Tropicalization Inside and Out

To tropicalize as we define it, means to trope, to imbue a particular space, geography, group, or nation with a set of traits, images, and values. These intersecting discourses are distributed among official texts, history, literature, and the media, thus circulating these ideological constructs throughout various level of the receptor society.” (8)

So there I was watching Modern Family, and I kept viewing the character of Gloria through a lens of tropicalization. I have to admit that I do not watch T.V. shows that often, but when I do I generally like to watch comedies. I was intrigued with this show because of its popularity and especially because it includes a bi-racial and many years-apart relationship. I was, and still am, intrigued by Gloria’s character and her performance of Latinidad throughout the show. I am still unsure of whether her accent is truly hers or if it is a product of the show’s producers. These questions bring up some interesting questions for me. If it is a production of the show, then I am concerned with how this tropicalization, how this quest to make the Latina a hypersexualized nena for American voyeuristic pleasure is still perpetuated in the American media. If it is Sofia Vergara’s real accent then is she conscious of how it sounds to the Anglo viewer? She has a background in modeling and other show business; she must know that she is perceived as an attractive Latina and what that means to her specific audience. Is it wrong to benefit from this tropicalization even though it means that Latin@s will be more represented in modern media? In addition, is this tropicalization seen as alright in light of other shows like Ugly Betty in which the Latina protagonist is not tropicalized at all?

I’ve been struggling with this theory of tropicalization and how it can not only seep into the threads of American culture, but also how it can be internalized by Latinos themselves. Before doing this reading I did not know that such a phenomena even had a name. I was well aware that there were tropes and characters often reserved for Latinos in U.S. society, but it was refreshing to read that there are scholars so intrigued with the phenomena that they wrote entire books on the subject.

I know that I have played into the trope of the “latin lover” several times during my life. At first I felt empowered and proud that my ethnic roots were found to be attractive to members of the opposite sex.  I mean, I grew up in a small Oregon town that was majority white, Latinos were few and far between and always considered “different.” I was happy to stick out, to have people notice me for my “difference.”  But now, the older I get and the more education I receive, the more and more I see this trope as binding, a bit exhausting and detrimental. Not all latino men are mini-Casanovas, who write poetry, womanize, and have “traditional values” and not all latinos and Latinas deserve to be hypersexualized. We deserve to be seen as more than just playthings. I deserve to be seen as a man who is not just romantic, but someone with aspirations, a young professional with goals. It is debilitating to be forced into such a rigid performance of identity and to constantly be fighting against these societal beliefs.

All of this swirling around my head leads me to questions surrounding the performance of my race in ways that I had not thought of before. Do I do things I think are “latino” because of my own thoughts and beliefs as to what latinidad is, or is it a performance molded by the surrounding Anglo culture of what being latino should be? I think back to how I learned my performance of latinidad and I think to my mother and my father who guided me in the ways that latinos in the U.S. should act and they obviously had a large influence on my development. However, I can’t help but think that they too, were not immune to some form of tropicalization. This leaves me in a precarious place, in between what I think is my own performance of latinidad and what could be a performance that has been imposed upon me from the outside.

2 thoughts on “Tropicalization Inside and Out

  1. Thanks for posting this.
    The hypersexualization of Latinas (and many other women of color) is something I have been thinking about a lot in the past few days. In an article I was reading a few days ago Gloria from Modern Family comes up, in addition to Gabi in Desperate Housewives, and a few other Latinas in sitcoms and popular movies. The article really got me thinking about how overwhelmingly similar these characters are and how present this trope is. When talking about power in African Studies we often discuss how power involves the ability to define a situation, culture or people and present it as truth. The hypersexualized Latina, which may have originally been a creation of the Western, white, patriarchal imaginary, has been internalized by many and reaffirmed in popular culture. The results of this are dire.
    Tonight a few of my friends mentioned an effort to reclaim the tag #latina on tumblr siting the offensive and unilateral representations of Latinas found under the tag. Since I don’t often tumblr, I took a peek and was exposed to an overwhelming number of photos of scarcely clad ladies. Looking at the photos disfiguration is a reoccurring theme. Often the photos are of solely the chest, stomach, or hips. The Latina is stripped down to her physical body parts. Objects of the male gaze and desire rather than an agent with an identity and objectives that extend beyond being appealing to men.
    The implication of this figurative and literal disfigurement of the female body has very real consequences when considering sexual violence against women. The representation of Latinas as easily accessible sexual partners makes them particularly vulnerable in a culture of rape that says that a woman who is read as sexy is “asking” to be assaulted.
    The blog post on the Vagina Monologues also serves as a reminder that the topic of sexual assault is not often discussed in our communities. The default face of the survivor of sexual assault is white. In participating in the Monologues this year I was troubled by the complete disregard of the experiences of women of color and the double oppression of racism and sexism. The tropicalization and exoticization of our bodies directly contributes to rape culture.

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