If your takeaway from last night’s Super Bowl Halftime Show was hot Latinas, tight ends and pole dancing, you missed the underlying message and essence of the performance. Shakira and Jennifer Lopez, in the company of Bad Bunny, J Balvin and Lopez’s daughter Emme, went above and beyond in communicating Latino culture visually and rhythmically. It was historic, artistic, ethnic and, for many who live in this country, political.
Sure, some chose to look at the show as a battle of two Latin divas, and indeed, it represented the two Latinas that I identify with most. Their joining together for the most-watched 14 minutes in television showed the world that we are a force to be reckoned with, and that many diasporas stem from our roots. Our diversity is at the heart of what we bring to the stage, and to the table.
Perhaps many Latinos don’t identify with Shakira’s story, but they do with Jennifer’s. I identify with both. I remember as a young girl idolizing each of them. Shakira was Colombian like me, with a Colombian mother, but with a father from another part of the world which made her the diverse and “exotic” Latina woman that she is. When I was little, my mother’s sister married one of Shakira’s relatives, and I remember being so proud to meet her family as a girl. I thought that perhaps if I was meeting her aunt (at my first communion) one day I could meet her or perhaps watch her in concert. That seemed like such a far away dream at 8 years old.
A year later, I discovered J. Lo, who, like me, was born to parents who migrated to the United States. I watched Lopez in her “Play” video from my mom’s bed thinking how absolutely beautiful and charismatic she was. The more I grew up, the more I could relate to her as a woman and a Latina, fighting for equality in this country and working hard to achieve her dreams. Every time I got discouraged because success wasn’t coming quick enough, I would remind myself that J. Lo got her big break portraying Mexican Tejano singer Selena when she was 28.
Last night, the 28-year-old me, feeling incredibly accomplished while covering the Super Bowl in my home state, watched my heroes from just a few yards away and remembered those two moments in my life. I must admit, I had a cry thinking about how many Latinos were taking in these powerful women simultaneously, and processing the messages they conveyed in those 14 minutes.
Shakira, whose career started as a guitar-slinging, black-haired rocker known for her exceptional belly dancing and hip-shaking skills, today represents the women and men whose lives commenced in Latin America but never saw borders as a deterrent in their lives. With a father born in New York City to Lebanese parents, who later moved to Colombia (where he met her mother), the Barranquillera showed the world that dreams can come true, and that originality and authenticity to our roots can indeed take us to a Super Bowl stage.
Lopez’s appearance onstage as Jenny from the Block was her way of letting the tens of millions watching that, while onstage for one of the biggest nights of her career, she is still that Latina making her way through the hard streets of New York City. “We from The Bronx, New York,” she chanted, before going into a medley of her classic tunes. Lopez, who was born in the United States, grew up in a Puerto Rican home and was raised in a Latino household. Throughout her career she became an icon and an idol to every son and daughter of immigrant parents looking to give their family a better life.
Bad Bunny hitting the stage with “I Like It” was Puerto Rico’s first appearance along with Colombia. The trap music artist said a few words including “Que Viva La Raza” (“long live our [Latino] race”) before turning the rhythm to salsa. When J Balvin joined in for a rendition of “Que Calor” and “Mi Gente,” it became clear that while with Bad Bunny, Shakira wanted Puerto Rican talent to complement her performance, Lopez, a Puerto Rican artist, wanted some of Colombia’s finest to be a part of hers. It was such a beautiful way for each one to pay respect to the other’s culture.
Once “Let’s Get Loud” began and Lopez’s daughter Emme led a somber musical moment featuring young kids sitting in what appeared to look like small cages, a strong political statement was clear, because currently there are thousands of Latino children in those circumstances nationwide. A family statement was also made: Jennifer Lopez, one of Latin music’s most powerful artists was passing the performance torch to her daughter, who appears to be following in her mother’s career footsteps. A beautiful mother-daughter moment was accompanied by Shakira on the drums, and children dancing while dressed in white, showing that the next generation is ready to Get Loud unapologetically. While Lopez stood in the center, she raised her Puerto Rican flag coat in pride of where she comes from while shining a light on the grief and difficult circumstances her island and her people have endured the past few years.
As Emme continued with a snippet of the Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA,” Lopez flipped her coat, displaying the American flag, in a message that showed that we are all Americans.
For the grand finale, the two stood side by side, after Shakira’s homage to African beats with Waka Waka, while JLo took over with a salsa version of “Let’s Get Loud” while welcoming Swing Latino, a salsa company from Cali Colombia, that she flew in for the performance. As the two women stood side by side, Latinos nationwide and worldwide, as well as those such as myself watching live, stood proud because we were finally showing the world the many faces of who we are and that we, too, are a part of this nation.