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Top-Down, Bottom-Up Dynamics Move Marketplace Of Latino Culture

Dr. Frederick Luis Aldama at KETR on the campus of Texas A&M University-Commerce.
Sarah Northam
Dr. Frederick Luis Aldama at KETR on the campus of Texas A&M University-Commerce.

Market forces can start with producers and consumers alike. Frederick Luis Aldama says that when it comes to depictions of Latino culture, the top-down and bottom-up dynamics can have different goals. 

Mark Haslett: Today on North By Northeast we’re continuing our conversation with Frederick Luis Aldama, a Professor of English at The Ohio State University who spoke on the campus of Texas A&M University-Commerce last week. Aldama is a specialist in Latino culture. He identifies two major dynamics in the way that Latino culture interacts with the economy, particularly the entertainment industry. One dynamic involves the way that big media companies try to sell content to an increasingly lucrative Latino market, without making their products so Latino that people from other demographics are alienated.

Frederick Luis Aldama: So there’s definitely two things happening with Latino pop culture. There is the top-down, which I would sort of identify as big corporate interests that understand that we as a population, as majority-minority, represent about a $1.3-1.4 trillion buying power in this country. That’s a huge, huge, huge buying power. So you have corporate interests, and with that certain kinds of say straightjackets in terms of the kind of content, Latino content, that’s being put out into the world. And there is an anxiety around that kind of representation of Latinos. It’s a Latino that is, in many ways, perfectly represented by the way Disney commodifies latinidad, Latino-ness, in a figure like Demi Lovato in something like Camp Rock, where we actually know she’s a Latina, but the film itself dissolves or erases most of the markers, the content, the sort of ancestry of that particular character. So yes she’s there. We know she’s there as a Latina, but it’s in a safe for corporate interests, for viewership. It’s not going to push anybody away. 

Haslett: The marketplace also reacts to organically occurring culture that has its origins outside corporate boardrooms. Aldama says that this bottom-up dynamic is exemplified by the work of artists like Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, two visual storytellers who were featured on KETR last October.

Aldama: You guys had the Bros Hernandez here. And those would be an excellent example of those producing very significant cultural objects put into the world in ways that don’t have those same kinds of straightjackets and corporate, and that are much more creative and have more much more content variation in and around what it means to be Latino in this country. So there are two things, and one there is a lot of anxiety around it, that would be the top-down, and then the bottom up, which is constantly grassroots almost pushing against and forcing that top-down model to recalibrate itself constantly.

Haslett: Frederick Luis Aldama, a Latino culture specialist in the Department of English at The Ohio State University. We’ll conclude our conversation with him tomorrow, on North By Northeast. You can find this program along with yesterday’s show featuring Dr. Aldama online at KETR.org. For KETR news, this is Mark Haslett.

Mark Haslett has served at KETR since 2013. Since then, the station's news operation has enjoyed an increase in listener engagement and audience metrics, as well recognition in the Texas AP Broadcasters awards.
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