Today the Editorial section of The Boston Globe (the section offering the newspaper’s collective opinion voice), published a piece called “Jenni Rivera: Crossing over.” Normally, you don’t see Mexican American stars inside the pages the Globe, so of course we had to read it. Too bad we did, because quite frankly, the Globe’s opinion was so simplistic and so misguided, it just proved that in the end, we still have a LOT of work to do. We know the piece would be heading in the wrong direction when at the end of the first paragraph, the piece said, “But because she appealed to a particular population — she sang largely in Spanish, in a tradition known as “la banda” — [Rivera] operated outside the radar of the mainstream media, with its narrow definitions of American pop music.”
To some degree, the 43-year-old Rivera’s odd mix of fame and obscurity is a sign of enduring divisions in our nation. It’s also a reflection of changes in the music industry, once more of a unifying pop force in American culture, which has gravitated increasingly toward exploiting niches.
But Rivera, whose appeal stemmed from her big voice and her relatably messy life, had so much talent and personality that the broader entertainment world was getting wind of her potential. Recently, she starred in an English-language reality show, “I Love Jenni,” which aired on the bilingual channel mun2 and on the Style network. She was also developing a sitcom for ABC. One of the tragedies of her death is that English-speaking audiences, who would likely have gotten to know her better, never will have that chance.
Here is the problem with this thinking: the Globe (and basically all English mainstream media) is still struggling to accurately portray what it is to be US Latino in America. By making it an either/or situation (either you are English-speaking and “mainstream” or you are Spanish-speaking, “ethnic” and “niche”), the Globe did little to educate its readers. That is the old narrative that the mainstream US media still wants to weave. What it SHOULD have done is use more of what Gustavo Arellano wrote about for OC Weekly:
I’m more than happy to take them, if only to help the MSM correct their pathetic record on reporting on a mega-superstar that operated in plain sight under a media that, like usual, didn’t bother to pay attention while she was alive because she was a Mexican and popular mostly to Mexicans–and they never matter unless you can get a diversity grant to cover them.
Now that she’s dead? Look everyone: we cover Mexicans!
Arrellano’s piece led to a piece that NYC Talking’s Angel Rodríguez did for us called, “Mainstream Media and Latino Stars: How US Outlets Miss the Point.” Both Gustavo and Angel make some very convincing points that speak more to the complexity of US Latino identity than a three-paragraph editorial from a mainstream newspaper like The Globe.
You know WHY The Globe wrote that piece? Because it could not ignore what happened this past week after Rivera’s death. It felt to us that EVERYONE in our world was talking about it, and almost everyone we know knew how much of a superstar Rivera was. In addition, the Globe failed to mention that Rivera was American-born (Long Beach) and was actually celebrating her bilingual, bicultural background. This was not about appealing to “a particular population” that spoke Spanish, this was about an American-born singer who was highly successful because she never forgot her roots or where she came from.
Furthermore, the Globe failed again when it assumed that all of Jenni’s fans were Spanish-speaking. They were not. They were bilingual. They were English-dominant. They were Spanish-dominant. A vast majority of them were also US Latinos. You know that group, Boston Globe? They are the ones who are redefining America, who are bringing the real stories to the mainstream because the traditional mainstream media has ignored this population for years.
If the Globe wants to start getting into issues of Latino-ness in the US, then it should start by actually telling real stories now instead of waiting for a legend to die and writing an opinion piece that misses the mark.
Here’s a quote from a Northeastern University website: “Boston’s recent history is marked by the rapid influx of people from Puerto Rico, Haiti, Cuba, Colombia, Honduras, and other parts of Latin America. In 1970, Latinos made up less than 3% percent of Boston’s population; by 2000 Latinos represented over 14%, the largest gain of any ethnic group. The majority of Boston’s Latino population is Puerto Rican; however, while 70% of Boston Latinos were Puerto Rican in 1970, by 2000 only 32% were. Boston’s Latino population is increasingly an ethnically and racially diverse group.” My point for posting this is that I just wonder if the Globe, or Boston itself, is just a little bit behind the curve. I’m not sure if cities with Latino explosions within the past two decades are see things like people who are from cities that have had traditional Latino enclaves (LA, Houston, Miami, Chicago, NYC, etc.) I remember being behind the curve 15-16 years ago being from a place that was just undergoing rapid growth in Latino population, I was shocked when I visited Denver and saw that most of Latinos in the mall were speaking English (Latinos in the mall where I lived always spoke in Spanish). Denver was simply a generation ahead of what I was used to in terms of its Latino population.