Cuba-Rican artist Sofía Maldonado has explored her concept of the Up-Uptown Latina Manhattanite in a mural on 42nd Street, and we don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Her vision of the Harlem/Washington Heights women is as much a fetishist cliché as it is an artistically poor attempt at realism: It includes morenas with too-tiny tank tops holding their saggy breasts and a redhead with the Heights version of the Snooki poof (and the Snooki attire). Unsurprisingly, protesters are expected to rally in front of the piece today at 6:00 p.m.
The whole thing is a 92-foot sign that reads “step backward for Latinas and black women,” and reeks of romanticizing. Because according to Maldonado, a white hipster in skinny jeans who went to Pratt, we should celebrate the sartorial manifestations of poverty and exclusion that minority women engage in. “Inspired by my heritage, it illustrates a female aesthetic that is not usually represented in media or fashion advertising in Times Square. It recognizes the beauty of underground cultures such as reggaeton, hip-hop and dancehall and incorporates trends such as nail art and Latina fashion,” the 26-year-old artist said.
And that, right there, is some noble savage crap. There is beauty in those subcultures, but Maldonado has somehow managed to only bring out their ugly side. A part of the women that inhabit northern Manhattan and certain parts of Brooklyn and the Bronx do, indeed, walk around with sass to boot in form-fitting, precariously covering clothes, with their nails and their hair did. But what does Maldonado mean when she says that this isn’t usually represented in media? It’s called the Latina stereotype, and it’s everywhere. Everywhere. And it’s a product of exclusion, and doesn’t celebrate the true workhorses of the Latino community, the men and women who are making it beyond the Hispanic glass ceiling, but on their own terms.
And besides, the whole mural is so 2000’s, both in scope and execution.
Sofía, you should have lived up to the cut of your jeans, and said that you were doing this ironically. That you were playing with the audience’s perception of what a Latina is. That by shoving a hypersexualized preconceived notion in the faces of Times Square pedestrians, you were forcing them to acknowledge their own prejudices. That you wanted them to think about how ample the array of Latinaness can be. That you wanted to use this mural to empower hard-working women instead of turning them into caricatures, and patting women on the back for owning their own nail salon, as if that were the best thing they could aspire to achieve. As single-mother-on-welfare-turned-engineer Carmen Colón says in this Fox News video, “What I want to see is something that motivates me, something that makes me want to be more than what I am. And when I look at these pictures, do you really want to be this when you grow up?”
One of the artist’s aims was to get more tourists to visit those neighborhoods. Nice attempt, but we’ve never been fans of zoos. Especially not human ones.
Image via Times Square Alliance