¿Who’s the real Latina?

In recent weeks, Disney has received a wave of scathing criticism for the portrayal of its newest royal. The announcement of Princess Sophia as Disney’s first Latina princess by Jamie Mitchell, Disney’s executive producer, has caused an explosive stir in the Latino community. Intense criticism regarding the princess’ proposed identity, mainly expressed via social media networks, has caused Disney to recant its initial announcement of Sophia as the first Latina princess in favor of her being a “mixed-heritage” princess.

What caused an entertainment giant to change the identity of a fictional character? Short answer: People tweeted and Disney listened. Long version? Sophia doesn’t look like a typical Latina. But what does a “typical” Latina look like and if such a person exists, can she be packaged for an audience in a racially obsessive nation? (Let’s hold off on that one, we’ll come back to it). The Latino community’s frustration with the new princess is largely attributed to her fair complexion, blue eyes, and auburn hair. Individuals have used their tweets and statuses to express their rejection of Princess Sophia’s proposed Latina identity. Below are a few examples of popular tweets:

“Disappointment: Disney unveils first Latina princess who DOESN’T look like the vast majority of Latinas. #fail #latism”

“Is it me, or does Disney’s first Latina princess look… white?”

“She don’t look very Laaatinnnna. She look white.”

“She’s about as Latina as Mitt Romney is Mexican. #Fail”

“Most of us Latinas have tint our skin if you’re going to make a #Latina Disney Princess make her more relatable to our race”

In light of the growing frustration, a few questions come to mind. Did Disney miscalculate their packaging of the world’s first Latina princess? Is this an example of the opposition between globalization and identification as described by Manuel Castells? I submit that the backlash received by the company indicates a gross miscalculation in its packaging of Sophia. Although the world is moving into an era of cultural globalization, the power of individual cultural identity has not waned. Disney has received few—if any—praise for showcasing Sophia’s multicultural heritage. In fact, the lack of overt cultural identification, now identifying Sophia as a “mixed-heritage” princess rather than Latina, has also earned the company sharp criticism. If nothing else, this illustrates the aforementioned case made by Castells as it affirms the difficulty of packaging cultural products due to the opposition between globalization and identification. Whether it’s global or local, individual identity still matters which means packaging does too.

Now let’s go back to the first question: What does a “typical” Latina look like and if she exists, can her identity be packaged for an audience in a racially obsessive nation (yes, racially-obsessive)? It’s important to recognize that America is not a post-racial society and whether we like it or not, race still matters. It’s also crucial to acknowledge the racial and ethnic diversity of minority groups living in this nation (e.g., not all black people are African-Americans) rather than throwing them into one group for the sake of being politically correct.

Most scholars who study race and ethnicity in the Americas would affirm that 1) the terms “Latino” and “Hispanic”, as used by individuals living in the U.S, identify a cultural group rather than a racial or ethnic group, and 2) Latin America’s model of racial categorization is much more expansive than the United States’ binary model of race (i.e. you’re either black, white, or—depending on where you live—somewhere in the middle). With that said, I submit that there is no “typical” Latina. Latinos come in all beautiful shapes, sizes and colors. Given the huge racial and ethnic diversity of Latinos, someone will—unfortunately—get left out when the official Latina princess is presented. Why? Because some Latinas look like Sophia (especially in Argentina, Chile, or Uruguay) and others look like Disney’s Tiana (true in the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Panama, and even Puerto Rico) and believe it or not, a few even look like Mulan (e.g. the daughter of Peru’s former president, Señor Alberto Fujimori).

¿Entonces, who do you say the real Latina is?


Media networks, oppression and globalization all met on one day in October 1989

Hanson wrote about China and its attempts to block out its citizens from having access to the internet and other modern and global means of communication. Chinese find a way to circumvent the constraints as best as they can so they too, can be a part of the globalized society. This made me think about the government enforced regulations on TV consumption that I grew up with.

I was born and raised in East Germany. In order to make a phone call one had to go to the post office and apply to make that phone call. You had to tell them whom you wanted to call and where and usually a casual “And why if I may ask?” was thrown in there as well. Then when it was your time to make the call you went to a booth (still in the post office) and placed your call, knowing full well that it was being recorded and/or live listened to by some government official, always ready to pulling the plug if you said something you shouldn’t have.

There was one state TV station. You could receive West German television in most parts of the East but your TV had to be tweaked a certain way. The more tricky part was keeping your kids from going into school or pre-school telling all about that West German TV show or cartoon characters they saw the night before. Teachers and educators had to report families that watched West German TV and that information was then used by the Stasi to implicate the families.

Before the wall in Berlin feel there were months of demonstrations all over East Germany – that mostly no East German knew about since the government tried its best to hide these events from its citizens. On October 9, 1989 over 70,000 people marched peacefully, but in fear of being imprisoned or shot, through the city of Leipzig. The fact that this demonstration would take place spread through informal channels of communication (word of mouth, leaflets) and people who came to Leipzig just for that event were not certain what would await them.

At the same time globalization was visiting the city of Leipzig in the form of an international trade fair. Journalists from across Europe and the globe were in the city to report on the trade fair – officially. A West German TV crew was hiding thoughout the city and taped demonstration footage with the intent to air it on the West German prime time news show (Tagesschau). Despite tight security and a struggle to smuggle the tapes outside of the country it worked. On October 10, West Germany, the world but most importantly East Germans (secretly watching West German news) saw what was going on in their country.

[Original footage is shown around minute 1:15]

I am wondering how East Germany would have restricted access to other means of communication such as internet or cell phones. Private telephone lines were very much restricted, in order to own a car you waited about 20 years, compared to other goods a TV was outrageously priced. Communication (via letters) was restricted to the point that every mail was opened if it was deemed suspicious or unusual (by whoever), often times not passed on or packets were sent on empty. Whatever was the content of your mail (sending or receiving) was part of the Stasi file that was kept on most citizens. How would the internet have been handled? I feel like we would have lived like North Koreans – no phone line = no internet. Or maybe communication from the bordering countries would have had a spill over effect and smart phones and other media would also have (secretly) found its way into our daily life until people felt they could take on the government and demand freedom.

Seeing how even Russia struggles with freedom of speech and access I am glad the unification of Germany came when it did. It is one thing to live oppressed but another to know what you are missing out on.

Global yet local – the case of Coca Cola

All this talk about globalization, cultural markers of identity, deterritorialisation, diasporas and more makes all these thoughts, ideas, and personal bouts I had with globalization spinning in my head. When today in class the Gatorade machine in the middle of the jungle was mentioned I knew I had my next blog post.

Spoiler alert: This is not about Gatorade, it is about Coca Cola.

Like Gaby posted before food and drinks are a very strong cultural marker. Coca Cola has a very successful export history and is, according to the Coca Cola website enjoyed in over 200 countries worldwide. Thanks to its distribution and bottling system you can find Coca Cola in virtually every country of this world.

Yet Coca Cola does not taste the same in every country. Since local water is being used wherever possible, the taste is altered. Also, the products that are being offered are fine-tuned to meet the local sense. Fanta in Germany is not Fanta in the U.S. and it is not Fanta in Mozambique.

Coca Cola is an example of globalization. It is everywhere and it’s spread was aided by globalization technology. The drink symbolizes western values and lifestyles. So how can something that is so global be so local at the same time? If like the readings suggested, globalization makes us aware of our differences and guides our thinking in a “us as opposed to them” way, how can a drink achieve that? After all,  unless you import bottles from one country to another you won’t really notice any differences.

Well, the one place where globalization comes together and allows each and everyone to see (but more likely taste) that the world is a global place with local taste is the World of Coca Cola in Atlanta. Once you have taken the tour and learned all about the history and how the bottles are bottled you are being lead into this room with fountain machines. Each one is labeled after a region or continent and the individual drinks dispensed are also labeled by country. You can sample as much as you want, the taste of the world is at your fingertips.

When I found myself in that room, globalization really hit home. I found Fanta from Germany that I had not drank in months. And I found a lemonade from Mozambique that I had not seen in years. People got really excited as they compared their “home flavor” with all the other ones offered. We all had this idea of how Coca Cola or CC products taste like but in this room we had to realize that the world is a big place with many different tastes. Not everything is yummy, by the way, there are some pretty hideous concoctions out there (to my taste anyways), but my point is that something that most of us would consider a marker of our culture is also a marker in many other cultures though it takes on a slightly different taste (or meaning if you want to bring it to a more theoretical level).

It is because of globalization that Coca Cola can be found in virtually every country in the world but it is also because of globalization that we can experience that global can be local without having to be a uniformed taste.

By Franzi

Full disclosure: I love Coca Cola the German way but the U.S. coke just isn’t the same so while being in the U.S. I (yikes!) prefer Pepsi. I know, way to ruin the mood of this post! Sorry Coca Cola!

Education and Nation Building

This SIS 640 class is mostly made up of graduate students in the International Communication program. Here is a confession: I am not a student in that program. I came to AU to get my masters in International Education and Training so many of the topics covered in class are seen by me through a cultural lens (previous education) or an educational lens.

This week we talked about Nation Building and how communication relates to it. Yet I could not stop thinking about how often the readings have already mentioned that education and schools are an important marker of a culture. Schooling is an important aspect of nation building and in building a common identity/philosophy. Education through schooling instills a certain system of beliefs, of values, of truths, a notion of friend and foe. I specifically mention schools because there is a lot of education going on in the private sphere (e.g. the home) that is difficult for a nation/government to grasp and manipulate.

Curricula are set by the government or by institutions acting on its behalf. In this regard it is the government that decides how it wants its national identity portrayed and taught in the classroom. Markers for national identity (such as flags, a certain type of vocabulary, iconic images, classroom behavior) are part of the classroom and the teachings. That is why the teaching of Western educators in Third World countries (starting in a more organized way as soon as colonialization sprung up) was often received by the indigenous communities as an attempt to impose Western values.

Thus, for the nation building process schools, as a mean for education, are essential.

By Franzi

The value of culture


As is argued through the lens of Critical Theory, culture is seen as a commodity. This results in the mass production of cultural artifacts that are a reflection of that culture’s communication style (Thussu pg 54). The creation process has the masses, the least common denominator, in mind. Culture is not perceived as the transmitter of heritage or the carrier of profound beliefs. Instead it is being consumed, mostly without second thought by the masses. It can be so easily consumed because these mass-products are easily accessible e.g. on tv and do not require a lot of thought process. The product is being being broken down in easy to digest pieces with a little cliffhanger here and there to tie you over the commercial break.
If you look at the current mass media output, especially in the area of tv and movie production, there is a clear bias towards (scripted) reality-tv (Jersey Shore, The Real Housewives of XYZ, Honey Boo Boo) and easy to digest movie plots (good vs. evil fighting it out in 90 minutes with a lot of action and guns or chick flicks that center around the apparently only issue concerning women in their 20s which is getting hitched) in the Western hemisphere.
Of course one can argue that this is what the masses want, easy access to easy to digest entertainment. And I do agree: after a day of working, running errands, taking care of screaming children, attempting to impress your boss so that you stay at the company while everyone else is being fired you DO want to settle in the evening to a world of entertainment that nice and easy to digest. A world that makes you laugh, albeit mostly at the expense of others or a world where you do know that in the end the good will prevail. But the fact that non-mass culture movie producers have a very hard time getting funding, finding themselves in the “independent movie” niche, should be alarming. Is what they have to say less important? Do their movies have less cultural value than Honey Boo Boo and hence they deserve a struggle to get their project up and running since they don’t cater to what the masses want?
What I am wondering is, in 100 or 200 years from now, what will society think about our consumer behavior today? What does the fact that (scripted) reality tv is so popular across the Western culture say about us now, and what does it say about us in 200 years when the need for a certain level of voyeurism has been replaced by something else. Will the society of the future look at who owns media today, who produces it and with what intentions? Or will they be even more one-dimensional in their entertainment needs resulting in the fact that a show such as Jersey Shore is suddenly difficult to grasp due to the nature of the characters, their actions and their cultural background?
This post refers to Thussu “Approaches to theorizing international communication” from International Communication: Continuity and Change.

What’s for Dinner, Ma? Food as Communication.

“…Food is much more than just a means of survival. It permeates all other aspects of our lives from the most intimate to the most professional practices. It also is a key factor in how we view ourselves and others, is at the center of social and political issues, and is a mainstay of popular media[…]food is a form of communication because it is directly linked to ritual and CULTURE…” (Food as Communication, Communication as Food, ix-x)

Through speaking with colleagues and reading the work of various scholars, it seems that the field of international communication today can’t easily be defined as it acts as an intersection of varying disciplines. While we’ve explored several international communication arenas, I’d like to take such a volatile topic into the realm of FOOD. Yes, you heard right…food!

So, let’s talk about food as communication. America today, perhaps since the start of the slow food movement in the 70s has “EPICURIOUSLY” enough (no pun intended) developed a serious fascination with food. I won’t even venture into the reasons why or the results (i.e. the boom of the Food Network, the call to eat local, the billions of food blogs who think they’re going to make it big, or the trend in taking culinary classes). The point is, food can act as an identity marker, a form of communication–it’s a language in which we transmit culture. So, let’s take it internationally–food as international communication. Where should we start? Global food security, food as an identity marker for migrant populations, different styles of eating,serving and preparing; different foods for different festivities, culinary fusions, gender based foods, and it just keeps going!

Let’s get down to business. Take some time to think about what food has meant for you internationally. For most people, food is 80% of the travel experience. But, let’s take it further. What has food communicated about a culture or a nation? I’ll give you two very basic personal examples:

1. My parents were born in Mexico. But, my great-grandparents (both my mom AND dad’s side) were born in Palestine and emigrated to Latin America circa 1920. There’s a very LARGE Arab population in Latin America, particularly those from Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. Like most migrant communities, they brought their religion, language and culinary traditions. However, much of that has come and gone. Today, most Arab-Mexican families hold on to their identity through perhaps the few Arabic words they learned growing up, their last name and even their distinct facial features. However, one thing that remains most prominent is our FOOD. On special occasions, my family does not make Mexican food–we make Middle Eastern food–stuffed grape leaves, stuffed zucchini, stuffed cabbage, hummus, kibbeh, tabbouleh etc. And, it’s a social tradition where the women gather in the kitchen. For us, food has become an identity marker, or a form of communicating who we are–it remains one of the only ways to keep in touch with our identity, and our geographically distant lands.

2. Have you ever been offered food from a different culture that wasn’t necessarily of appealing gastronomical interest? I spent some time in Gwangju, South Korea, the culinary capital of the country. Because of the nature of the program I was working with, food naturally came with everything we did. I tried things I can’t even spell, and loved them all! I had, however, been warned about a Korean delicacy–fermented sting ray. I was told by my local friends that this culinary adventure was quite disliked by the younger generations as it proved very pungent, and that people in the northern part of S. Korea can’t stand it. It wasn’t long after that when I found myself seated at a dinner hosted by local Korean superiors I worked with where I was offered fermented sting ray. What would you do? I had two options: say no and completely deny their communicating with me, or enthusiastically venture into the realms of pungent chewy fishy goodness. Of course I ate it because I realized in that moment, their offering me a culinary delicacy from their culture was a way of welcoming me and opening their doors.

International Communication takes make forms, and often we might focus on the more conventional forms of communication. But, next time you find yourself encountered with food in any situation, think about what it’s saying to you.