From September 15 to October 15, the U.S. celebrates the Latinx community’s history, culture, and contributions to the country. The celebration initially began in 1968. However, at the time it was only declared a week-long observance. It wasn’t until 1988 that the week-long celebration transitioned into a full month. Rightfully so, considering how much of an impact the Latinx community has had on the U.S., especially within the creative community. It has introduced a variety of musical genres, artist works, and so much more.
In this blog, we will celebrate Latinx Heritage Month by going over the history of popular Latin dances, discussing Latinx representation in the film industry, and highlighting various museums within the U.S. that feature Latinx artwork.
Contributions of the Latinx Community to Dance
The Latinx community brought Salsa, Mambo, Merengue, Rumba, Cha-Cha, Bachata, and many other beautiful and widely known Latin dances to the U.S.
Salsa dancing arrived in the U.S. in the 20th Century, and quickly became one of the most popular Latin dances. It was especially prominent in Miami and New York. This type of dance is a combination of various Cuban dances like Mambo and Cha-Cha. It is best described as a partner dance where one person leads the other through a series of spins and rhythmic turns. Over the years, the popularity of Salsa dancing has grown so much that competitions like the World Salsa Championships were created. The World Dance Group, which created the World Salsa Championships, stated that its mission is to share the “beauty and passion of Latin dance with dancers and fans worldwide.”
The Mambo started to become popular in the U.S. back in 1947. This ballroom dance was a combination of Swing and Cuban music and was known to be one of the more difficult dances to learn. It requires tons of energy and rhythmic movements, which is why crowds love to witness it in action. This iconic dance influenced other dances, including but not limited to the Cha-Cha. Movies even started coming out that featured Mambo scenes, such as The Mambo Kings.
Contributions to the Film Industry from the Latinx Community
In addition to heavy involvement in dance culture, the Latinx community has also been involved in the film industry. It is quite possible that many great movies wouldn’t have been as successful without the help of Latinx creators. A great example of this is the film Coco.
The 2017 Disney/Pixar film Coco did a beautiful job at paying tribute to Mexican culture. From the animations to the singing, everything about this film was carefully thought out in order to celebrate the Latinx heritage and to communicate the message of how important it is to treasure your family even when they’re gone.
Although the director of the film was white, many of the people involved in the film were Latinx. Director Lee Unkrich knew that if he wanted to appropriately pay tribute to Mexican culture, he needed people involved that really understood it. The lead animator Adrian Molina is of Mexican descent. Gael García Bernal, who played Hector, is Mexican, and Benjamin Bratt, who played Ernesto, is Peruvian American. Many others closely involved in the film are also part of the Latinx community. This allowed every aspect of the movie to pay respect to the culture and embrace its beauty.
Without Latinx involvement in Coco, the film might have never been as successful as we know it. It has won a number of awards, including the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, Critics’ Choice Movie Award for Best Animation, and ADG Excellence in Production Design Awards-Animated Film.
To win these awards takes both creativity and authenticity. That is becoming increasingly clear through the 20th century as even revival films have rethought their casting strategy to portray characters more authentically. A perfect example of this is West Side Story.
The 1961 film of West Side Story was supposed to follow a young Columbian American girl named Maria. However, in the original film the director cast Natalie Wood, a white woman, to play the role. This December, however, the film will be revived with a more authentic Latinx representation that includes Rachel Zegler (Maria), Ariana Debose (Anita), Rita Moreno (Valentina), and David Alvarez (Bernardo), all of whom are from Latinx backgrounds.
Although the 1961 version of West Side Story was a beautiful rendition, the misrepresentation of the characters heritage did not go unnoticed. By casting a more authentic group of actors in the upcoming 2021 revival film, the industry is demonstrating just how much it’s grown when it comes to representing roles authentically.
Whether Latinx creators are the lead actors, work as the director, or are cast members in production, this vibrant community has contributed immensely to the film industry. Its overall creativity and cultural perspective makes every movie a work of art.
Museums That Feature the Latinx Community’s Artwork
Museums are a great way to showcase artwork from any culture. The El Museo del Barrio and the National Museum of Mexican Art are two of the museums located within the U.S. that highlight Latinx artwork.
El Museo del Barrio, located on Fifth Avenue in New York City, is New York’s only cultural institution that exhibits exclusively Latinx, Caribbean, and Latin American art. It opened its doors in the 1970s as it displayed its first exhibition titled “The Art Heritage of Puerto Rico.” Today, El Museo del Barrio has collected over 8,000 diverse and permanent show pieces. This has allowed them to divide their collections into four different essential categories: Modern and Contemporary Art, Graphics, Taíno/Pre-Columbian, and Popular Traditions.
The National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago, Illinois is another museum worth visiting. According to the National Museum of Mexican Art website, it is “the only Latino Museum accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.” It also holds one of the largest Mexican art collections in the U.S., which consists of 11,000 pieces from ancient Mexico to the present. Not only does the museum display impeccable artwork created by the Latinx community, but it also hosts a number of cultural programs ranging from dance performances and symposiums to featuring authors and musical works.
We encourage you to visit both the El Museo del Barrio and the National Museum of Mexican Art to participate in their educational activities, festivals, and special events when you feel it is safe to do so. You’ll not only become more educated on the Latinx community’s immense contribution to the country, but you’ll also gain a better understanding of why the community deserves to be celebrated all year.
Online Resources to Learn More About the Latinx Community
The National Hispanic Heritage Month website, which was curated by the Library of Congress, is a great source for education resources on the Latinx community. It shows current exhibitions, as well as easily accessible videos about the Latinx culture and history. The site takes it a step further by also providing a resource section for teachers on how they can celebrate this heritage month with their students.
Throughout Latinx Heritage Month, the Copyright Alliance will continue to celebrate various Latinx creators every Friday on our social media pages. Follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram so that you don’t miss any of the extraordinary artists we feature!