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Hispanic Pop Boom Yet to Arrive…`Arte' With Attitude

Hispanic Pop Boom Yet to Arrive

JUNE 23, 2003
Copyright © 2003
United Press International. All rights reserved. 

LOS ANGELES, Jun 23, 2003 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- The Census Bureau announced that the Hispanic ethnic group had definitively passed African-Americans to become America's most numerous minority group.

In 2002, 13.4 percent of U.S. residents called themselves Hispanic vs. 13.3 percent who identified themselves as at least part black. This news elicited a plethora of the now-familiar articles on the rapidly growing influence of Hispanics.

Yet, in American popular culture, this often-predicted Latino earthquake hasn't yet quite gone through the formality of taking place.

American Demographics, a trade publication for marketing researchers, recently asked Irma Zandl, who runs a consulting business spotting trends in youth culture, to name her three worst predictions. Her first choice was her 1988 forecast of a Latino Boom. "We felt that this country would become more Latinized. However, with the exception of food and beverages and an occasional musician (e.g., Ricky Martin or J-Lo), we have not seen the kind of widespread influence that we anticipated. For example, there are still no mass fashion trends, no mass entertainment trends, no mass social trends rooted in the Hispanic culture."

Hispanic-Americans remain a surprisingly invisible minority, far less important than African-Americans in how Americans picture themselves.

Consider 2003's biggest box-office hit, "The Matrix Reloaded." In the futuristic underground refuge of Zion, African-Americans (who make up 0.6 percent of the world's population today) have somehow come to comprise about 30 percent to 40 percent of all the free humans, perhaps because the Wachowski Brothers, like so many pop culture consumers around the world, consider American blacks to be especially cool. In contrast, Latin Americans are essentially absent from both "Matrix" movies.

This is no fluke. The Screen Actors Guild reported that in 2000, African-Americans received 14.8 percent of all TV and film roles cast, slightly more than their proportion of the U.S. population. In contrast, Latinos garnered 4.8 percent, or less than one-third the black share.

Of the 272 films that have earned more than $100 million at the domestic box-office, only one had a Hispanic-dominated cast: director Richard Rodriguez' fun children's fantasy "Spy Kids." The drug smuggling movie "Traffic" also had a number of strong roles for Hispanics. And that's about it.

When American moviegoers think about "celebrating diversity," they still seem to picture black cops and white cops learning to overcome their differences as they pursue the bad guys. They apparently don't apparently think much about Hispanics.

Among major music stars, African-Americans far outnumber Latinos. This is especially true among performers, such as rappers, who appeal to white males.

There are more Hispanics in female-oriented pop music. Yet, one of the best known, Christina Aguilera, is Latino mostly in Spanish surname only. While her father was born in Ecuador, he left when she was young, and her Irish-American mother raised her in a suburb of Pittsburgh. Aguilera learned the songs on her Spanish-language album phonetically, since she couldn't speak Spanish. Much of her appeal to Latin audiences is her non-Latin, American-mainstream singing style. She can belt out songs like an African-American diva, something that her Hispanic rivals typically aren't adept at doing.

For over a decade, large bookstores have generally offered a section devoted to African-American authors, including Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison and bestseller writer Terry McMillan ("Waiting to Exhale"). The publishing industry has been trying to reproduce this success among Hispanic-Americans, but with only limited success so far.

Few Hispanics have become stars in the black dominated sports of basketball and football. In big league baseball, however, Hispanics now outnumber African-Americans, and Sammy Sosa from the Dominican Republic has become one of the best-known players in the game. Still, despite all the Caribbean-born talent, Sosa is rare in becoming a celebrity to the general public.

Oddly enough, for sheer popularity, Latino-Americans have done particularly well in golf. Nancy Lopez was the best-loved woman golfer ever and Lee Trevino and Chi Chi Rodriguez were two of the wittiest male pros. But they are all well past their competitive primes now, and no Hispanic rivals the part-black Tiger Woods for renown. Likewise, the best-known women tennis players are the African-American Serena and Venus Williams, with no Hispanics in the running.

One clear reason for the huge lead African-Americans enjoy over Hispanic-Americans in effect on American popular culture is the language barrier. Black celebrities tend to be masters of colloquial English.

Among Hispanics, however, the 2000 Census found that the great majority speaks Spanish at home at least part time. Forty-three percent admit to speaking English less than "very well." In other words, 13.8 million Spanish-speaking U.S. residents over the age of 5 were not fluent in English. That was up 66 percent over 1990.

This has created a huge market for Spanish-language media. As of 2002, there were 664 Spanish language radio stations in the United States. In Los Angeles alone, there are five Spanish broadcast television stations.

This Spanish-language alternate media universe acts a magnet for Hispanic talent, but also isolates Hispanics from the mainstream of American culture.

'Arte' With Attitude; ARTSWorcester Exhibit Puts Local Latinos' Talent, Politics In Spotlight

Nancy Sheehan

Worcester Telegram & Gazette

September 2, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. . All rights reserved. 

WORCESTER -- Ann McTigue, program director at ARTSWorcester, stood in front of Luis Fraire's large, political-theme painting. She was taking a moment's break last week, hammer in hand, from the strenuous job of hanging the artwork for this year's Viva el Arte exhibition.

"It's rather heroic," she said of the vivid five-panel piece by Mr. Fraire, a 27-year-old Worcester musician and video artist who recently added painting to his list of creative pursuits. "It's extremely narrative, so it kind of has that mural thing happening, and it's political in nature so it's got all that going on."

But the budding painter's work might well have gotten the brush- off at other venues.

"A lot of the Latino artists, especially newer ones, need a venue for showing their paintings," said artist Helen Garcia, a juror for the exhibition. "Many who have started here in other years have branched out with shows in other places."

Viva el Arte, which celebrates Hispanic art and culture, opened Friday at ARTSWorcester's Gallery at the Aurora, 660 Main St. The exhibition, presented by ARTSWorcester in collaboration with Centro Las Americas, will close with an awards ceremony from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Oct. 2. In the meantime, 17 artists are displaying work ranging from folk art to cutting-edge contemporary works.

Latino artists have indeed found a home for their work in the exhibition, which has been held every other year since 1995. But for many years, Viva el Arte itself was without a permanent home. It was shopped around, here and there, landing at various foster locations including the Heywood Gallery on Winter Street a couple of times, University of Massachusetts Medical Center -- and even, back in the beginning, in the lobby of a now-defunct bank.

But when ARTSWorcester found a home at the former Aurora Hotel in Worcester's struggling Main South neighborhood in April 2000, Viva el Arte settled in along with it. The more commodious digs meant ample space for receptions and an end to the bank-lobby blues.

"It's really great because now we have a home, and the ARTSWorcester gallery has two levels and there's space to hang big things," Mrs. Garcia said. "One problem with a couple of the places we were in was there wasn't any space for anything like that."

Other benefits of a dedicated Main South location were evident almost immediately. Attendance was strong at the first Viva el Arte exhibit at the Aurora Gallery two years ago. That exhibition proved a bit of a boon to Latino artists when it became ARTSWorcester's biggest-selling show of the year. In all, seven pieces were sold, with a combined value of about $1,500.

This year's show does exactly what it's supposed to do: reflect the colorful and warm Latino heritage, particularly of the Caribbean island nations. Among the countries represented are Chile, Mexico, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Honduras, El Salvador, Uruguay and Argentina.

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