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Dávila addresses representations of latinos

<lene Dávila doesn’t like the media’s glossy images of the Latino Grammy Awards.

“A lot of people now think that all Latinos are like J.Lo,” she said at last Friday’s convocation, “that they’re doing really well.”

And indeed, she agrees, some are.

But Dávila, Professor of Anthropology and Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University, also discussed the opposite side of the spectrum, pointing out the contrasts that exist among representations of the largest minority group in America.

In her book released last October, entitled, “Latino Spin: Public Image and the Whitewashing of Race,” and her convo presentation by the same name, Dávila explored the “circling of images” between familiar representations of Latinos—poverty-stricken, criminals and undocumented workers—and emerging contrasts—family-oriented, hard working and good consumers.

Her book includes research from interviews with Latino advocates and scholars as well as people involved with Latino marketing and urban planning.

“There’s a growing consensus that Latinos are not a social liability,” Dávila said. “What I ask in my work is to what extent this position is actually qualming fears about the Latino impact on American identity.”

Increasingly, Dávila said, Latinos are portrayed politically and otherwise as the “model minority,” with conservative family values and good work ethic. Similar to the Irish or Italian Americans of the past, increasingly affluent Latinos are redefining the term “whiteness.”

“A lot of scholars are showing that Latinos behave more like the American middle class than the American middle class,” she said.

This trend strongly distinguishes itself from the immigrant violence and crime seen almost nightly on television news, of which Dávila said she is “very aware.”

“I’m not discounting that,” she said. “I am, however, pointing out that at the level of the power players, there is a very different position on Latinos that is responding to that.”

This has made the Latino population a large target group for not only political campaigns, but also for marketing and advertising.

“There’s more Hispanic marketers than political figures,” Dávila said. “It’s important to understand that Hispanic marketing is one of the most exclusive networks. It’s a space that is interested in maintaining the views of Latinos as Hispanic, Spanish-speaking, with family values.”

But Spanish-speaking television networks like Telemundo, she continued, aim stories about light-skinned characters with money at diverse first-generation immigrants without it.

“What’s excluded is the ethnic diversity,” Dávila said. This upholding of the light skinned Latino “does not allow the Latino culture to expand its repertoire of racial diversity in this country.”

Whiteness, Dávila said, means assimilation, and rather than embracing Indo-Latinos or Afro-Latinos, society presses ethnic groups to “distance themselves from African Americans and blackness in general.”

“When we think of race in this country, we think of black and white,” she said. “Latinos—are they becoming black or white?”

Instead, Dávila sees “whiteness” as a process, remaining cautious of extolling the conservative values of a “model minority.”

“Inclusion does not necessarily equate with equality,” she said. “We don’t tend to see how positive stereotypes can be just as racialized.”

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