Of marketing and “Hispanic food”

Marketing is so powerful that it can turn a small, humble kind of spice into the main component of thousands (yes, thousands!) of “Hispanic foods” in the U.S.

At least that is what marketers want you to believe. An article in today’s online edition of Newsday says that the number of chipotle-flavored menu items at national restaurant chains had tripled to 2,800 between 2004 and 2005. I cannot even begin to imagine where on earth is chipotle ending up (ice cream? cookies? drinks?) I hate to spoil the party, but I was born, raised and fed in Mexico, by real Mexican people and cooks, and I don’t think I can count more than 10 chipotle-based dishes.


The article, aptly headlined “Olé to Hispanic flavors” also talks about another great innovation by Tyson Foods Inc.: thinly-sliced beef intended for “Hispanic dishes such as fajitas.” I wonder why my mom still spends so much time with the knife…

Of course the piece also mentions Dulce de Leche Oreos and lime-flavored beer as examples of marketers “adapting” to Hispanic tastes -even though I’ve never seen anybody in Latin America eat any of those. And don’t get me started on the concept of “Hispanic foods”… What is that anyway?

Why we love …


You might think whatever you want of Univision, but one thing is indisputable: It has perfected the art of marketing itself.

Univision Communications is one of the nation’s largest buyers of Spanish-language media, promoting its properties on TV, radio and the Internet. And now it has invited users to be the unwilling promoters of its programming.

In a recent effort to join the trend of User Generated Content, Univision has launched “Yo Amo a Univision,” a self-promoting contest that invites viewers to create and send a 1-minute video explaining why they love Univision.

A few chosen ones have seen their creations aired lately during popular shows such as El Gordo y la Flaca and Primer Impacto, quickly becoming part of the network’s powerful marketing machine.

In one recent video, a guy with an obvious Mexican accent appears bubbly and happy on camera saying “…Hijo’ela! amo Univision porque tiene programas bien chidos,” closing with a heart-wrenching, Mariachi-style declaration of true love: “Ojala no me lo quiten, porque me voy a poner a llorar.” (I hope they don’t take it [Univision] away from me, because I will burst into tears.”

Cheesy? sure. And wickedly brilliant.

Here we go: Now it’s ‘Cinco de Mayo Barbie’


I was really hoping to ignore the “holiday” altogether, but a recent announcement by Mattel was just too good to be true.

Turns out that this year the giant toy maker is launching a new -revised- version of a Cinco de Mayo Barbie. Yep, she’s cute, she looks very “Mexican” and she surely looks proud to have won over the French in some obscure battle in Puebla. (I guess she could very well compete for the popular Nuestra Belleza Latina crown).

What’s interesting though is that — at least according to a story in the San Antonio Express News — in human form, these Barbies would be 7 feet tall, have a bust size of 44 inches, a 17-inch waist and hips that lie at 40 inches.

Meanwhile, Latinas, who come in all colors, sizes and shapes, are more likely to fall in the “average category” as reported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which is 5-foot-3 and 152 pounds, according to the article.

Oh well, flat-chested, short (rather vertically-challenged) Latinas can have a few moments of happiness for only $19.95 a piece.

People, pomp and circumstances…


Ok, I didn’t make it to People en Español‘s 50 Most Beautiful People issue (again!) so I might as well bitch a little bit about it … oh well, not that much.

Actually, the June 2007 looks quite nice, with four very beautiful people gracing the cover: Angélica Vale, Adamaris López (again?) Alejandro Fernández and… Beyoncé Knowles. Yes! this gorgeous fortunate non-Latina made it to the list as an “honorary beautiful one,” as the editors explain, for her duo with Fernández in the hit song of Telemundo’s novela El Zorro and her recent CD featuring six songs in Spanish.

In reading the details about the photo session that took place around this year’s Bellos edition, though, I could not help but notice that at some point Beyoncé is referred to as the “African American diva.” So far so good. But turn to page 218 and you will find an interview with another beauty, Ana de la Reguera, who speaks candidly about her life and … body:

— “… Quisiera tener más largas las piernas. Y también tener la pompa parada, me hubiera encantado tenerla como las negritas.”

What?? Which negritas is she talking about? I might have missed something so I’ll get back to the list, count the “pompas paradas” and see how many of those belong to “little black women”. So far, I see a lot of pompas, but not very “negritas”, they’re rather morenitas.

Bloomberg goes to Mexico


Where does New York City turn to learn how to deal with lots and lots of poor people? Mexico, of course: we have a solid 50% of the population living in poverty, and one fifth living in extreme poverty, according to the World Bank.

So, Mayor Michael Bloomberg today begins a brief tour around Mexico City in hopes to learn something (anything) about such a phenomenom and how to fight it.

One program under the mayor’s radar is “Oportunidades,” under which poor families get paid for meeting certain goals such as attending parent-teacher conferences, getting medical checkups or holding down a full-time job.

What’s wrong with that? well, for starters most poor people in Mexico cannot attend parent-teacher conferences or get medical checkups simply because they live in communities with no schools or medical facilities; and don’t get me started on the “holding a full-time job.” In case you’ve missed it, the last sexenio left thousands of middle-class professionals without a job, full-time or not. (The poor don’t have jobs, period.)

Maybe Mr. Bloomberg ignores that a lot of those people he’s hoping to visit this week are already planning their trip North of the Border.

Mmmmm, maybe what he really wants to get out of this Mexico adventure is to learn how to actually –and literally– make the poor go away. Tricky guy, always ahead of the curve!

Latinas of the world, misbehave!

Latinas, feel free to misbehave. As it turns out, our bad habits, misdeeds and pecadillos are all rooted in our traditional, patriarchal, Catholic rearing which makes us naturally submissive and subordinated to men, and therefore prone to fall into their arms no matter what.

At least that was the explanation given by jailhouse psychologist Magdalena Sanchez, who allegedly had a torrid love affair with an inmate at the Brooklyn federal detention center and then lied about it to investigators.

Sanchez pleaded not-guilty, and in fact she has reportedly used her 2003 dissertation as part of her defense. In it, the New School graduate argues that women are traditionally “submissive” to men, and that “historically, the roles of Latinas have been of self-sacrificing wives and mothers and of subordination to men.”

The trick might have worked out nicely: it has been reported that Sanchez’ husband, a respected Wall Street exec, not only paid the $100,000 bail but has stood by his woman. Way to go!

Hispanics eat gratis in Carpentersville

I love the Web and I love having a blog, because this gives me a legitimate (if somehow morbid) reason to go hunting for Latino-related stories on the Internet.

And thanks to this perpetual search, I learned today that there is a town in Illinois called Carpentersville, where Hispanics are organizing against a group of politicians who promise a crack down on illegal immigration and to make English the official language of the town.

Carpentersville has a population of 37,000, of which 40% are Hispanic, according to a story on today’s Chicago Tribune.

City officials claim Latinos (mostly of Mexican origin) are giving the town a bad name. Moreover, a series of fliers distributed to thousands of homes in a recent day, stated: “Are you tired of sending lunch money with your children while illegal aliens get a free breakfast or lunch?”
Wow! the place doesn’t even have a downtown, but there’s free food for Latinos! I guess that is something worth telling my paisanos, always eager to get a free meal in this country.

How does one get to Carpentersville?

Vestida para matar


Politically correctness has finally caught up with my paisanos. So to avoid an escalating scandal, Miss Mexico will have to tone down her outfit.

But wait, it’s not that the dress set to be worn by Miss Mexico in the upcoming beauty pageant is too revealing. As it turns out, it’s too violent!: Among the images were Roman Catholic rebels hanging from posts, and a man facing a firing squad, all reminiscent of the 1929 Guerra de los Cristeros (Cristero War). The outfit was completed by rosaries and scapularies hanging from a bullet-studded belt, topped off with a crucifix necklace and a wide-brimmed sombrero.

Designed by Maria del Rayo Macias, the dress was chosen ahead of nearly 30 other gowns, in order, as the organizers put it, to represent Mexico’s culture and history. But now it will have to be redone. The new dress will now feature –what else?– images of the Virgin of Guadalupe and of women who participated in the Cristero War.
If you ask me, I’m not sure I’m outraged about the violent images… I would be ashamed to wear that thing only because it’s too tacky! or is it just me?

How about getting rid of the cristeros altogether and change the whole thing to a group of Mexicans crossing the border while being shot by the Border Patrol?

(Nah! I guess that will be deemed too progressive).

Spring-break in Cuba: $65,000 per student

You gotta love U.S. foreign policy: while government officials on “business missions” are allowed to travel to Cuba without being reprimended for violating the embargo, a group of high-school students in Manhattan face a fine of $65,000 (each) for taking a spring-break field trip to the “evil” island.

According to a story on today’s New York Post , History professor Nathan Turner, of Manhattan’s Beacon School, has a soft spot for Cuba, which helps explain why he decided to take a dozen students to one more of his “extravagant overseas trips.” (Among the teacher’s other “extravagant” destinations: Mexico, France and Venezuela. Oh dear!)

The 35-year-old teacher -whose future in education looks as bright as that of Don Imus in the media- is now under investigation and has refused to speak to the press (Smart move: if you are a History teacher with a penchant for communist countries, you should not be speaking to The Post).

Turner has a lot of explaining to do: In addition to his destination faux pas, students say his classroom walls are adorned with posters of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. Ay Dios! we can only hope he doesn’t end up in Guantanamo any time soon.

Spanish-language TV saved my day


I have to thank Univision and Telemundo for saving my day today.

While a fierce northeastern storm drenches the New York region since last night, both Spanish-language networks decided to honor the 50th anniversary of Pedro Infante’s death by broadcasting some of the idol’s classic movies.

Starting with Escuela de Vagabundos and Cartas Marcadas on Univision, and followed by El Gavilán Pollero on Telemundo, it has been a real pleasure to stay at home watching TV.

See? it’s not that I have anything against Spanish-language television; I guess my usual rants have to do with the lack of programming I can truly identify with. As a foreign-born, non-assimilated, non-acculturated Mexican who still cannot see the value of reality television, Pedro Infante rules!

¿Qué dijiste, JLo?


Hopeful beauty queens who have a hard time speaking Spanish should get some consolation from Bronx diva Jennifer Lopez, who this week attempted to correct the Spanish of a gringo … but ended up screwing up herself.

During JLo’s special appeareance on American Idol this week, and after an amazing performance of her single ¿Qué hiciste?, she stood next to host Ryan Seacrest, who trying to impress her, broke to commercials saying “There’s more to come despúes del comercial” (after the commercial break).

–Was that right?, Seacrest asked JLo.

–“Almost!” she answered with a big smile… “it’s despúes de la comercial.”

Ay, ay, ay!

Gracias Míster Gingrich

As they say in my country -and in Spanish, of course!- más vale tarde, que nunca; that is: “better late than never”.

Days after the U.S. Latino community blasted Newt Gingrich for saying Spanish was the language of “living in a ghetto”, the former House Speaker posted two videos in YouTube apologizing to the Latino community. Of course my favorite is the one in Spanish, which you can watch here and which reminded me of Molotov’s Frijolero.

Gingrich said in a speech recently that English should be the official language of the government and immersion should replace bilingual education. He told the National Federation of Republican Women that this was necessary “so people learn the common language of the country and they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto.”

(By the way, and speaking of the “language of prosperity” I wonder if Mr. Gingrich knows the language spoken by Carlos Slim, the world’s third richest man).

Repeat after me: Orangután


Univision last week announced the 12-finalists who will compete in Nuestra Belleza Latina, the weekly reality show in which Latinas from all over the country compete for the title, a contract as one of Univision’s on-air personalities and a chance to win more than $200,000. And thank God the 12 finalists are kind of cute, because during last week’s on-camera test, not one was able to say the word “orangután” properly … And they were reading it from a teleprompter.

Having made it to the finals, the 12 girls are now ready to face another round of weekly challenges which, according to Univision, will “test their talent and character.” But worry no more. This time around they will work to perfect their runway walks, dancing, singing and acting skills, as well as undergo a rigorous fitness regime. No more journalistic challenges please!

Acapulco en la Azotea


It is official. Mexico is a surreal country.

This month, my fellow chilangos were able to enjoy the wonders of the beach (sun, sand and water included) without having to leave home.

Inspired by a growing trend in the European capitals, the mayor of Mexico City this month inaugurated four urban beaches, complete with sand imported from Veracruz, inflatable pools and carts selling “fresh” seafood. Landlocked Mexico City residents rapidly crowed the beaches, some installed by the side of noisy roads, enjoying what most will never be able to afford in the real world.

The media, of course, has looked at the whole thing with humor. A recent front-page story on El Universal Gráfico illustrated a story about the urban beaches with a photo composition showing divers jumping off the Monumento a la Revolución and into the ocean.

Aztec muffins anyone?


If you thought Hispanic marketers were running out of ideas, think again: This morning, while picking up my daily coffee at the local Starbucks, I came across the “Aztec Ancho Chile Muffin.” I swear, I’m not kidding here.

The suspiciously-normal looking treat was one of several “Hispanic-themed” products launched today as part of a special Latin American Spring celebration by the Seattle-based coffee chain. Also at hand were sweet-plantain pound cakes, dulce de leche-flavored lattes and pineapple empanadas. And my very own favorite: Café con Banana Dulce de Bajo Contenido Graso. (If you can say this without hesitation, and with the right accent, you qualify to receive a free pound of Brazil’s Ipanema Bourbon coffee, whatever that is).

OK, dulce de leche and empanadas I understand, but Ancho Chile (not Chile Ancho) muffins? It makes me wish for some kind of punishment … Aztec-style.