The Latinidad Of It

Arts & Culture Editor, Nora Gomez-Strauss, discusses the impact of the Super Bowl Halftime Show and the complicated feelings it evoked for her as a Colombian American.
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Photo: © Maddie C. Meyer/Getty Images

Photo: © Maddie C. Meyer/Getty Images

"It's a complicated issue" and "There's a lot to unpack" are phrases that can be applied to almost anything these days, and the Super Bowl Halftime performance has definitely become one of those things - and that's separating it from the conversation of the health dangers of the sport itself. That said, the halftime show has been through a series of highs and lows, including an infamous nipple, some iconic performances, and some forgettable snoozers.

When I heard Jennifer Lopez and Shakira were performing, I had conflicting feelings. On one hand, I was excited about two powerhouse Latinas taking center stage at one of the world's biggest events. There has been so much anti-Latinx sentiment, and violence, that this felt very important. One the other hand, numerous black artists had turned down the opportunity to perform as a show of solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, and this was dredging up issues of anti-blackness in the Latinx community.

As the day drew closer, I began to become more excited, especially when speaking about it with friends. Fellow native New Yorker, J. Lo, and Shakira, from my family’s homeland of Colombia, would be on the screens of millions of people across the world, how could I not feel a certain way? Jenny from the block rose to mega-stardom in my teen years, and changed the way I felt about my body at the time. She made it cool to rock a booty. My mom gave me Shakira’s Pies Descalzos CD when I was around 12 years old, and it was one of the first times I could see myself in popular culture (in Spanish only at the time). Here was a Colombian woman with long dark hair, who also liked rock and roll, not fitting into any Latina stereotypes I had been fed my entire life. Both women have meant different things to me, including some unfortunate choices in velour sweatsuits.

I am going to be embarrassingly honest with you, the moment Shakira appeared the television, I began to tear up. Growing up, I could never have imagined someone from my culture on a mainstream American stage like the Super Bowl. She belted out hit after hit, played the guitar, and gave us her signature shimmies. My husband turned to me and asked, “Are your beaming with Colombian pride?” As I tearingly nodded yes, he said, “So am I,” as I noticed he was teary also. *Disclaimer, he’s not Colombian, we’re a proud Jewtino family.

J. Lo followed up with another powerful display of Latinidad and killer dance moves. I grabbed my phone to see what the internet was saying, and this tweet hit me. As I sighed, J. Balvin appeared on stage. “Are there always Colombians at the Super Bowl?” asked my five-year-old son. I should also note that by this point our sleeping toddler daughter had woken up and we allowed her to watch the rest with us. “Her Colombian side could feel the beat in her soul,” said my husband.

Seeing Latinx joy and exuberance on the stage would have meant enough for me, and there was plenty of it. Then J.Lo’s daughter, Emme, appeared singing in a lit-up cage, along with other children, singing “Let’s Get Loud” in what seemed like a reference to Trump’s horrific immigration policies regarding children and families. The view from up above also revealed the stage was in the shape of a Venus-symbol. Jennifer appeared in a large feathered coat with the American flag as they all sang “Born in the USA,” then revealing the Puerto Rican flag in its interior, reminding all that the cruelly-treated territory is in fact, part of the USA. This is the point I kind of lost it. The two put on a high energy show with some not so subtle political statements. For many watching, it was fun to observe, but for a lot of us, it meant something on a deeper level. I am not here to tell you how to feel about it or to share how I have resolved my complicated feelings (I haven’t). But I do want to hope there will be more of this. I hope we get louder in 2020 and I hope that maybe, we are closer to incorporating more patches of the country into the quilt of Americana.

And in case you missed the performance, or just want to watch it again: 

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