and others as rough, rowdy, up-and-coming immigrants to the British colonies. Miranda is unquestionably the most important Latino artist in theater to acquire a crossover appeal. I admire his work tremendously. A YouTube video of his wedding in 2010 shows him and his relatives performing “To Life!” from Fiddler on the Roof (1964). It is followed by a charmingly playful, semi-improvised, flash-mob performance of the song “96 Thousand” from In the Heights in Universal Studies, Los Angeles. The two are ample evidence of Miranda’s charm and popularity.
What about TV?
In successive years, other facets of Spanish-language media also became a major force in the nation’s cultural landscape. Radio stations multiplied swiftly almost everywhere. Arguably more important was the impact that Univision and Telemundo had on millions of viewers. By the late 1990s, their growth surpassed their English-language counterparts, ABC, NBC, and CBS.
Since when have Latinos been active in American television?
The history of Latinos and American television ought to be divided into two: the presence of Latino characters in English-language programs, and Spanish-language TV. In the first category are the 1950s hit I Love Lucy, with Lucille Ball and her husband, the Cuban American actor and musician Desi Arnaz, p. 128↵aka Ricky Ricardo. The show lives on, thanks to eternal reruns. Other examples are Resurrection Boulevard, Miami Vice, The George Lopez Show, American Family, and Mind of Mencia. In the second category are the countless telenovelas.
What is a telenovela?
It is a Spanish-language soap opera, usually broadcast at prime time for an adult audience. The favorite topics are passionate love affairs, machismo and marianismo, illegitimate children, and revenge. They usually run for about 25 to 40 episodes. Famous series are Simplemente María and Mi querida Isabel. Mexico has the monopoly on telenovelas; it produces more than any other country, and its telenovelas are watched all around the globe, from Russia to Israel, as well as in Latin America. Venezuela and Brazil also produce their own original material. Since the 1990s, Univision and Telemundo have joined the market. The telenovelas produced in Miami and Los Angeles are exclusively geared toward a Latino audience in the United States. The cast of actors might include Puerto Ricans, Colombians, Mexicans, Cubans, and Argentines.
Who is Jorge Ramos?
Among the most prominent TV journalists is the Mexican-born, Univision anchor Jorge Ramos. He fits into a tradition of activist reporters who see the delivery of news not as factual information delivered in objective ways but as storytelling with an ideological message. Ramos’s message isn’t so much about endorsing an ideological left or right but about advancing the cause of Latinos in the process of assimilation to American society.
He is the author of a number of books, including The Other Face of America (2003), The Latino Wave (2005), The Gift of Time (2008), and A Country for All (2010). Ramos also writes a syndicated newspaper column read throughout the p. 129↵Spanish-speaking world. He is known for his in-depth interviews with world figures, as well as for his confrontations with politicians in Latin America and the United States, including Donald Trump. His work fits comfortably in the age of politically charged journalism by Fox News and MSNBC.
What about variety shows on TV?
Spanish-language TV in the United States is known for them. These are programs lasting several hours, usually on the weekend, that feature interviews, musical numbers, comedy skits, and in-studio contests. Arguably the most famous is Sabado Gigante in Univision, which started in 1962 and ended in 2015. The host was Don Francisco, a Chilean Jew (a Yiddish speaker) whose real name was Mario Luis Kreutzberger.
Is there a Latino cinema?
While Spanish-language TV and radio have grown dramatically since the 1960s, Hollywood remains all but closed to Latino filmmakers. To be sure, there have been important movies, such as León Ichaso’s El Super (1979), Robert Young’s The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez (1982), Luis Valdez’s Zoot Suit and La Bamba, Ramón Menéndez’s Stand and Deliver (1988), Gregory Nava’s El Norte (1984), Ichaso’s Crossover Dreams (1985), Patricia Cardozo’s Real Women Have Curves (2002), Eric Eason’s Manito (2002), and Sergio Arau’s A Day without Mexicans (2004). Their themes explore issues of isolation, acculturation, and affirmation. When considering the size and importance of the Latino minority in the United States, it is embarrassing that more directors aren’t invited to explore relevant issues on the silver screen for an English-speaking audience.
The diversity within the minority also begs the question of whether one could talk, at the outset of the 21st century, of a Latino cinema? Would it not be more pertinent to explore its possibilities across national lines, for example, Chicano, Puerto p. 130↵Rican, and Cuban cinemas? That is the approach some film critics take. There are B-movie examples, like the Cheech and Chong series (1978–1984), geared toward an adolescent audience, that indulge in a type of ethnic humor not always embraceable by the whole minority. Likewise, the work of Luis Valdez is surely contained within the Mexican American tradition.
Among the most successful franchises are Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids (2001–2011), which includes Latino actors and characters.
What about Latino actors in Hollywood?
The stream goes from Rita Hayworth (née Margarita Cansino) to Chita Rivera, Rita Moreno, Carmen Miranda, and Anthony Quinn to Antonio Banderas and Jennifer Lopez, aka JLo. Their ethnicity might have been a springboard for them but little of what they’ve tackled in their careers pertains to the Latino experience. Yes, Rita Moreno, a Puerto Rican, was in West Side Story, a musical film made in 1961, based on a Broadway hit, about the clash of Italian and Puerto Rican gangs in New York at midcentury. Quinn, of Mexican descent, did Viva Zapata! (1952) with Marlon Brando and The Children of Sánchez (1978). Banderas revived the Zorro franchise (1998–2005), about a New Mexico folk hero of the colonial period. And JLo impersonated the tejana singer Selena (1997). Still, these efforts are not appropriate to describe these efforts as encompassing a Latino acting method.
As in the case of TV, Latino radio, the “invisible” medium, ought to be approached by means of two categories: the Spanish-language one, and its counterpart in English. Let’s start with the first. In the first decade of the 21st century there were more than 700 Spanish-language radio stations in the United States, from urban centers like Los Angeles, San Antonio, Dallas, p. 131↵Houston, Chicago, Miami, Tallahassee, and New York, to rural areas from coast to coast. In fact, there were more Spanish-language radio stations in the state of California than in all of Central America. These stations were oriented toward news, sports, and entertainment. A series of corporations like Radio Unica, the Hispanic Broadcasting Corporation, Entravisión, and the Spanish Broadcasting System owned most of them. A number of important personalities, like El Cucú, were listeners’ favorites. The capacity of this media to mobilize audiences was tangible in the immigration marches of March 1, 2006. Today English-language radio targeting Latinos is less sizable but equally important. Programs like Latino USA on National Public Radio concentrate on politics and culture. Reporters like Ray Suarez and María Hinojosa, who also appear on TV, have been leading newscasters. Their unquestionable ancestor is Rubén Salazar.
Who was Rubén Salazar?
Rubén Salazar was a journalist for the Los Angeles Times during the civil rights era. He refused to accept the newspaper’s policy of ignoring and misrepresenting Latinos—Mexican Americans, in particular—while also pushing for a larger, more balanced ethnic representation in the American media. In that sense, he is a visionary whose contribution opened up the profession to a more diverse, less monolithic perspective of American society.
He was born in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, on March 3, 1928. As a child he lived in Texas. He joined the army in the early 1950s and eventually got his B.A. from the University of Texas. He then worked for the El Paso Herald Post and later on for a Santa Rosa paper, the The Press Democrat. His experience was in both print and television. For the Times he covered the Vietnam War and was the Mexico City bureau chief correspondent, becoming the first Mexican American ever to have such a role in any American newspaper.
p. 132↵Speaking both English and Spanish and with a vast knowledge of the community, he was able to cover the Chicano movement in a way that satisfied the community. But he also attracted the attention of the FBI, which perceived him as a threat. His sometimes explosive language made the newspaper uncomfortable, so its management asked him to tone it down. In 1969, he became the news director of KMEX, a Spanish-language TV station, while also writing for the Times. Through the two venues he was able to reach a large portion of the Los Angeles population.
How did Salazar die?
He was killed during a 1970 march in Los Angeles organized by the National Chicano Moratorium Committee, during which some 30,000 protesters walked from Belvedere Park to Laguna Park. The circumstances remain unresolved. Salazar entered a café on Whittier Boulevard. A Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department officer by the name of Tom Wilson also stepped in and fired a tear-gas grenade launcher, hitting Salazar in the head with a 10-inch gas canister. The killing was ruled a homicide but Wilson was never prosecuted. Was Salazar killed because of his prominent voice in the media? Was it an accident? There is a famous oil painting at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC, by Frank Romero, called The Death of Rubén Salazar (1986), memorializing his demise. The Santa Rosa Public Library is named after him. By and large, he has become an emblem of resistance.
Salazar’s journalistic involvement in the Chicano movement brought a fresh, informed perspective to the upheaval. It also broadened its scope. In that spirit, it is important to reiterate that el movimiento, while based within the United Farm Workers, was a larger social phenomenon. And it didn’t involve Mexican Americans alone. Puerto Ricans—like the Young Lords—and Filipinos were also active.
What are the varieties of Latino folklore?
p. 133↵The term “folklore” was coined by William Thoms, who defined it as “the manners, customs, observances, superstitions, ballads, proverbs, &c. of the olden time.” To a large extent, these activities are a manifestation of the collective psyche. As generations come and go, they acquire a consistency that, ultimately, allows for an understanding of a people’s characters. With the multiplicity of backgrounds at the heart of the Latino minority in the United States, these activities differ across national, class, and racial lines. Quinceanera parties, in which 15-year-old Mexican American girls celebrate their coming of age, and Cinco de Mayo parades become rich displays of folklore. Also, humor among Dominican Americans has unique characteristics, as does its counterpart among Nicaraguan Americans. Likewise, someone from a working-class background will nurture a set of beliefs different from a bourgeois person.
Who are the most important ethnographers?
Américo Paredes, who taught at the University of Texas at Austin for years, spent his career studying, among other issues, the border corrido. His book With His Pistol in His Hand: A Border Ballad and Its Hero (1958), about the turn-of-the-19th-century border outlaw Gregorio Cortez, is one of the most significant contributions to American folklore in any ethnic group. Personally, I am fond of this book. He stands as an exemplary case of the universality that is possible to achieve through ethnography. His narrative skills offer insight into the historical, geographic, religious, legal, artistic, and personal plight of those living on the US-Mexico border. And Lydia Cabrera, a Cuban émigré who left her home as a result of Fidel Castro’s Communist revolution and lived in Florida for years, devoted her attention to understanding black music, storytelling, religion, and politics in Cuba. Her book El Monte, loosely p. 134↵translated as The Forest and published in 1954, is an essential resource in the understanding and practice of Santería.
Interestingly, the two of them were rather unconventional ethnographers. Paredes also wrote fiction—he is the author of The Hammon and the Beans (1994) and Uncle Remus con Chile (1993)—and understood well the two sides of the creative process, as scholar and artist. His studies on Mexican folklore in South Texas defined a generation. Cabrera’s style is even more impressionistic, perhaps even idiosyncratic. Her deep knowledge of Afro-Cuban folklore persuaded her that the best approach to its sources was open-ended and nondogmatic. Her first book, Cuentos negros de Cuba (1936), is a compilation of the Afro-Caribbean tales she heard as a child. These two scholars focused their attention on traditional popular culture, emphasizing the way memory is passed along from generation to generation.
There are other important ethnographers, such as Oscar Lewis, author of The Children of Sanchez (1961), about a poor family in the slums of Mexico City that rotates around a powerful patriarch.
Is there a Latino literary tradition?
Latinos have produced a rich and varied literature. At the outset, in 1535, as the territories of what is today the Southwest were explored, there were Iberian explorers and chroniclers describing the landscape and aboriginal population. Eventually more poetic books, like Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá’s 1610 epic Historia de la Nueva México, were written.
Spanish was the central literary vehicle until after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, when English began to take hold. At first, it wasn’t proto-Latinos who sparked readers’ interest in Hispanic issues. The job was left to Americans like the novelist Washington Irving, who wrote on Columbus and the Alhambra, and the historian William Hickling Prescott, who published two popular histories of the conquest of the p. 135↵Americas, one of Mexico in 1843, and the other of Peru in 1847. Mexican Americans began to explore their status, in Shakespeare’s tongue, through the craft of María Amparo Ruíz de Burton. Her first novel, Who Would Have Thought It?, appeared anonymously in 1872, followed by a now-classic The Squatter and the Don, considered the first Mexican American novel published in English. It was released in 1881 under the authorship of “C. Loyal” in 1881.
Who are the founding figures of fiction?
José Antonio Villarreal published a bildungsroman about adolescent adaptation called Pocho (1959). Richard Vásquez came out with another one called Chicano in 1970. Among earlier representatives are Felipe Alfau, probably the most emblematic of all, Tomás Rivera, Rudolfo Anaya, and Rolando Hinojosa.
Who was Felipe Alfau?
The odyssey of this Barcelona-born American author is useful for understanding the publishing dilemmas faced by Latinos in the 1920s. Alfau immigrated to the United Status with his family before the Spanish Civil War. For a while he wrote music criticism for La Prensa, a predecessor of the merged El Diario/La Prensa.
Then he embraced the dream of becoming a writer and committed himself to writing a novel. He felt the market in Spanish was a dead end, so he switched to English. His novel Locos: A Comedy of Gestures was finished in 1928, but he was unable to sell it until almost a decade later. It was published by Farrar & Rinehart in 1936. It is a proto-postmodernist exercise along the lines of the work of Jorge Luis Borges, Vladimir Nabokov, and Luigi Pirandello, although at the time, with the exception of the latter, these authors each had yet to write their magnum opus and make an imprint in international letters. Switching to English made sense for Alfau because the p. 136↵immigrant Latino community in New York where he lived wasn’t interested in the types of avant-garde explorations he was obsessed with.
In any case, the novel was well received but lacked a context in which to be read. And so it quickly went out of print. Then, in 1988, it was rediscovered by Dalkey Archive Press, a small publisher in Normal, Illinois, and became a classic. Alfau wrote another book in English, Chromos (1990), but was unable to find a publisher. He also wrote poetry. Had Alfau stayed behind and survived the Spanish Civil War, it is possible that his career would have taken a dramatically different turn. Writing books in Spanish in the United States limited his aesthetic and intellectual scope. Yet choosing English put him in a difficult situation, as it wasn’t his native tongue. He wasn’t part of the New York scene per se. As a result, his literature took the perspective of an outsider looking in.
What are the Latino literary classics?
Among the most distinguished Latino writers are Sandra Cisneros (The House on Mango Street ), Oscar Hijuelos (The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love ), Julia Alvarez (How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent ), Cristina García (Dreaming in Cuban ), and Junot Díaz (Drown , The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao , and This Is How You Lose Her ). Their most significant works appeared in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, a period of fermentation for Latino art.
What makes Junot Diaz a trailblazer?
His oeuvre, a crossover embraced not only by Latinos but also by mainstream readers in general, reflects the immigrant experience in universal ways and without apology. His characters are fully drawn. He incorporates Spanglish in a jazzy fashion. And he embraces so-called genre literature, such as comics, fantasy, and science fiction.
What about poetry?
p. 137↵William Carlos Williams is a cornerstone. Born in Rutherford, New Jersey, in 1883 (and where he died at the age of 79), he was a doctor, poet, and essayist who gave a nativist twist to romanticism and modernism. His imagist poetry, his left-wing politics (he was appointed a poet laureate consultant for the Library of Congress but the job was denied to him because of his association with Communism), and his probing explorations of American history in volumes like In the American Grain (1925) and in his Autobiography of William Carlos Williams (1951) turned him into an inspiration for the Beat Generation, particularly Allen Ginsberg. There is a long-standing controversy within Latino intellectual circles regarding his own full acknowledgment of his Hispanic ancestry. (His father was Anglo and his mother Puerto Rican.)
Also a founding figure, Julia de Burgos was born in Carolina, Puerto Rico, in 1914, and she died in New York City in 1953. Her lyrical poetry plays with sexual, historical, geographical, and emotional images in a lucid, provocative fashion. She suffered from alcoholism and depression. Her famous poem “Farewell in Welfare Island” was written in 1953 while in the hospital.
Who are their successors?
Their successors are the poets of the Chicano movement and its aftermath (Alurista, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Gary Soto), as well as Nuyorican Poets Café, a movement that came about in New York in the 1970s around the figures of Miguel Piñero and Miguel Algarín and that sought to make poetry of street life. Other Nuyorrican poets are Tato Laviera, Sandra María Esteves, Lucky Cienfuegos, and Bimbo Rivas. In 1994 Algarín and Bob Holman edited a volume called Aloud, sampling the origins of this artistic movement but also relating it to slam and hip-hop poetry in general.
p. 138↵The first Latino to become US Poet Laureate was Juan Felipe Herrera, author of Border-Crosser with a Lamborghini Dream (1999), 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross the Border: Undocuments 1971–2007 (2008), and Halfofthe World in Light: New and Selected Poems (2008). He was named to the post in 2015 by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington.
How about memoirs?
Ethnic literature is by definition about the tension between the individual and the environment. A favorite genre is autobiography. It explores the trials and tribulations of the immigrant in the process of acquiring a new life. There have been several important Latino memorialists, including Oscar “Zeta” Acosta, Edward Rivera, Piri Thomas, and Carlos Eire.
Who was Oscar “Zeta”Acosta?
Acosta was a lawyer and activist whose books The Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo (1972) and The Revolt of the Cockroach People (1973) chronicle, in the “Gonzo journalism” style of Hunter S. Thompson, the plight of Chicanos in the late 1960s and the early 1970s.
Acosta adopted the nom de guerre “Zeta” as he came to recognize his role as a rebellious figure. Born in El Paso, Texas, on April 8, 1935, he moved with his family to Modesto, California, in 1940. Here the events of the Sleepy Lagoon Case and the Zoot Suit Riots left an imprint on his mind, even though he was still a child when they happened. He attended Oakdale Joint Union High School and then enlisted in the US Air Force. He was shipped to Panama, where he became a minister at a lepers’ colony. He completed the service, was honorably discharged, tried to commit suicide in New Orleans, married in 1956, and soon after began a 10-year-long psychiatric treatment. He eventually became a lawyer and an activist and, while on the fringes on the Chicano movement because of his p. 139↵excessive personality, he represented important cases during the second half of the 1960s.
“Zeta” is the model for the 300-pound Samoan in Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream (1971). His death is surrounded by mystery. After he ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Los Angeles, he traveled to the coastal town of Mazatlan, apparently in search of a quiet place to write. He might have been involved in the drug trade. His son received a phone call in which “Zeta” announced he was swimming in a bed of powder. He was never heard from again. Rumors about his disappearance remain unabated. There is a mythical version claiming he is still around, hidden somewhere, and plotting a takeover of the US government along with other Latin American guerrilla fighters such as Emiliano Zapata and Ernesto “Che” Guevara.
His story has been retold in novels by the detective-fiction writers Manuel Ramos and Lucha Corpi, in a PBS documentary, and in the biography Bandido: The Death and Resurrection of Oscar “Zeta” Acosta (1995).
What are the favorite genres?
The most favored genres are fiction and poetry, unquestionably. The essay as a literary form pales in comparison. There is a stereotype about Latinos being inveterate dreamers. When one thinks about the literature from south of the border, what comes to mind fast is Magic Realism, a trend, popular in the 1960s, juxtaposing dreams and reality. The most popular novel in the tradition is Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967). Other authors, including Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar, Carlos Fuentes, and Isabel Allende, also belong to this trend. Critical thinking, on the other hand, is less popular, although not necessarily less frequent. And that is what the essay does: think critically, from an individual perspective. There have been, no doubt, important practitioners of the essay as genre in the Spanish-speaking Americas, from the p. 140↵before-mentioned José Enrique Rodo in Uruguay to Octavio Paz in Mexico. In the United States, the number is minuscule.
To thrive, democracy needs to be a marketplace of ideas, be they aesthetic, political, educational, or ethical. The debate of ideas shows the degree to which a society is engaged with itself and understands its mission. Fiction is an imaginative reflection of one’s surroundings. Poetry is about individual insight. But the essay is a different type of tool: it ponders, it debates, it analyzes, and it digests. It elevates criticism to a civic responsibility.
How has literature represented the Cuban exile?
There are many Cuban novels, essays, stories, plays, and poems. They include works by Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Heberto Padilla, Reinaldo Arenas, and Zoé Valdés. Symbolically, a poem by José Martí, written in exile, called “Dos patrias” uses the image of a widow to lament the fracture at the heart of the Cuban population, divided by the injury of exile. The poem opens with the following lines: “Dos patrias tengo yo: Cuba y la noche.” In English: I have two homelands: Cuba and the night.” Near the end of his life, Martí stated, “It is my duty to prevent, by search for Cuba’s independence, the United States from spreading over the West Indies and falling, with added weight, upon other lands of Our America. All I have done up to now, and shall do hereafter, I do to that end... .. I have lived inside the monster and know its entrails, and my weapon is only David’s slingshot.”
When did the field of Latino Studies emerge?
The field is rather recent. Or else, it should be seen as a consolidation of divergent lines of inquiry.
Since the civil rights era, a series of programs have been established in institutions of higher learning devoted to Latino p. 141↵studies. These programs have evolved over time. Initially they were geographically defined, focusing on national backgrounds: Chicano courses flourished in the Southwest, Cuban American courses in Florida, and Puerto Rican courses in New York. Since the 1990s the drive has been to have a broader, more encompassing scope.
These programs take a multidisciplinary approach. Their rationale is that the Latino experience needs to be understood through myriad perspectives, from anthropology to history, from sociology to literature. The flourishing of criticism has taken place within this context, sometimes at the expense of a discourse outside the academy, which is dangerous. The audience is limited to specialists and the jargon might be esoteric. In a healthy society, serious, engaging criticism—understood as a marketplace of ideas—manifests itself in a variety of forums, from the TV screen to the pulpit, from the classroom to the newspaper page.
What about the Spanish-language book industry?
Print houses have been active in different urban centers (New York, Albuquerque, San Antonio) since before the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed. Although the Spanish crown had ordered public education for the native population in 1793, there was no such effort until well into the 19th century. It is known that California and New Mexico had printing presses in 1834. Authors like Juan B. Hijar y Jaro, José Rómulo Ribera, J. M. Vigil, Luis A. Torres, and by more important figures like the Chacón siblings, Eusebio (author of Hijo de la tempestad ) and his brother Felipe Maximiliano, probed into the Mexican American experience in their oeuvre. By the end of the century there were also works written in Spanish in the United States by Cuban and Puerto Rican exiles and refugees including Eugenio María de Hostos, Lola Rodríguez de Tió, and Sotero Figueroa.
Did the Spanish-language publishing industry change with the Chicano Movement?
p. 142↵An offspring of el movimiento were a number of ethnic publishing houses, among them Arte Público Press and Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe. Interestingly, these and other publishers of Spanish-language books that were formed in the aftermath of the civil rights era initially started as magazine ventures. It was unanimously recognized by members of the Latino minority that Latinos lacked intellectual outlets through which to reflect on their history and identity.
The name of Arte Público, which launched in 1979, is reminiscent of—and even a tribute to—a federally funded publishing effort founded in Mexico in the 1920s and still active today, known as Fondo de Cultura Económica. It started in Gary, Indiana, and then moved to the University of Houston. Among its biggest sellers is Tomás Rivera’s migrant classic . . . y no se lo tragó la tierra/. . . and the Earth Did Not Devour Him (1971), considered to be the most influential novel by a Chicano published in the second half of the 20th century. Founded in 1973, Bilingual Press published English, Spanish, and bilingual books. It publishes literary works, scholarship, and art books by or about Latinos.
Are there more small presses?
There are several others smaller in size. These include Tonatiuh-Quinto Sol (known for its acronym TQS), originally called Quinto Sol Publications. Based in Berkeley, California, TQS was in charge of organizing literary contests to encourage Chicanos to write. The editor-in-chief was Octavio Ignacio Romano, a professor of public health at the University of California at Berkeley, who died in 2005. He edited a significant anthology of the Chicano movement, El espejo/The Mirror. He launched TQS in 1965. The publisher originally had an important Chicano prize, Premio Quinto Sol, which awarded $1,000 plus publication. Among the titles awarded the prize p. 143↵was the classic Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya, released in 1972. TQS also published other books by Anaya, including The Legend of la Llorona (1984).
There is also the Latin American Literary Review Press, published by Yvette Miller in Pittsburgh. It was originally launched in 1980 as a scholarly magazine, Latin American Literary Review, but the house has been devoted to bringing out editions of Spanish-language classics and literature of merit from across the Rio Grande. It focuses primarily on English translations of creative writing and literary criticism and poetry books, published in bilingual format.
Which are the most censored books by Latino authors in the United States in the 21st century?
The German poet Heinrich Heine said once that where books are burned, sooner or later people are burned as well. Burning might be a literal action but it may also be a metaphor. Censorship is not only about burning but about prohibiting. That prohibition comes from an array of reasons, intolerance the source of all of them. Intolerance for difference. Democracy, of course, is built on tolerance: the ability to accept ideas that are different to ours. The opposite of tolerance is fanaticism, which George Santayana defined once as the redoubling of one’s efforts when you’ve forgotten your objective. There are a number of Latino authors whose books often challenge the ideas accepted by the status quo in the 21st century. They include Rudolfo Anaya, Luis J. Rodriguez, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Luis Alberto Urrea, and Ariel Dorfman. Of course, there is one thing just as bad as censoring a book and that is not reading it.
Do Latinos excel at sports?
The mystique surrounding Latino sports is universal. Watching athletes is not only a favorite pastime; it is also a palliative in p. 144↵times of misery. People are considerably less interested in the outcome of an election than in the final score of an important match. Soccer is a de rigueur entertainment among Spanish speaking immigrants from Mexico to Argentina. Not surprisingly, US soccer teams showcase numerous Latino players, some imported from Latin America but the majority bred in the United States. Baseball is popular in the countries with a coast on the Caribbean Ocean, from the Dominican Republic to Venezuela, Colombia, and Panama. The Major Leagues have a multitude of Latino legends, starting with Roberto Clemente. And then there is tennis, dogfights and bullfighting, car racing, volleyball, and fencing. The tradition of Latino sports harkens back to pre-Columbian times.
What kinds of sports are popular in Latin America?
The history of team sports in the region is defined by its colonial past. Soccer, known by the Anglicized word el futbol and its less popular equivalent el balonpie, is the region’s pastime. It is said that two entertainments capture all the attention of Spanish-language speakers: soccer and soap operas. In nations with unstable regimes and arduous economies, governments often invest in these two pastimes to distract people from more urgent problems.
Soccer is quintessential from Argentina and Brazil to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico. Its place in the Caribbean Basin is minimal. Instead, el beisbol, also known as el juego de pelota, has stood as the favorite in the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Puerto Rico since the mid-19th century, as well as in Panama and the coastal regions of Venezuela and Colombia. Historians believe that the game came to some of these countries—Nicaragua, for instance—when the US military invaded them. Apparently in Mexico, where baseball players also are important, American troops played during the 1847 invasion that was part of the Mexican-American War. In that sense, the activity is proof of the American hegemony in the p. 145↵hemisphere. It is believed that a returning student brought a bat and ball to Cuba in 1864.
Other athletic endeavors, such as boxing, volleyball, tennis, bullfighting and cock fighting, auto racing and horse racing, are also significant.
Were there pre-Columbian sports?
When the Spanish conquistadors and missionaries arrived, they found a diverse, multifaceted civilization in good physical condition. Religion, politics, and the military were not the only fundamental aspects of life—so were athletics. There was one sport in particular, known as Tlachili, that was immensely popular.
In Mesoamerica, a region that goes from Mexico and Guatemala to Belize and Honduras, a sophisticated ball game with religious implications was played with a bouncing rubber ball on a stone court. Losers were sacrificed to the deities, their heads decapitated and their blood spilled over the ground, while winners would be celebrated. The game, still played for tourist recreation in the Mexican states of Yucatán and Quintana Roo, spread to El Salvador to the south and to the American Southwest to the north. It was played by the Olmecs, Maya, Zapotecs, Toltecs, and Aztecs in a stadium in front of spectators. Athletes wore gear in order to protect themselves from their opponents and from the friction with the field’s stone. Because rubber wasn’t known in Europe, Hernán Cortés and his soldiers were mesmerized by the ball used in the game, believing it had magical powers. Eventually they took samples back to Spain. The game was perceived to be a battle between the forces of the sun and the forces of the moon. A match would be preceded by acrobats, dancers, and other performers, as well as by musicians with flutes, whistles, trumpets, and drums.
Fittingly, Fray Diego Durán, one of the chroniclers of the age of colonization in Latin America, once said, “The man who p. 146↵sent the ball through the stone ring was surrounded by all. They honored him, sang songs of praise to him, and joined him in dancing. He was given a very special award of feathers or mantles and breechcloths, something very highly prized. But what he most prized was the honor involved: that was his great wealth. For he was honored as a man who had vanquished many and had won a battle.” This sums up the vision of sports in Hispanic society.
Is soccer relevant to Latinos in the United States?
The argument has been made that the emergence of soccer as a sport of national proportions is due in large part to the social rooting of Latinos in American society. Within the United States the growth of el fútbol is relatively recent.
Whereas in the streets of Buenos Aires children have played soccer since the early days of the 20th century, the American Youth Soccer Organization wasn’t formed until 1964. In the 1970s and 1980s organizers and entrepreneurs sought to inject vitality into the sport by establishing the North American Soccer League and hiring, with expensive contracts, international stars such as Carlos Alberto and Marinho from Brazil, and Roberto Cabañas and Julio Cesar Romero from Paraguay. But it wasn’t until the 1990s, when the US team started to perform well in the World Cup and women embraced the sport as well at the professional level, that a culture around it set roots. It is a known fact that immigrants and second- and third-generation Latinos are avid soccer fans and attend American stadiums with regularity, although they still prefer to follow south-of-the-border teams, especially those from their places of origin. Proof of this interest can be seen in the televised matches broadcast in Spanish on Univision and Telemundo. Likewise, Major League Soccer (MLS) organizes special matches during Hispanic Heritage Month, making available appropriate ethnic food.
p. 147↵Since the turn of the century, there has been an effort to vitalize MLS by pouring money into the various teams. One strategy has been to bring older European players, whose careers are on the decline, to spend their last years in the United States. Concurrently, the coaches Bruce Arena and Jürgen Klinsmann have, with a number of Latino players, pushed teams toward better international performances. Yet this performance lags behind what women’s soccer has achieved at the global stage, including the World Cup. Far fewer Latino players are on the women’s national teams.
How are sports covered in Spanish-language media?
Arguably, the sports pages of newspapers like La Opinión in Los Angeles, El Nuevo Herald in Miami, La Raza in Chicago, and El Diario in New York are the sections attracting a wide readership. The same goes for channels like Fox News en Español and programs such as República Deportiva on Univision. One might even argue that, like few other factors, sports create an identity for Latinos in the United States. The fact that Latinos from different national origins might embrace an athlete because of his background enables the minority to build internal bridges. Ideological differences might be forgotten, even erased in an athletic match. Add to this the fact that Spanish-language broadcasters have an idiosyncratic, humorous way of delivering the news—the famous “Goooooooooooooooal!” comes to mind—and what one gets is a distinct culture.
Since when are Latinos visible in the Major Leagues?
Just as black players have dominated basketball for decades, Latino baseball players have multiplied in the Major Leagues. A vast number come from impoverished countries. Becoming a Major League player is a way to escape dismal conditions but also provide an economic incentive and resource for family, friends, and acquaintances. In countries like the Dominican p. 148↵Republic, players like Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz become not only role models but also iconic figures.
When did Latinos enter the Major Leagues?
No Latino equivalent to the Negro League was ever established in the United States. This is because leagues in Venezuela, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba have been active, to some degree, since the late 19th century.
The color barrier was broken in 1947. The first darkskinned Cuban was Orestes “Minnie” Minoso, who played for Cleveland in 1949. The first modern-day Dominican player was Osvaldo “Ozzie” Virgil. Among the biggest stars in baseball in general, and surely among Latinos, is Roberto Clemente, originally from Puerto Rico. He played with the Pittsburgh Pirates and was the first Latino to reach the record of 3,000 hits. Clemente was active in philanthropic causes, speaking out for the poor and underrepresented. He died tragically in an airplane crash on New Year’s Eve, 1972.
By the beginning of the 21st century, the roster of Latino players in just about every Major League team was astonishing, reaching at times 40%.
The passion for baseball among Latinos and the increasing number of Hispanic players always seem to be on the rise. Attendance at ballparks by Latinos is high. Teams recognize this enthusiasm by catering Spanish-language events.
What other sports are popular?
Latinos excel in other athletic endeavors, from golf and swimming to tennis and wrestling, especially lucha libre.
Is tennis played by everyone?
Tennis is, for the most part, a sport of the upper middle class. Players like Pancho Segura, Mary Joe Fernández, and Richard “Pancho” Gonzáles have excelled in it.
p. 149↵Latinos take a common interest in standard wrestling, whose origin is Sumerian. However, there is an idiosyncratic variety of wrestling known as lucha libre. Wrestlers usually wear a mask that covers their entire face, with the exception of their eyes and mouth. The purpose of the match is not only to outpower one’s opponent but to unmask him too. In Mexico, where the sport is immensely popular, the act of unmasking political figures played an important role during the years when the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional was in control, from 1929 to 2000. Every six years, as the presidential campaign got started, the ruling leader unmasked his successor, thus establishing who would carry the mantle onward. Similarly, rebel leaders like Subcomandante Marcos, in order to protect their identity, have used a mask in public. The act of revealing their identity has been seen as a form of unmasking. The lucha libre folklore includes Robin Hood-like urban heroes living in working-class neighborhoods like Tepito and Nezahualcoyotl in Mexico City. They devote themselves to protecting the poor against abuse by the authorities. They include icons like El Santo, whose wrestling career, thanks to B-movies and comic strips, spread out into veritable urban myths. Their legendary status is also palpable among Mexican Americans, where passion for lucha libre is equally strong. The children’s cartoon show on TV called Mucha Lucha benefits from that passion.
What about bullfighting?
Bullfighting appears in the novels of Ernest Hemingway, significantly in Death in the Afternoon. It is less frequently practiced among Latinos, in spite of the strong presence the sport has south of the border. The rodeo, on the other hand, is quite popular in the Southwest, with national tournaments in cities like Las Vegas. The sport traces its roots to the colonial period. Much of the terminology used in it—words like laso, reata, vaquero, and rancho—comes from Spanish.
How about other types of games?
p. 150↵Aztecs had a board game called Patolli, which is similar to backgammon. But Latinos today engage in board games that are popular south of the Rio Grande, such as Serptientes y escaleras and, especially, Lotería, a type of bingo using images of popular culture. Children have piñatas at birthday parties. Street games include rayuela, which is played much like hopscotch; escondidillas, a form of hide-and-seek; and toma todo, which uses a six-sided top and is not only for children but for adults too.