Hey, familia, it’s your friendly neighborhood Órale of Delphi here. In honor of Latinx heritage month, I’m gifting you with visions of past, present, and future offerings.
Now, ya lo sé que not everybody likes or understands the “x” at the end of Latinx. Personally speaking, for me it means more than just looking beyond the typical “o/a” delineation in an effort to acknowledge that language, like society, shouldn’t be inherently gendered. To me, it also represents that certain “x” factor we have. That powerful, enduring soul, that sofrito that makes nuestra gente so damn special.
This x-factor is the common thread that unites our entire community. Latinx nowadays means so many things. First-gen American, second-gen American, or born in different countries around the world. Mixed-race or full-blooded. Immigrant or emigrant, native or adoptive. We are one and many things. And it’s what makes us so beautiful.
In an effort to capture this greater weave, I’ve compiled a celebration of Latinx heritage from around the world. Disclaimer: this is a completely subjective list and by no means a complete roundup of all Latinx influences to pay tribute to. At a later date, I will also be posting a collection of different Latinx voices in Books and Film. Because just like with all peoples and cultures, Latinx heritage should be celebrated every single month.
Televisión: In honor of mi abuela (te quiero mucho, Ma), I want to dub all offerings in this category “el cho.” ¡Que lo disfrutéis!
Vida (Canceled after three seasons, STARZ)
Out of all the cancellations networks have done this year, this one hurt my heart the most. There was an endless amount of potential packed into this restless, vivid firebrand of a show. Vida told the inspired story of two estranged Mexican-American sisters, Emma (Mishel Prada) and Lyn (Melissa Barrera), who return to LA after their mother’s passing. They decide to take over their mom’s bar and, with the help of tough teddy bear Eddy (Ser Anzoategui), eventually turn it into an LGBTQIA hotspot. Rather than endearing them to the locals, their actions only piss off the neighbors, who are convinced that these “coconuts” were further gentrifying their community. To say any more would be to spoil this unsung miracle of a show. Just know that they depict characters all over the spectrum of heritage, sexuality, identity, and humanity. They will break your heart over and over and wake you up to realities of how our world is shaped. And, oh, when I watched this, I felt truly seen in a way I so infrequently do. Not just in the big, swelling moments but in the smaller interactions, too. I was glued to my screen, half-sobbing, during a casual scene where Lyn was slouched next to a flirtatious waiter. She swigged wine and ranted as she watched her boyfriend from across the party. Left on the outside, again. Because his parents were scornful of her half-garbled Spanish and her seeming lack of authenticity. Watching her vent and seethe because she was never enough for either of the worlds she was born into was profoundly affecting to me as a mixed-race woman. I watched Lyn square her shoulders, stroll back into the party and charm everyone without ever giving away an inch of what it cost her. And I became a loyal fan for life.
Julie And The Phantoms (Just aired the first season, Netflix)
I actually only watched this because of Mae’s review and I’m so thrilled that I did! This is the second teen-focused Netflix offering that has surprised me this year, and I can only hope it’s a good sign for the streaming giant. Honestly, though, nothing about this should be surprising to me. After all, it’s yet another brainchild of my man Kenny Ortega, who gets bonus tostones for his continuous efforts to showcase three-dimensional Latinx representation on-screen while also featuring diverse casts, killer soundtracks, and jaw-dropping routines. (Shoutout to my girl Gabriela, who was brainy, talented, ambitious, and not a villain - don’t @ me, Sharpay stans.) In Julie And The Phantoms, sixteen-year-old Madison Reyes is nothing short of a revelation as a young girl grieving her mother and struggling to move on. Her family is worried about her — and we immediately love her family, so we feel their pain. Props to Kenny for choosing Carlos Ponce to play Julie’s adorably flustered and attractive dad. Also, for casting Alison Araya as the loving, hovering tía - her amazing pronunciation of “Pilates” cracked me up for about ten minutes straight. Julie’s ghost band (Charlie Gillespie, Owen Joyner and Jeremy Shada) do their best to help her along, as does her charismatic ride or die best friend Flynn (Jadah Marie). Reyes and Gillespie have incredible chemistry, both with each other and with the other lovable members of the band. Their scenes, along with some of the brighter comedic notes, balance out the darker emotional beats nicely. The show tackles themes of grief, regret, family, and love resonate in a surprisingly deep manner that never feels dumbed down.
Grand Hotel (Canceled after one season, ABC)
The level of camp, color, spectacle, and soap in this tropical mystery was nostalgic in all the right ways. The series follows an extended family’s internal struggles as they also fight to save their glamorous Miami hotel. The siblings squabble and scheme like Gossip Girl rejects sin verguenza, yet despite their many flaws I actually found myself rooting for them. The “evil stepmother” and her lovingly indulgent husband are both much more than they seem. If nothing else, this series should serve as a reminder to the world to cast Roselyn Sánchez in all of the things. Frankly, this imperfect gem, executive produced by Eva Longoria, should have lasted at least a couple more seasons. It evokes a telenovela in all the best ways - the gorgeous setting, equally stunning cast, vibrant wardrobes, overdramatic plot beats, and, of course, a serious fixation with social caste. Watching this absurd romp of a show reminded me of my own childhood. Every once in awhile, I’d get permission to stay up late for a special treat. I’d huddle with my mom on the kitchen floor as we watched the thrilling adventures of María la del Barrio, starring the one and only Thalía. I may not have understood a lot about my Dominican heritage, and I could only pick up about one word in five, but the appeal of this dramatically lit telenovela world was undeniable. That same warm, nostalgic appeal seeps through every scene of Grand Hotel. Truly, it makes for a delightful distraction from, well, *gestures at everything.*
Roswell, New Mexico (Greenlit for Season Three, The CW)
OK, OK, hear me out on this one. I know that it - gasp! Airs on The CW. But the strong, badass Latina besties at the heart of this show makes all the rest of this semi-decent reboot worthwhile. I was a huge fan of the original and while they do a nice job calling back to it, this show just doesn’t have the same sweaty, broody, intriguing tone to it. That said, it’s still pleasant enough to watch. This time around, Liz is a strong Latinx woman played by Cuban triple-threat Jeanine Mason. I appreciate that this show captures everyday struggles affecting families like the Ortechos everywhere as they try to keep their small business afloat. I also like the way they incorporate issues more specific to our community, like life along the border and the inherent racism muddying the waters of immigration today. In fact, when we first meet Liz, it’s when she’s calling out a local police force for stopping her upon her return to town. She stays calm and in control, but there is no mistaking the visceral anger, stinging scorn, and barely-restrained fury in her voice when she asks if they stopped her car so that ICE could do a search. Yup, I love my girl Liz in all her brainy, big-hearted scientist mama bear glory. I also love her best friend Maria, who is indelibly portrayed by Heather Hemmens. This wonderful half-Black half-Costa Rican actress gives Maria a tender, burning, strong yet fragile heart that is, quite frankly, more than this show deserves. In one of my favorite scenes of the entire series, an upset Maria wanders off as another character asks Liz if maybe she shouldn’t go rescue her. “Nope.” Liz promptly replies. When they ask her why not, she grins, shoots back some tequila, and says, “because Maria de Luca is her own savior. Every damn time.” Need I say more?
Más y más: On My Block, Superstore, Brooklyn 99, George Lopez, Jane The Virgin, East Los High, Gente-fied, Ashley Garcia: Genius in Love, One Day At A Time, Taina, The Brothers Garcia
Musica: This was such a hard list to narrow down. Song and dance has long been one of the cornerstones of Latinx identity, and that’s reflected in our diversity of music. Bachata, cumbia, tango, flamenco, paso doble, reggaeton…the list just goes on and one. Entonces, what follows is my humble attempt at capturing just a small slice of the bigger flan.
Icon. We toss around that word far too frequently nowadays, and I include myself in that sentiment. If you think about it, though, so few are truly deserving of this word. Celia Cruz is unequivocally one of them. She was a Cuban singer and “The Queen of Latin Music” who was una chingona from birth. She defied her strict father by pursuing a music career, learned how to speak Yoruba, and always paid tribute to her blended Afro-Latin heritage both onstage and off. She was the very first Latin woman to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. As Cultura Colectiva proudly states, Celia was a trailblazer in every single way. “Celia revolutionized the Latin music industry not only with her talent and presence but also by becoming one of the most important figures of salsa and tropical music, two genres historically dominated by men.” She is the living embodiment of “La Negra Tiene Tumbao” and oh, how I wish I could capture the essence of “tumbao” in English. The closest I can come is a combination of “the uncompromising fire of a soul that never buckles” mixed with “only the most colorful spices in your spice cabinet”. Go listen to her music or watch her performance. I promise you, you’ll understand what sofrito means. ¡Azucar!
Am I biased because I’ve got an extra dose of pride for my fellow Dominicano? Pues, claro. But that doesn’t make J.Balvin any less crazy talented. Sometimes reggaeton can feel a bit repetitive to me, but he mixes it with pop, hip-hop, and other influences in a way that has undeniably catchy results. Also, not only can the man hold his own when it comes to collaborating on tracks like “Mi Gente” with freaking Beyoncé, but he can also turn absolutely anything into a bop. Don’t believe me? Then come join me for an adventure under the sea. Together, J.Balvin and Tainy somehow turned the bright, bubbly confection that is the Spongebob Squarepants soundtrack into a sizzling, thumping, absolutely fire track that makes me wiggle in my seat every time I hear it. Do yourself a favor and download “Agua” for yourself… and then give in to the inevitable and play it five more times in a row.
This 21-year-old Mexican American singer-songwriter is one to watch. I knew that after just one listen to “Sin Pijamas.” While part of me was still undecided about how much I liked it, the rest of me had already propelled myself out of my seat and started dancing around the room. This isn’t her only good track, either - check out songs like “Mala Santa” or “La Respuesta” to get a taste of her toe-tapping sound. And it doesn’t look like Becky G is content to just sit around and wait for her future to come to her. She also starred in the 2017 Power Rangers reboot, which is nothing special by normal viewing standards but is perfectly acceptable airplane fare. Sin dudo, this girl is going places.
I’ve had a soft spot for flamenco and Spanish guitar ever since I spent a magical year studying abroad in Granada. I love how haunting and evocative the music is, I love how unconventional the percussion is. I love how dancers duet with the rhythm of the music, shadowing and adding and stomping until it all surges into one singular performance. That’s why I’ve been so happy to see Spanish artist Rosalía getting her due on the world stage. Her airy, fluttery, haunting vocals feel simultaneously light and deep, and she further elevates them with a bold range of non-traditional beats and influences. Just check her out performing her hit “Malamente,” or watch her slay “me quedo contigo” with her own unique sense of effortless cool, and tell me you’re not already a fan.
Más y más: Shakira, Nicky Jam, Ozuna, Natti Natasha, Manu Chao, Tainy, Prince Royce, Selena, Cosme, Anitta, CNCO, Aventura, Karol G, Carlos Vives, Elvis Crespo, Luis Fonsi y Sofía Reyes. Y a quién le importa what the haters say - I’m adding Pitbull in here. I’m Mr. 305 trash and I make no apologies.
Header Image Source: Getty Images