Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Is Christina Aguilera Latina Enough?

'bts_secretpotion_09' photo (c) 2011, YayA Lee - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Okay, I am going to go out on a limb with this one, because I am not Latina.  Huffpo has a piece up today in which Christina Aguilera answers critics who question her personal identity.
Christina Aguilera says she's been criticized for not being Latina enough.

"I've dealt with that [criticism] my whole life," she said in an interview with Latina Magazine. "I don't speak the language fluently. And I'm split right down the middle, half Irish and half Ecuadorean. I should not have to prove my ethnicity to anyone. I know who I am."

In the magazine's March issue, Aguilera opens up about her Hispanic heritage, her turbulent relationship with her father, and her role in the reality talent show "The Voice," which is starting its second season.

"I wouldn't be questioned [about my heritage] if I looked more stereotypically Latina," she said. "Whatever that is. All I know is no one can tell me I'm not a proud Latina woman... I dove headfirst into a Spanish-language album for that reason and I'm planning another one even though I don't speak the language. I'm sure that doesn't sit well with some people." [source]
Aguilera got her start on the Mickey Mouse club, and we all know how friendly Disney is to people of colour.  There can be no doubt that despite her identity as a WOC, that Aguilera exists with passing privilege.  Passing privilege means that she has absolutely been offered opportunities that have been denied to darker skinned women.  This of course is the effect of living in a White supremacist state. The lighter skinned a minority woman is, the more likely she is to be uplifted by the media and this is no different with the Latina community.  That said, Aguilera has one of the most powerful voices I have ever heard, and she is a true diva.


Hueism has long been a contentious issue within communities of colour largely because we live in a world in which Whiteness is praised, and those more closely matching a Eurocentric ideal are the most likely to be offered opportunities.  There is absolutely a place to make this argument; however, when it extends to the point of questioning someone's identity it becomes problematic.  Aguilera may match the Eurocentric ideal in a lot of ways but that does not mean that she is not a Latina woman.

She is very open about not speaking Spanish, but her efforts to create a Spanish language CD clearly evidences that she believes in the importance of the language itself, and what it means to the Latino culture. Having been raised by her White mother, it is no surprise that Aguilera does not speak Spanish, and I fail to see why this is something that she should be chastised for.  There are adults today who are the product of two Latino parents, who have never learned to speak Spanish, because their parents never taught them the language, believing that this lose of knowledge would help them better to acclimatize to the U.S., and lead to a greater acceptance.  If the ability to speak the language becomes a marker of whether or not one is authentically Latina, then there are a lot of people who would no longer have the ability to identify as Latin@, despite having two parents of that heritage.

Not typifying what has become understood as being Latina does not in anyway mean that Aguilera has not been subjected to harassment and racism. Simply because being lighter in hue equals a greater opportunity, does not mean that she has escaped discrimination and to suggest that Aguilera who is indeed a Latina woman does not have the right to identify as such is not only policing, it flies in the face of her personal experiences. Just the fact that her last name is Aguilera, and not Smith, or some other common anglicized last name, loudly announces her heritage to those that she interacts with. If Aguilera wanted to hide who she was, or to pass as White, her first step would have been to anglicized her name. 

Policing is not something unique to the Latino community.  As a Black person, I can honestly tell you that it has long been an issue in ours.  I absolutely believe it is important to discuss the privileges of those who are light bright and damn near White, but it must be done in a manner that does not degrade their identity.  What ends up happening, is that we spend so much time infighting, that we lose focus on White supremacy, which I am sure that we can agree is the real problem.  

We also need to recognize that as people of colour, our cultures and our bodies have been colonized. I think that this is most apparent with the Indigenous community, who are subjected to ridiculous blood quantum laws, in an effort to reduce their numbers. This has resulted in the denial of rights to Indigenous people, based in the belief that they are no longer Indigenous, despite identifying as such and working to keep the culture alive. After centuries of colonization, and rape, can we truly say that people of colour should confirm to a specific appearance, or that a failure to fit this ideal somehow means that they are no longer people of color? I think that this serves as clear evidence of where this community policing begins and ends.  When we police in this manner, we do the masters bidding. It is far more life affirming to respect the right of people to self identify and counter to the message that Whiteness continually sends for people of colour.  Divided communities will not bring an end to oppression.