Hispanidad: Aguilera embarrasses Hispanics

By GREGORY TEJEDA, United Press International  |  May 6, 2003 at 9:30 AM
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Pop singer Christina Aguilera wants us to think of herself as a young Hispanic woman who later this year will discover her Irish roots.

The promoters who are expanding her European concert tour to include her first appearances in Ireland talk as though she is only now discovering her Gaelic origins. But to many Hispanic people, the focus of her shifting musical career in recent years has been just a cynical attempt to use a Spanish surname to pander to the United States' growing Hispanic market.

If one judges Aguilera solely by her records, her musical fluff is no worse than that put out by many other pop singers around the world.

But Aguilera's on-stage persona (such as her latest leather-clad and foul-mouthed incarnation named "X-tina") as a smuttier version of teenybopper pop star Britney Spears can be so embarrassing that there are times I wish Christina would return to the early days of her career when she openly admitted the only thing Hispanic about her was her surname.

For the record, concert promoters added late October Aguilera performances in Belfast and Dublin. Christina talked of being able to "give something back" to her Irish fans to "show how much I appreciate them."

The move resulted in massive ticket sales throughout Ireland, even though ShowbizIreland.com said Aguilera "is mainly recognized for her Latin background" and that she would only now "explore her Gaelic lineage."

But Hispanics (particularly those older than 15) regard Christina as a phony. Countless Internet message boards are filled with rants about Aguilera's abuse of her ethnicity. "Certified pseudo-Latina" is one of the few printable terms used to describe Christina.

In all fairness, Aguilera is the perfect example of how the term "Hispanic" has adapted to the 21st century.

Her father, whose family roots go back to Ecuador, split from his wife when Christina was very young. She has few memories of her father, and spent her childhood growing up in a suburban white environment -- her mother's parents came from County Clare, Ireland, in the years following World War II.

So why does a white Irish girl from the suburbs of Pittsburgh turn herself into one of the Hispanic world's biggest pop music princesses when more deserving singers can claim the ethnic label?

Her career shift came in the late 1990s when it became apparent the U.S. record-buying (and music-downloading) public preferred the pop pap of Spears to that of Aguilera, even though some critics say Aguilera has the better singing voice and more natural talent.

So Aguilera followed up her English-language pop hits "Genie in a Bottle" and "What a Girl Wants" with an album entitled "Mi Reflejo" (My Reflection, for those who are Spanish-challenged). Aside from one song, "Contigo en la Distancia," the rest was pure U.S.-style pop fluff translated into Spanish -- including translations of her two prior English hits.

For whatever reason, it worked.

The record won a Latin Grammy Award in 2001 for best female pop vocal album and she was named the world's best selling Latin female artist at the 2001 World Music Awards.

She also was Latina magazine's Entertainer of the Year, and once appeared on a Saturday Night Live episode that focused on Hispanic entertainers.

Admittedly, Aguilera is not the only pop singer with some Hispanic ethnicity. The multi-racial, multi-ethnic Mariah Carey includes Venezuelan heritage in her family tree. But she refuses to play up the ethnic label, saying, "Why is it such an issue? I'm me."

And Linda Ronstadt, whose father was Mexican, focused her career on English pop. She made two records of Mexican folk songs as a novelty but doesn't come close to the pandering of Aguilera.

But the real problem with Aguilera (and I'll be the first to admit Christina couldn't care less what I think, since I'm well over the maximum age of the demographic to whom she's pitching her music) is that the scantily clad, "dirrrty girl" image pushes her over the limit into trampy behavior.

I'll concede her right to dress however little she wants. But that doesn't mean she ought to give in to every bit of tacky behavior that pops into her peroxide-laden head.

By tying tackiness in so heavily with a Hispanic persona, Aguilera drags all Hispanics down every time she plays the part of an Ecuadorian bimbo. Some may label me a prude, but she's embarrassing. Hispanics deserve a better image.

In fact, Hispanic entertainers by and large do present a better public image. It's this suburban white girl who poses as a Hispanic who's the problem.

But while Aguilera has taken advantage of her surname, her Anglo-Gaelic side hasn't ignored her. Irish-American magazine named her one of the top 100 Irish people in the United States for 2001.

Maybe Christina is giving in to that side. After all the shame she has brought to Hispanics, a part of me likes the idea of Aguilera as an Irish girl.

Perhaps we could work out a trade -- Aguilera and an actor to be named later to the Irish in exchange for a few cases of Guinness? Maybe we could use such a deal to ditch Emilio Estevez, too. But his record of bad movies is a whole different story.

(Hispanidad is a weekly column about the culture of Hispanics and Latinos in the United States, written by Greg Tejeda, a third-generation Mexican-American. Suggestions for topics can be made to gtejeda@upi.com)

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