How we are perceived and how we perceive ourselves are two different concepts but they are both somehow defined and influenced by society. Every race and ethnicity has been put up to the critical standards of society and none but the blond hair, blue eyes and perfect measurement body has been victor. There are some times however, where we can minimize the gap through positive images. Through the true influence of art we find the similarities within our people and ourselves. I analyze two distinct pieces of art in our culture that bridge people, much more specifically the Latina women, and new positive images together.
Marielena: La Fabulosa part of the series 2012 “Make’em All Mexican” highlights popular cultural icons and the color of their skin that changes our perception of these figures. Linda Vallejo, the creator of the figurine, questions the appeal to society and explores the ability to make these icons familiar¹. Was their color of their skin part of their appeal to the public, like in the late 1950’s when musicians were forced to alter their name in order to sell albums? Needless to say, color of skin immediately changes one’s perspective of the icons. The almost ebony color versus the ivory counterpart is a critique from the artist’s perspective of what it is to be dark skinned in the ever critical popular culture. Would Marilyn’s curvy appeal be as effective in the place of a woman with dark skin, probably not. So why would we, as people of color, Chicanos, and mestizos, allow these images to make up the popular culture? The future generations will look at the American culture and wonder if people of some other non-white, non- European color ever made an impact in popular culture. The American culture should work just as a mirror, we look towards it and a beautiful brown face looks back.
Furthermore, as a woman to see Marialena instead of Marilyn, would allow more Latina women accept their bodies and embrace the curves they have. As a white woman in the 50’s, Marilyn still changed the ideals and became embraced by pop culture, but the colored woman was still shamed. Having wide hips, does not make you “full figured” and being brown with black hair does not mean you cannot be beautiful, independent and iconic– that is what Mariaelena flaunts and embodies. She is the woman, women of brown complexion can look up to for confidence and inspiration to conquer the world.
In the 2002 movie, “Real Women Have Curves” directed by Patricia Cardoso allows a view into the issues Latina women and families face in the United States². Although Ana Garcia, portrayed by a young America Ferrera, is a much more contemporary Latina facing issues of mostly traditional family ideals– she also faced issues with body image. She is constantly shunned for her attempts at accepting her body and seeking a higher education. Ana becomes the face of countless Latina women who become a reflection of the insecurities some Latina face in similarly oppressive households. This coming of age film, although carried with a simple narrative has the ability to subtly change the mindset of fiercely traditional families, heightening and critiquing the negativity toward body image and change in the strongly traditional Mexican family portrayed. Cardoso does a good job in highlighting the fact that Ana’s desire and ability to pursue a higher education is an opportunity open to other first generation Latinos. Additionally, the males are not protagonists of this story, which gives further insight into the audience Cardoso wanted to bring awareness to. Her father and brother, instead are the ones with most support and love for Ana. The matriarchal household led in the story reflects the uptight and judgmental mother that does not allow her daughter success.
The figurine and this film deals with the difference within traditional ideals and contemporary ideals. Breaking out of the ideals society has been putting out for Latinos. Would Marialena be successful? Yes, just as much as Ana as a first generation Mexican American woman can be accepted into a prestigious university. This film especially highlights being a “homemaker” is no longer the only pathway for Latina woman, she is educated and capable of being independent! Ana is not expected to go beyond the sweatshop-type conditions her mother has provided for her, and go to college.With just the right amount of effort and support, the story concludes in her successful acceptance into Columbia on scholarship.
Every opportunity to view each other and ourselves in positive light should be applauded. As Chicanos and Latinos in the United States, art is such an accessible medium through which we can universally express ourselves. Vallejo and Cardoso, two Latinas prove that Latina women are not meant to fill the mold of society but create their own and share it with others.