Let me preface this post by saying that I am a proud Bronx Boricua woman, born in Lincoln Hospital and raised in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx and I am fiercely protective of the borough with which I was raised, though I often have a love-hate relationship with New York City in general. LOL. Let me also point out that I respect and admire Jennifer Lopez, who is an icon in her own right on many levels and is an extremely successful Latina in the industry, continuing to be influential in her numerous endeavors. Jennifer Lopez currently has a net worth of $300 million dollars, has been honored with the 2,500th Walk of Fame Star for her music career, is the first woman to have a No. 1 movie and album in the same week, is co-founder of the very successful Nuyorican Productions which grossed $200 million dollars with the film “Shall We Dance” alone. She’s fabulous on “American Idol” (my personal guilty pleasure), she is abso-fuckin-lutely gorgeous with a cute girl-next-door laugh and smile and a fierce shoe game. She is a pop culture mega star, a fashion icon, and a savvy businesswoman and that, gente, cannot be denied.
Still, despite all of this, I give JLo the side eye.
On June 4th, 2014, Jennifer Lopez held her very first concert in the Bronx. 25,000 tickets were given free to Bronxites who attended in droves and from the posts I’ve seen online, it looked like MAD fun though reports say it was a lukewarm turnout. Again, I am a fan…I’ve shaken my ass to some of her tracks and I think she is fucking great. As a Boricua female from the Bronx, Jennifer Lopez has come to represent the Bronx and Boricuas to the mainstream (read: whiter) United States population. This is both important and precarious.
It is important because there aren’t enough Boricuas getting play in the mainstream and the sheer fact that she has accomplished that deserves respect. THAT is important.
However, it is precarious for many other reasons. Let me list the ways.
First, as white America’s only reference of a Bronx Boricua female, Bronxites, Boricuas, Latinas and other women of color are often compared to this sole reference of JLo. The sexualization of Jennifer Lopez plays on the historical objectification of women of color, but that in itself is an entirely different post. The problem with her being the sole reference for white America and the consequent comparisons that are made is that it makes her almost the “cultural ambassador” for us. And though we can praise her for her accomplishments and, as Latin@s, applaud her success even more because of her cultural and ethnic background, I feel that I, if not anyone else, must hold her accountable for how she interprets and uses the role she has been carrying since her career took off.
Jennifer Lopez is known for referring to herself as “Jenny from the Block,” and “Still the Same Girl,” even going so far as to film the music video for “Same Girl” in the Castle Hill area of the Bronx, where she grew up. The problem with her constantly referring to her Bronx roots is this: it is done with the intention to maintain her hardscrabble life in the Bronx, to perpetuate the idea of the Bronx as the New York City wasteland that she “survived” from. It’s the quintessential “look at me now and how far I’ve come” narrative that audiences eat up, the “rags-to-riches” premise of the United States “American Dream” mierda. Yet, her story rides solely on the negative connotations of a borough that has been stigmatized for DECADES and SHE HAS NEVER CORRECTED THE IMPLICATIONS OF HER REFERENCES. On the contrary, she reiterates her loyalty to the Bronx by reminding us as often as she can, that she is still just a Bronx girl, still just “from the block,” still has this desired hood credibility that only reinforces the negative ideas about the Bronx. Her rags, therefore, is a borough that has been already plagued by stigmatization for decades and her contribution to its perpetuation is inexcusable to me. Therefore, white bread America, having only JLo as a reference point for Nuyorican-ness, has only a negative outlook on what the Bronx is and by extension, the communities of people of color it holds.
Does she outright say these negative things about the Bronx or its communities? Of course she doesn’t. She’d lose a fan base and we all know that her “Jenny from the Block” persona needs the Bronx and Boricuas, who to this day, represent a large Bronx demographic. Yet, though she needs us and uses her cultural, ethnic, and Bronx identity as a constant life narrative, it is RARE that she contributes to the same neighborhood that she claims helped shape her as a person, an artist and was a driving force in the beginning of her career. VERY rare, but not non-existent. Granted, she donates millions to various charities, most of which center around women and children (and y’all know I am in full support of that, gente) and her Lopez Family Foundation, founded in 2009, has recently partnered with Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx to ensure quality health care for low-income women and children and has helped various communities both in the U.S. and on the island of Puerto Rico. MAD RESPECT (though we all know she is enjoying those damn tax breaks, but again, an entirely different post, gente). Despite this though, there has been little else contributed to the progress of the community she reps so damn hard. Perhaps that’s all we should expect, we should be grateful and falling over ourselves in praise of this. I don’t know about all of that. Again….side eye.
I expect a lot from myself. I MYSELF AM A REPRESENTATIVE OF MY NEIGHBORHOOD, MY CULTURE, AND MY ETHNICITY. I recognize that what I do and how I present myself has a direct impact on all three and the perception of them. I don’t have the resources or the position that Jennifer has and most likely, I never will. Nonetheless, if I expect a lot from myself, because of her resources and her position, I expect that much more from her, especially if you are constantly using your Bronx Boricua-ness in the narrative of your life. This critique does not take away from her Latinidad, her Boricua-ness, her Bronxness, or her many accomplishments. This does not mean that nothing she actually does for her community is satisfactory or is enough. On the contrary, I APPLAUD her philanthropy because some of it is indeed geared towards people of color and the underserved communities. This also does not mean that she is a horrible person, because at the end of the day, SHE IS A HUMAN BEING JUST LIKE THE REST OF US, WITH FLAWS AND ISSUES, JUST TRYING TO MAKE AN IMPACT IN THE WORLD. But in a world where there are biases and prejudices and stigmas and binaries….why would you choose instead to perpetuate the ideas that have been used against us for decades? I personally think that’s pretty fucking bamboozled, a modern day Bronx Boricua Bojangling going down.
Again, I don’t hate on her style AT ALL…I actually REALLY LOVE HER. Yet, my critique of her is often met with the angry replies that she is “one of us,” that she “represents” us and that my critiques of her are badmouthing my community via JLo. And THAT…that reponse…. is an additional precarious matter in regards to her role as our “cultural ambassador.”
Her Bronx Boricua-ness does not exempt her from critique or debate in terms of the community which she refers to constantly. Too many people of color often excuse things celebrities of color do, represent, or imply in favor of having said “representative,” and JLo is no exception. Just because she is a Bronx Boricua and is where she is and has what she has….does not mean I should ignore or excuse certain things, my critique primarily being her representation of the Bronx and indirectly of the Nuyorican. Because if you’re just like me, then I’ma call you out the way I expect people to call ME out if I am representing my people in a negative way. Her cultural, ethnic, and Bronx similarities to me do not exempt her from being critiqued solely because she’s “one of us” who made it to the mainstream (again read: white). On the contrary, because you are one of the few of “us” to hit mainstream, I EXPECT THAT MUCH MORE FROM YOU.
Lest we forget, this is JLo’s FIRST concert in the Bronx in a music career that shot her to superstardom in what….1999? So, she came to Orchard Beach after 15 years of phenomenal success in the entertainment biz and played to us and now we have to kiss her $27 million dollar insured ass because she decided to REALLY love the Bronx? Let’s be for real, y’all… currently her latest singles are low on the charts and sales for them are dipping. You want to now be embraced by a community that you have little impact on but constantly refer to? C’mon b…..I’m not hating, I’m just saying. Like Miss Janet says, “What have you done for me LATE-LY?” LOL.
And here’s a Miss Janet side eye for y’all:
Overall, I don’t mind that she has this “cultural ambassador” role and that with her many successes, accomplishments, and so forth she is, quite frankly, a decent representative But she is NOT excused in her continuous reinforcement of the prejudiced stigma of the neighborhood she claims to love so much. Her being Boricua does not exempt her from critique…in fact, as a community, people of color should hold celebrities of color MORE accountable for their representations of us. I feel the same way about Tyler Perry, about George Lopez, Alex Rodriguez, Zoe Saldana, etc. Their celebrity does not excuse them from being critiqued, despite how cute, fashionable, and successful they may be. I can respect them, admire them, applaud them, and REP them and still have the right to critique them, what they stand for, and in JLo’s case what she constantly says she stands for.
That’s why, despite her achievements and her place in the sadly short list of megastar Latin@s, I still give JLo the mean side eye.