Latino Studies Popular Culture
by
William A. Nericcio
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 March 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0054

Introduction

It would not take a huge stretch of the imagination to embrace the fact that Latino studies is popular culture or, to put it another way, that popular culture is Latino studies. To the extent that Latino cultures make their way through the Americas, from South America to Central America, from Central America to the United States and beyond, to the north, to Canada, it is through popular culture that the myriad threads of the Latina/o dasein have entered the consciousness of viewers, readers, thinkers, and spectators across the planet. This mass cultural diaspora, carrying such diverse figures as Ramon Novarro, Desi Arnaz, Carmen Miranda, Raquel Welch, Tito Puente, Ricardo Montalbán, and El Vez in its wake, comes to enrich American popular culture in the 20th and 21st centuries. The term “popular culture” may mean different things to different readers. In general “popular culture” is a designation apart from “high culture” and might be better designated by the term “mass culture”—that is, cultural artifacts that are produced and disseminated to the masses, to the throngs, to the general public. In this regard, elements of popular culture will be seen to include television, comics, newspapers, advertising, film, etc.—if it is part of the ephemera of mass, corporate cultural entertainments, it is to be designated as part of popular culture. From the spectacular comedic and linguistic inventions of Mexican cinematic legend Cantinflas, to the animated hijinks of Speedy Gonzales, to the salacious gyrations of Charo, to the accented comedic undulations of Sofia Vergara (Modern Family, ABC Television), to the early-20th-century Hollywood adventures of Carmen Miranda and the Mexican spitfire, Lupe Velez, and the no-less-mesmerizing cinematic/“sinematic” attractions of Rita Hayworth (Margarita Carmen Cansino) and Salma Hayek, elements of Latina/o popular culture have shaped the imagination of the Americas, including their big brother to the north, in ways that continue to imprint perceptions of Latin Americans and their US-bound Latina/o counterparts. Popular-culture artifacts may be perceived to be lower or inferior to elements of high culture (opera, canonical theatre, literature, cinema), but their impact on culture more generally writ is not to be underestimated or ignored.

General Overviews

Because popular culture contains elements that derive from a diverse fount of genres and media, beginning studies in this critical area of study may well be determined by the tastes of the reader/critic. For an immediate and pleasurable entry into the domain of contemporary Latina/o popular culture, one would do well to begin with Paredes 2006 (originally published in 1958), a landmark study of borderland ballads (corridos) in Texas. In a sense, Américo Paredes’s book augured the future of cultural anthropology, ethnic studies, American studies, and a host of other fields (postcolonial studies may well be seen to begin here as well), with the way his enquiry revealed the deep (and deeply racist) connections between popular folklore, history, politics, and music in the history of South Texas. With regard to the connected history of the United States and Latin America (with a sublimely acute focus on the impact of US mass culture in a Latin American context), one would do well to become familiarized with the work of Chilean scribe Ariel Dorfman and his sometimes collaborator, Armand Mattelart. Dorfman and Mattelart 1975, produced by the Chilean government under the direction of Salvador Allende, marks one of the first attempts to use popular cultural studies as a political intervention against the hegemonic influence of popular entertainment (namely, Walt Disney). The other selections here provide excellent gateway studies into particular arenas of popular culture: Moraga and Anzaldúa 2001 into feminist popular cultural studies, Dorfman and Mattelart 1975 into mass culture, and Mendible 2007 and Nericcio 2007 into Hollywood. Both Habell-Pallán and Romero 2002 and Flores and Rosaldo 2009 provide readers with a concise and diverse introduction into the field of Latina/o popular culture. Lastly, Candelaria, et al. 2004, an encyclopedia, helped define the field of Latina/o popular culture.

  • Candelaria, Cordelia Chávez, Peter J. García, Arturo J. Aldama, and Alma Alvarez-Smith, eds. Encyclopedia of Latino Popular Culture. 2 vols. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2004.

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    An epic undertaking, this massive encyclopedia of Latino popular culture is the go-to reference tool both for undergraduates initiating incipient forays into the field as well as for graduate students and scholars seeking a comprehensive source for their work in the field.

  • Dorfman, Ariel, and Armand Mattelart. How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic. Translated by David Kinzle. New York: International General, 1975.

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    If there is a field focused on popular culture in a Latin American or Latina/o context, it can trace some of its etiology to this handsomely illustrated volume. Dorfman and Mattelart’s critique of Hollywood and the United States (in general) and of the Disney corporation (in specific) represents a turning point in the study of popular culture.

  • Flores, Juan, and Renato Rosaldo, eds. A Companion to Latina/o Studies. Blackwell Companions in Cultural Studies 14. Hoboken, NJ: Blackwell, 2009.

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    The editors of this collection assemble a veritable who’s who of all-stars in Latina/o studies; the volume is wide ranging and provides a strong entry into the field for undergraduates and graduate students alike.

  • Habell-Pallán, Michelle, and Mary Romero. Latino/a Popular Culture. New York: New York University Press, 2002.

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    An inclusive collection that provides an excellent entry into the study of popular culture in a Latina/o and Latin American context.

  • Mendible, Myra, ed. From Bananas to Buttocks: The Latina Body in Popular Film and Culture. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007.

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    Mendible’s collection of essays is focused primarily on the representation of female Latin American cinematic stars, as well as their Latina (American) counterparts.

  • Moraga, Cherríe L., and Gloria E. Anzaldúa, eds. This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color. 3d ed. Berkeley, CA: Third Woman, 2001.

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    While this collection usually appears in bibliographies focused on feminist issues, this innovative collection by Moraga and Anzaldúa changed the face of American studies and more with its headlong and headstrong venture into the literary imagination by women of color. Indispensable for American studies and cultural studies. Originally published in 1981 (Watertown, MA: Persephone).

  • Nericcio, William Anthony. Tex[t]-Mex: Seductive Hallucinations of the “Mexican” in America. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007.

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    Nericcio’s wide-ranging collection of essays focuses on a broad spectrum of Latina/o figuration in the United States and beyond—advertising, television, cinema, newspapers, postcards, and more fold into this comparative exercise.

  • Paredes, Américo. “With a Pistol in His Hand”: A Border Ballad and Its Hero. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006.

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    Originally published in 1958. A book that augured many dynamic fields of inquiry, Paredes’s study never loses its focus as it tracks down the various and sundry complexities of popular songs (corridos) and their connections to politics, culture, ethnicity, and more.

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