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Olmecs at the DeYoung Museum

6 May

Smiling Olmecs

What a great night to see historic ruins, Spanish fashion and dance cumbia till your feet hurt. I just saw the Colossal Olmecs exhibit at the DeYoung exhibit, which, to mark its closing weekend, had a  celebration featuring live music and dancing, followed by a DJ playing cumbia.

How nice it was to see a diverse group of people- old white hippies in puffy pants, young Latino families with small kids, 20 somethings of all hues, regular museum-goers and first-time attendees, all taking in the majesty of these colossal, intricate statues and carvings which were reflected in the faces of many in attendance. And yes, afterwards all of these people danced and celebrated together.   It was a great display of joy and unity.

Cinco de Mayo: Party, Dude!

5 May
Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo

I have mixed feelings about Cinco de Mayo– is this the way the Irish feel on St. Patrick’s Day? For most of my young life I gleefully ate a Mexican dinner on this day, and wished everyone I knew a “Happy Cinco de Mayo”!. And yes, although I am Mexican, what can I say, I thought for a long time it was Mexican Independence Day.

So somewhere along the line, I caught wind of the real Cinco de Mayo story- the outnumbered Mexican forces, armed with nothing but sticks and rocks, beat the mighty French forces.  And then it was some time after learning this inspiring story that some know-it-all told me that in fact the Napoleonic forces were defeated by nothing more than a bad case of the runs.

So why the unease with a day to let out a grito of pride in my Mexican heritage? Maybe it’s the Cinco de Drinko. The white folks in sombreros, fake moustaches, and ponchos.  The caricatures bordering on offensive. I understand that today is an excuse for people to get trashed on tequila shots and margaritas at Chevy’s, and far be it from me to deny people an excuse to party. I just wish this holiday were an occasion to educate people a bit on Mexican history and culture in addition to the Taco Bell debauchery.  And let’s celebrate Mexican heritage every day (which is why I’m wearing my super cool Mexico t-shirt tomorrow).

Happy Cinco, everyone!

What Does a Latina Look Like?

9 Apr
Multi-ethnic Models

Multi-ethnic Models

I belong to a group on Facebook where Hispanic online marketing professionals can gather to share news on the industry and debate issues.  One member posted a link to an article in MediaPost about Estee Lauder’s new Idealist skin care line, which is supposed to work wonders with all skin types.  The models pictured at left are the ones whose faces will grace the campaign, and there was a bit of a comment kerfuffle on the Facebook group as to whether Latinas were being excluded from this campaign.  We see no Latinas in the photo. Or do we?

Several commenters rushed to point out that there is no Latina look, and that Latinas can indeed look like anything. Some mentioned that they and their daughters do not look typically Latina, yet they identify closely with the culture. Well, count me and my Mom in that category. My looks are far from typically Latina- my skin tone is something akin to eggshell white- and this is compounded by the fact that my first name is a little less Guadalupe María, a little more Jane. People do not assume that I am Hispanic.  And yet, I am.

Back to the image of the models.  It turns out that the model on the left, Joan Smalls, is Puerto Rican. You can be Latina and black, por supuesto. The model in the center, Constance Jablonski, reminds me of Alexis Bledel, of “Gilmore Girls” and “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” fame, who herself is Mexican and Argentinean. And the model on the right, Liu Wen, bears a resemblance to Peruvian presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori.  So all of them could conceivably be Latina.

Many people, we Hispanics included, have an idea in mind of what Latinas look like.  Brown-skinned. Mestizo, looking both a little Spanish and a little Indian. Brown eyes, brown hair. If asked, I would say Mexican actress Kate del Castillo fits the mold quite well. But Hispanic is not a race- it is a loosely defined idea, a grouping for those people living in Spanish-speaking lands.  It covers everything from Dominican Republic to Argentina, and all the lands in between.  Naturally, there will be some variety.  In this country, we like knowing who’s who and what’s what.  Admit it- how many times do you rush to Wikipedia or Google while watching a TV commercial and search for something like, “guy from the Sprint commercial, what is he? Asian?” Faces of ambiguous origin make us uneasy- we need to have an explanation, fast.

Latinas are underrepresented in Hollywood and the mainstream media, which I think explains the consternation of the member of the Facebook group that a typically Latina face was not included in the Estee Lauder campaign.  Yet I think if we broaden our idea of what a Latina can look like, we’ll see that our community is more diverse than we realize. Let’s use a big-tent approach to Latinidad.

Diversity (or Lack Thereof) at the Movies

20 Feb
La Bamba

La Bamba

I like to say that what the Super Bowl is to men (especially the men in my family), the Academy Awards are to me. A Sunday afternoon spent eating popcorn, glued to the TV, while enjoying a once a year spectacle at times predictable and at times thrillingly unpredictable (Bjork’s original black swan, anyone?). Yet I can’t help but notice that this year’s Academy Award nominated films are a little on the homogenous side. I’m not the only one who’s noticed.

Just a few days ago, New York Times movie critics Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott (the latter is one of my favorite critics, along with the New Yorker’s Anthony Lane and the always great Roger Ebert) discussed the dearth of faces of color in the movies of 2010, on the occasion of the Oscars. I would agree with their premise that the stories being told and celebrated by Hollywood reflect an unbearable whiteness of being, but while the writers focus on the history of African Americans in Hollywood, I would say that the issue of diversity onscreen is not only a black and white issue. We are not seeing stories by and about people of color, period.

When it comes to the portrayal of Latinos onscreen, there is reason to believe that we will see more- but will these movies be any good? Pantelion films is a new film studio dedicated to making movies specifically for the U.S. Latino market. And yet its first feature, “From Prada to Nada”, has received both poor reviews and low box office.  This movie (which I haven’t seen) is proof that even with Latinos behind the camera, stereotypes can abound. One need look no further than the films of Tyler Perry to see that, as much as critics (including Spike Lee) may decry the depiction of African-Americans in his movies (see: men in drag), audiences love his middlebrow fare.  So does it matter if filmmakers of color are at the helm if they are just rehashing the same old Latino boxer/African-American thug stereotypes? Does quantity (number of roles for minority actors) matter more than quality? And what’s quality?

Anthony Mackie in The Hurt Locker

Anthony Mackie in The Hurt Locker

In recent years, there have been Oscar-nominated movies featuring diverse casts- “Babel”, “Children of Men”, “Pan’s Labyrinth” (and those are just the Mexican directors); most recently, last year Mo’nique won Best Supporting Actress for her role in “Precious”, and only two years ago, the 2009 Best Picture went to “Slumdog Millionaire”, which has an all-Indian cast (further proof that it doesn’t take a director of color to helm a good movie with a minority cast).  Last year’s Best Picture winner, “The Hurt Locker”, centers around a hotheaded bomb defuser, played by Jeremy Renner, and his more levelheaded sergeant, played by Anthony Mackie.

So perhaps it is an anomaly that this year’s Best Picture nominees are about the British royal family, a band of Old West gunslingers, Bawston working class folks, Harvard tech geeks, New York City Ballet dancers…a real variety in terms of setting and tone and theme. But all really, really white (with the exception of the Asian girlfriend in “The Social Network”).  I am reminded of the controversy surrounding Vanity Fair’s Young Hollywood 2010 issue, when 9 up and coming actresses were on the cover…not a non-WASP among them. I believe it’s not that the young actresses of color aren’t out there (hello, Zoe Saldana), but the Hollywood arbiters of who’s in, who’s out, and who’s worthy of a gold statuette are a little behind the times.  Maybe this year, a lot behind the times. I will be watching the Oscars on February 27th, and in the coming months, this movie fan will be watching and hoping to see good movies that don’t look like they were cast at Andover Academy. A little less Kate Hudson, a little more Queen Latifah, please.

Comedians and White Privilege

9 Feb
Daniel Tosh

Daniel Tosh

I’ll say this much about the BBC’s Top Gear and its hosts- they don’t back down from a controversy. Two weeks ago, hosts Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Mark Hammond dismissed the idea of driving a Mexican car, since the cars from that country must be like the people- “lazy, feckless, flatulent and overweight”.  Excuse me for not howling with laughter. Yeah, and Germans are uptight, Arabs are irrational, and Asians are bad drivers. Har!

As a serious fan of comedy, I am offended more by the unfunniness of jokes based on ethnic stereotypes than anything else. But yes, they are offensive because they draw a line in the sand. You and me, we get this joke. We can tell it because we’re in the majority. Those other guys? They’re not in on the joke.

The controversy over Top Gear’s ugly Mexican stereotypes lies not just in the jokes but in the fact that the hosts issued a totally clueless non-apology. The BBC actually stated that, while apologizing for insulting the Mexican Ambassador to Mexico, “national-stereotyping was part of British humour“. Perhaps this is why British humor has always struck me as pedestrian and juvenile. National stereotyping is hilarious when you’re 12- not so much when you’re an adult. Who likes laugh out loud humor.

I’ve been noticing this a lot lately- a glut of white comedians just swimming in white privilege. I was recently watching a series on Comedy Central of comedians ranked from 20 to 1 (when we count the best in pop culture, we count backwards).  We had a couple of black comedians, two women, and one Asian comedian, Eliot Chang, who gets an A for enthusiasm but an F for unfunny. Bo Burnham, number one? A teenager with a piano? Gack. Yet many of the (white) comedians told jokes about (minority) races that really brought it home to this viewer that, let’s face it, comedy is for white folks. And Arabs smell funny.

There are several offenders when it comes to comedians bathing in the glow of white privilege. To wit:

– Daniel Tosh, he of Tosh 2.0. I love Daniel Tosh- no one has taken down Nebraska quite like he has. His early stand up is intelligent, insightful, and hilarious. Yet in nearly every episode of Tosh.0, we witness a dynamic of white dudes mocking people of color for doing “ghetto stuff”. And yes, there is a segment called “Is it racist?”. Usually, it is!

–  I recently attended an improv show that was part of SF Sketchfest, and while the performance itself was mildly funny, choosing which performance to attend was even harder. Three weeks packed with top comedians from yesterday and today, and each one whiter than the last. SF Sketchfest is perfect for you if your idea of hilarious is Bo Burnham.

Now, am I one of those wimpy, super PC San Franciscans that weeps if something even has the hint of offensiveness? Hardly. I think the best comedy is insightful, as the best comedians are the truthtellers of the day. This doesn’t require a simple, us vs. them, I can tell jokes about you people because I’m in the majority style that many white comedians adopt. But let’s face it, most of the comedy we see out there, whether on Comedy Central or on stage or in the movies, is made for 12 year old boys. So who’s still great? Dave Chappelle, who this very evening performed a secret show in San Francisco (I couldn’t get tickets in time!). His riff on women who dress sexy is classic. He’s edgy, and walks the “white people do this/black people do that” line better than most comics (because he’s actually insightful). You can discuss race in a way that is neither offensive nor milquetoast. According to this lazy, feckless, flatulent and overweight Mexican.

Las Empresas Latinoamericanas y Los Medios Sociales

20 Jan
Las Redes Sociales en Latinoamérica

Las Redes Sociales en Latinoamérica

Hace poco, leí que las empresas latinoamericanas están atrasadas en su uso de los medios sociales- y esto, a pesar de que los internautas en la región se están conectando a una tasa increíble.  En una conferencia reciente, Alexandre Hohagen, el Director General de Google para Latinoamérica, sostuvo que “Latinoamérica seguirá siendo la región que más crecerá en el mundo en el uso de Internet, tanto si el acceso es mediante computadoras o teléfonos móviles”. Se ha discutido mucho sobre el auge de los medios sociales por los jóvenes en Latinoamérica. ¿Y las empresas de la región? Aún no han aprendido integrar los medios sociales en su estrategia de marketing.

La empresa de investigación de mercados Burston Marsteller acaba de dar a conocer los resultados de un estudio que muestra lo siguiente:

  • Solo la mitad (49%) de las empresas latinoamericanas con altos ingresos tienen una cuenta en redes sociales, comparadas con 79% de las empresas globales.
  • 39% de las compañías están en Facebook (54% a nivel global)
  • 32% de las compañías tienen presencia en Twitter (65% a nivel global)
  • 25% de las compañías tienen cuenta en Youtube (50% a nivel global).

Sin embargo, las compañías que se comprometen en redes sociales son muy activas.

  • 86% de las cuentas corporativas de empresas latinoamericanas se mantienen activas (se actualizaron por lo menos una vez en la semana anterior a la investigación), lo que sugiere que estas empresas entienden la importancia de conversar en redes sociales de forma regular.

Cinco datos que nos indican mucho.  Los datos muestran que los latinoamericanos- sobre todo los jóvenes- están accediendo al internet, y las redes sociales en particular, a una tasa fenomenal. Para llegar a ellos, utilizar los medios sociales simplemente tiene sentido.  Entiendo el miedo que uno puede tener frente a una tecnología nueva. Titubear. Esperar. !No sé usarlo! ¿Para qué usarlo? Yo dudaba mucho el poder de los medios sociales para hacer que una empresa o una marca conecte con sus clientes potenciales y actuales. Antes.

Pero los tiempos han cambiado. Los medios sociales no son una tendencia pasajera. Quizás la red sea distinta de país a país (Orkut en Brasil, hi5 en el Perú y la Argentina), y quizás la red social de ayer no tiene la misma popularidad que antes (de Friendster a Myspace a Facebook a….). Pero el uso de las nuevas tecnologías para crear una identidad, para conectarse a los demás, para compartir ideas y opiniones, para obtener información- ese cambio es definitivo.

Entonces, una vez que uno se dé cuenta de su importancia, ¿cómo utilizarlos para conversar y responder a los clientes- los “fans” (o críticos) de uno? Mi consejo sería simplemente comenzar. Y escuchar.

A New Year’s Reflection on Immigration

3 Jan
Arabs in America

Arabs in America

James Zogby recently wrote a reflection on his family’s immigration experience, and it is very similar to the story of how my paternal ancestors came to America.  Zogby’s Uncle Habib came to the United States at a young age, unaccompanied, from Lebanon, eventually paving the way for the rest of the family to make their way over from their small village, so that they could be free of Ottoman persecution. And so it went for my father’s grandparents. First one brother arrived in Pittsburgh (with thoughts of ketchup dancing in his head?), then the rest of the siblings came. This was in the 1880’s, over 100 years ago.

Zogby’s reflection is filled with a sense of gratitude for the sacrifices made by those who came before him, with nothing, to make a better life in America.  And yet he ends his essay on a sad note, telling the story of a recent meal with Congressional aides who openly berate their waiter, wonder about his legal status, and state that it would be “fun” to report him. It seems that we Americans have an alarming empathy gap when it comes to immigrants. How quickly we forget our forebears.

The December lame duck session of Congress produced many legislative achievements for the White House- the new START treaty, repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, healthcare for 9/11 first responders, passage of a food safety bill.  The only major legislative victory the President couldn’t claim was passage of the DREAM Act, which would have provided a pathway to citizenship for young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as minors (in many cases, when they were infants). I found it remarkable that Congress could come together to pass several contentious bills, and yet when it came time to look at the human face of immigration, the votes were not there.

Many people who take the immigration debate seriously propose making it easier for highly-skilled immigrants to enter the country.  The implication is that a glut of low-skilled immigrants take the place of engineers and technical experts who are otherwise kept away. As if the two strata of immigrants can’t coexist.  What often underlies the highly-skilled immigration argument is the idea that we have no use for low-skilled immigrants. Immigrants of the same kind that preceded me, my father and James Zogby.  You see, this country is made up of the descendants of people who came to this country from every corner of the globe with no skills at all- just a desire to work. I get slightly offended when I hear talk of highly-skilled vs. low-skilled immigrants, as it feels like an affront to those who came before me, who didn’t arrive on these shores with an advanced degree in architecture.  Just a willingness to work hard so that future generations could live in comfort and be educated. And complain about the current crop of lazy immigrants. Ah, progress, American style.

Tradiciones Navideñas

5 Dec
Menudo- Coma y No Hagas Preguntas

Menudo- Coma y No Hagas Preguntas

Todo el año, soy media mexicana, pero durante la Navidad y el Año Nuevo, las tradiciones de mi familia se vuelven más importantes, y soy más mexicana que nunca. Esto no tiene nada que ver con la cultura mexicana en sí; es decir, todas las culturas tienen sus tradiciones más arraigadas durante la Navidad. Ayer asistí a una Feria Navideña Sueca, que contaba con la participación de una amiga estadounidense de padres suecos.  Estaba obviamente orgullosa de su cultura- los disfraces tradicionales, la comida, el idioma, los cantos.  No importa si seas sueca, mexicana, o de cualquier cultura.  Esta temporada navideña es la hora de celebrar nuestra cultura, poco importa de donde venimos.

En mi casa, en vez de ser biculturales, somos, digamos, triculturales.  Tenemos la cultura libanesa, la cultura mexicana, y la cultura estadounidense, la que prevalece. No miramos el fútbol; miramos, apasionadamente, el fútbol estadounidense. Preparamos el puré de papas más a menudo que…bueno, más que el menudo.  Pero durante la Navidad, preparamos los tamales.  Durante todo un fin de semana, mi madre emplea un ejército de ayudantes, y toma el papel de coronel, manejando la cocina como si fuera su zona de batalla.  Admito que muchas veces no se me permite quedar por mucho tiempo, por falta de destrezas con la elaboración de la masa.  “No, no, mira, así no se hace!”, grita mi madre.

Así que no es un proceso democrático, pero resulta en un lote increíble de tamales verdes de pollo.  Bueno, también hacemos rojos, pero prefiero los verdes, y los de pollo.  Los dulces, para mí, no sirven para nada- es un mal uso de piña y pasas, en mi opinión.  Los tamales los comemos la mañana de Navidad con chocolate mexicano- hecho con Ibarra– y no empezamos a abrir los regalos hasta que todos tengamos el chocolate, y un plato de tamales con huevito en las manos.  Esta tradición se repite en Nuevo Año.  Pero hay una tradición que no tiene nada que ver con la comida, pero sí tiene que ver con el Nacimiento. Y es la más importante de todas.

Nacimiento 2007

Nacimiento 2007

El Nacimiento toma lugar al lado del árbol navideño, y usamos figuras de todas partes- aún tenemos algunas de México, que datan de más de 50 años, aunque todas las figuras originales ya son “mancos”, con brazos pegados con un pegamento sencillo.  Hemos incorporado juguetes infantiles, decoraciones de pasteles de cumpleaños, todo. Pero una figura importante falta.

Tras llegar a casa después de la Misa de Gallo, cantamos una canción de cuna al niño, todos le besamos en la frente, y lo colocamos al lado de José y María.  Cuando vivía, mi bisabuela se encargaba de esta tradición, cantando más alto que todos.  Y ahora, al preservar esta tradición a lo largo de los años, tiene más importancia que nunca.  Y siempre arrullo al niño con una lágrima en los ojos.

Cuáles son tus tradiciones navideñas? Dime en los comentarios. Y que tengan un muy Feliz Navidad.

“What do you Identify with more, the Leban or the… exican?”

15 Nov
Salma, the other Lebanexican

Salma, the other Lebanexican

Yes, the above question was actually posed to me just a couple of day ago, by my boyfriend, who is aware that I am half Lebanese and half Mexican.  It’s a natural question to ask, and hey, if I met, say, Salma Hayek, I might ask her the same thing (mil gracias, Salmita, for being one of the other Lebanese Mexicans in existence.  You help people wrap their minds around my ethnic background)!

But in all seriousness, the question of how much a mixed person identifies with one side or other is not just a matter of public fascination, it’s the essence of being mixed.  A bit of background: one of my proudest accomplishments is having been one of the founders of M.E.S.H. (Mixed Ethnicities Student Headquarters) at my alma mater, UC Santa Cruz.  So I have been identifying as a mixed person for some time, and I am familiar with the issues that define us mixed folks. In the past (in the pre-M.E.S.H. days),  I admit that I often felt either not Lebanese enough or not Mexican enough.  And through meetings that M.E.S.H. would organize each trimester, which usually consisted of simple gatherings of curious students, we would discuss our cultural identity and our families.

So what did I tell the boyfriend when he asked me the question that gives this post its title? It’s the Exican, stupid.  No, really, although my last name and face are decidedly more Arabic than Mexican (and what does Mexican look like? That’s a subject for a future post!), having grown up with my Mexican grandmother and great-grandmother living at home with the family (my great-grandmother passed away at age 100 when I was 18), speaking Spanish in my home as a child, and being in closer proximity to my Mom’s family than my Dad’s (his family is spread along the East Coast; my Mom’s is all in California), all lead to my feeling just a little more Mexican.  More importantly, I think it is significant that while my Mom is from Mexico, and is therefore closer to her culture, my father’s family is much further removed from the Lebanese/Syrian culture, since our ancestors came to the U.S. in the 1880’s.  All of this leads to my identifying closer to my Mexican culture than my Lebanese side.

Of course, the whole story could go much longer, as cultural identity is a topic rife with material to be explored.  Since being mixed informs how I see the world, and I intend for this blog to be a source for exploring trends in politics, Web 2.0, and marketing (especially the kind that targets Hispanics), I may revisit this topic more in depth or from a different angle in the future.  For now, suffice it to say, I’m a little less Leb and a little more exican.

Thoughts on the California Elections, or, She Ain’t Heavy, She’s my Maid

6 Oct
The Latina in this Election- Meg Whitman's Former Maid

The Latina in this Election- Meg Whitman's Former Maid

Is it just me, or is it crazy that in a state where some 1/3 of the population is Latino, the only way a Latino is remotely involved in the race for governor is when a candidate’s former housekeeper comes forward with allegations of mistreatment?

I know, this doesn’t have the upbeat tone of my previous post, “Still Waiting for that Latino Revolution”.  But it irks me that of the four candidates for governor and senate- Meg Whitman, Jerry Brown, Barbara Boxer and Carly Fiorina- are hopelessly white and out of touch in California, the most diverse state in the Union. California is home to every culture, every religion, every language in the world (well, I don’t know about that last part, but you can get a court interpreter in Armenian if you need one.  Not sure they offer that in Tennessee). And yet we get these milquetoaost, run of the mill candidates, bland in every way.  And I mean the incumbents, too (sorry, Barb).

Never mind the fact that the two men running California’s two great cities, and doing great things in both of them, Gavin Newsom and Antonio Villaraigosa, opted out of the Democratic primary, leaving us with Linda Ronstadt’s former boyfriend.  Why did Antonio not run? I’m sure pixels and pixels have been spilled over the reasons why, but suffice it to say, L.A.’s handsome, Telemundo-loving lothario-mayor could have been California’s great chance for a Latino in the Governor’s mansion in Sacramento. But it was not to be.

Granted, I am not a believer in identity politics-  I don’t vote for candidates solely based on race or gender. Nevertheless, I believe that there should be some sort of representation of the electorate by its leaders.  It’s no coincidence that Hawai’i, a state that has an Asian-American majority, is represented by two Japanese-American senators.   And yet California, Mexicalifornia, state of brown, black, yellow and pink, has a candidate for governor whose knowledge of Latinos and their concerns comes from her acquaintance with her housekeeper.  Will this be the case in the next gubernatorial election- will Latinos remain on the sidelines or will we take center stage? I certainly hope it is the latter.