In my almost 20 years of living in the United States, and in my eight years of being an avid American football fan, I’ve never been particularly interested in the Super Bowl halftime show.
It’s normally where I catch up on tweets, stretch my legs and rank my favorite commercials. However, this year I was glued to the screen — singing, dancing, cheering and, honestly, sometimes almost crying.
An American football experience unlike any other, I got to see a slice of my own lived experiences and culture on a national stage: songs and dances that characterized my childhood with women that I’ve always admired and have made me feel beautiful.
As intoxicated as I was with Jennifer Lopez’s eternal youth, Shakira’s honest hips and a long-awaited mainstream representation of Latinx culture in American sports, the Super Bowl halftime show is no longer just the star-studded intermission of a national championship. Following Colin Kaepernick’s continuous activism against systemic racism, the NFL has become a politically charged institution, and in their biggest game of the year, Kaepernick’s former team competed. Like many watching the Super Bowl, I understood the politics behind this particular game and the NFL at large — but the halftime show brought another level of nuance for me as a Latinx woman.
I am always one to celebrate and advocate for representation. I have been touched by the intimate level of inspiration and hope that comes with seeing someone who looks or talks like you doing their thing.
Doing something that could be your thing. In a political climate where it seems like every day immigrant communities and Latinx communities are pushed to the margins of American society, it felt good to see Latinx representation at the center of one of the most American cultural events of the year.
It felt good to see an American tradition evolve to include Latinx culture. Mostly, it felt good when Bad Bunny made a surprise appearance. It’s an incredible feeling to feel proud of who you are and where you come from — not to feel embarrassed about speaking Spanish in public, but proud that you knew all the words to the songs of the halftime show.
Yet, representation can serve as a double-edged sword. While it can give a voice and provide inspiration to marginalized groups, it is also frequently done superficially — especially in the mainstream. When seeking to represent a culture and not fully understanding the diversity and variance of experiences within it, marginalized groups within marginalized groups face even greater barriers to achieving real representation and the potential for equality and growth that comes with it.
In the case of the Super Bowl and most places that we see Latinx in the mainstream, there is a severe lack of representation for our Afro-Latinx and indigenous familia.
It’s incredibly difficult to balance a desire to celebrate two Latinx queens headlining a quintessentially American tradition and represent our community while understanding that their ability to fully represent the Latinx community is inherently limited. They are the versions of Latinas that are the most palatable for mainstream America. Fair-skinned, attractive, English-speaking women that are just spicy enough to feel exotic — but not too exotic. This version of Latinx women are best represented in American media and as a result, benefit from an elevated status in society compared to their more indigenous and/or black counterparts. There is systemic inequity in both Latinx and American society that disadvantages, displaces and destroys black and brown bodies.
As much as I enjoyed and was entertained by the halftime show, my reflections ultimately led me to recognize the unnerving parallel between Latinx and American cultural representations; both societies consistently underrepresent their indigenous and black communities while ignoring the struggles and disadvantages that are tethered to their intersectional identities.
The Latinx representation in the halftime show wasn’t just problematic in who was featured as Latinx, but also in the way it’s positioning in the halftime show undermined black efforts against the NFL’s role in systemic racism. Awareness of the shades of gray (and brown) that come with mainstream representation has shown me a critical part of the Latinx struggle for justice, inclusion and equity in the United States. It requires an unfiltered awareness of the ways that our efforts are nuanced and how just as we, Latinx people, push American culture to be more inclusive of us, we must push to depict our culture in a way that will recognize and celebrate our farthest margins.
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