Author Archive

#1526 – Rebels

From an actress who stars in one of the most rebellious shows out today, Orange is the New Black, to the hidden Latino history of one of the most rebellious film genres, film noir – Latino USA explores stories from the road less traveled.

Selenis Leyva, Success with a Purpose

Actress Selenis Leyva makes the most out of small moments. She plays the character Gloria on the hit Netflix series Orange Is The New Black. With the raise of an eyebrow or the turn of her head, Leyva’s Gloria is full of attitude and opinion. Gloria is a fierce Latina, trying to survive in prison. And in real life, Leyva is just as passionate.  “When I think of a Latina, I think of a strong survivor and that’s what Gloria Mendoza is,” says Leyva.

She was born and raised in the Bronx, the daughter of a Dominican mother and a Cuban father. She began her acting career in Latino theater groups and comedy clubs in New York City, and very quickly felt what it was like to be pigeon caged in stereotypical roles. “There were many, many occasions where I felt that I was not given an opportunity because I was not fair-skinned,” she says.

It took her twenty years of struggling as an actress before her big break on “Orange”. In that time, however, her life experience has informed her role on the show her view of what it means to be a celebrity. In this extended interview, she opens up to Maria Hinojosa about the long winding road to fame, and what she plans to do with it now that she’s there.


Photo by Anna Webber/Getty Images for New York 

Cine Negro: Hispanic Contributions to Film Noir

One of the most rebellious… some call it a movement, others a genre, even a style of film is film noir. Our producer Antonia Cereijido is a huge Turner Classic Movie channel fan, and a classic movie fan in general. So she was very excited when she found out that Turner Classic Movies and Ball State University were teaming up to teach an online film noir class this summer. (If you are also a film noir fan or would like to learn more the class is still open. Click here for the link.)

While looking through tweets of fellow classmates she saw that the Museum of Modern Art is also celebrating film noir this summer by hosting a series of Mexican film noir films in July. (Click here for the link to that event.)

So Antonia will guide us through a short history of both the hispanic contributions to U.S. film noir and Mexican film noir.

Here are some clips:


Gilda (1936)

Rita Hayworth was actually born Margarita Carmen Cansino. She was the daughter of a Spanish immigrant.


Touch of Evil (1958)

Most film noirs are take place in urban settings – since places like cabarets and bars lend themselves to the seedy tone the films embody.

But the U.S./Mexico border was an attractive location too because it also welcomed the possibility of illegal activity and organized crime.

Orson Welle’s “Touch of Evil” is the most famous noir set on the border.


Border Incident (1949)

The film Border Incident is a great example of how film noir borrowed a lot from documentaries by giving a more realistic and immediate feeling to the film.


Distinto amanecer (1943)

Distinto Amanecer is considered by many the first Mexican film noir. It was directed by Julio Bracho and the entire film can be viewed on YouTube (unfortunately without subtitles)


La noche avanza (1951)

La noche avanza and En la palma de tu mano are both directed by Roberto Gavaldón who is considered the Mexican director who most developed film noir.


En la palma de tu mano (1950)

Spanish Speaking Students Opt Out of Standardized Tests

Across the country, several hundred thousand students have opted out of taking standardized tests this year. Many students and parents object to high stakes testing for philosophical or political reasons. But in Philadelphia, parents have a more immediate concern: their kids can’t understand them. About one in ten students in Philadelphia public schools is an English Language Learner, yet they’re expected to take the same tests in the same language as their English-speaking peers.

Black Lives Matter Movement Transcends Borders

For a group of young Dominicans and Haitians based in New York, the Black Lives Matter movement transcends borders. In the wake of the killing of nine African Americans in Charleston, South Carolina, and the subsequent deadline for mass deportations of the Haitian descended population from the Dominican Republic, their cause is clear: Black Lives Matter everywhere. Recently, these young people took their message to the streets of the most densely populated Dominican neighborhoods in New York City. They marched in protest of what they believe is the decades-long mistreatment of dark-skinned people on the island.

Selenis Leyva Wants Latinos to Unite and Vote

Before her almost overnight success playing Gloria Mendoza on the hit Netflix series Orange Is The New Black, Selenis Leyva struggled for years as an actress of Cuban and Dominican descent. Even when she worked with mostly Latino theater groups she was often cast in stereotypical roles as an Afro Latina. After experiencing the deep divisions within the Latino community, Selenis now speaks out against those divisions. For our sabiduría, or words of wisdom, Selenis tells us she’s using her success to speak out against divisions, and to get Latinos to speak out at the voting booth this coming election.

Selenis Leyva wants Latinos to unite and vote

Before her almost overnight success playing Gloria Mendoza on the hit Netflix series Orange Is The New Black, Selenis Leyva struggled for years as an actress of Cuban and Dominican descent. Even when she worked with mostly Latino theater groups she was often cast in stereotypical roles as an Afro Latina. After experiencing the deep divisions within the Latino community, Selenis now speaks out against those divisions. For our sabiduría, or words of wisdom, Selenis tells us she’s using her success to speak out against divisions, and to get Latinos to speak out at the voting booth this coming election.

What Twitter Said About Maria Hinojosa’s TEDx Talk

Earlier this morning, Maria Hinojosa gave a talk at the inaugural TEDx Pennsyvania Ave event in Washington, D.C. There was a livestream, so all of us here at Latino USA (and the rest of The Futuro Media Group) got to see Maria proudly represent the work she and the entire team do. In a few weeks (very likely after the July 4 break), the official video of her TEDx talk will be made public. Once our team gets access to that video, we will share it on this site, along with a final transcript of her talk. In the meantime, I did want to share some Twitter highlights from today’s talk, since some of these tweets do capture the spirit of Maria’s words and why she does what she does. By the way, apologies in advance for some of my own gushy tweets, but I can’t help it: they really do explain how I feel about this place and my boss (FYI, she would be the first person to tell me to call her “a colleague” and a “a friend).

Anyway, here’s what Twitter said (including tweets from some of us here at Futuro Media):

We can’t wait to see it either.

How Our Latino USA LGBT Mariachi Story Went Viral

As Digital Media Director for The Futuro Media Group, producers of Latino USA, one of my more enjoyable tasks is to monitor and analyze the real-time social and online reactions to our latest podcasts. This week, the team produced Lady Liberty (headline h/t @antoniacere), a show that introduced us to some very liberated women. While many of you showered kudos for our segments on Cherríe Moraga, Nicaragua’s Hall of Femme, Princess Nokia and producer Daisy Rosario‘s latest installment of Diversity in Geekdom, it was a story about an LGBT mariachi group from Los Angeles that became our most popular story of the week, accounting for 50% of all the web traffic to this site in the last 72 hours.

Which led me to ask: how did this happen?

Let me get the non-scientific answer out of the way first. Producer Marlon Bishop had a theory about why the Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Ángeles story was so popular. “Mariachi always does well for us,” Marlon said. And as much as I wanted to let the analytics do the talking, Marlon’s right: Mariachi Opera and Mariachis in Alaska are both two very popular stories, but (now having looked at the analytics) the web traffic for this weekend’s LGBT mariachi story in the last four days was ten times greater than any other mariachi story from previous shows.

It’s LGBT Pride Month. I can speak for the team and specifically for producer Camilo Vargas (who produced the Mariachi Arcoiris segment): we didn’t intentionally plan to publish this segment during LGBT Pride Month, but it’s safe to conclude that some of the interest in the story came from greater awareness of the month. Yet, even with that, it’s still not the real reason.

Facebook. We promote all our latest stories on social channels, including Twitter and Tumblr. Yet, no matter how many places we share our segments, Facebook continues to be the place receive the most impact. Such was this case with this mariachi story. Here is where it stands as of this posting in terms of shares and likes.



Strong image.

Clear description.

Appealing headline.

Not bad.

The comments from users were mostly positive too, which didn’t hurt either. Once you start getting the comments (and yes, not all of them were positive), a conversation starts. People come back to your site. More conversation. Rinse and repeat.

One or two of the comments we received on our site wanted to clarify one part of this entire story. Let me share what two readers had to say about Natalia Melendez and how we described her as “the world’s first openly transgender woman in the history of mariachi:”

“I have to say Teresita la Campesina sang as an openly trans woman in mariachis from the 1970s to the 2000s in San Francisco’s Mission District, so Natalia is not the first openly trans mariachi in history, but I wish her and Mariachi Arcoiris the best!”

“Yes.!!!! Teresita sang mexican music for many years in the Mission district, and she was GREAT.!!!!!”

The history of Teresita la Campensina is not that well-known, and we thank those who mentioned her name to us. You can read more about Teresita in this chapter of an oral history anthology as well as in these excerpts. In fact, the story of Teresita la Campensina interested our team so much, that we plan to see if our team can produce a segment about her as another example of an untold history. Nonetheless, from what we could read and discover, Teresita was a trans woman in ranchera and mariachi, while both Mariachi Arcoiris and Natalia identify her as a trans mariachi singer, a charra. That, however, does not mean that we are downplaying the accomplishment of Teresita and what her story meant in the context of the Mission’s community. For us, those reader comments have led to another future topic to consider.


One more thing about this week’s show. When some Facebook fans saw that we were promoting a segment about Cherríe Moraga and the impact of This Bridge Called My Back, you were all wondering why we didn’t include Gloria Anzaldúa, the book’s other co-editor. Anzaldúa passed away in 2004, but our story did mention both Anzaldúa and Moraga.

This Week’s Music: Lady Liberty

Here is our official Spotify playlist with all the tracks we featured in this week’s Lady Liberty podcast, along with a few videos of the artists we included.




#1525 – Lady Liberty

Nope, we’re not talking about the Statue of Liberty, but rather some very liberated women: from Cherríe Moraga, the co-editor of the quintessential Chicana feminist book This Bridge Called my Back, to Hall of Femme, a hip-hop competition in Nicaragua exclusively for women. Latino USA hears from women who are supporting each other in achieving their goals.

Cherríe Moraga and the Perennial Importance of Chicana Feminism

When Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa —two Chicana feminists heavily influenced by the civil rights movement, the gay liberation movement and other social fronts of the 60’s and 70’s— published This Bridge Called My Back, they were responding to a problem they saw in the feminist movement around them.

After all, feminism at that time was controlled mostly by and for white women. The dominant narrative (that sexism was the single cruelest form of oppression) left little room for the nuanced role of racism. Women of color knew that reality was more complicated than that.

One of the first books to put women of color front-and-center in the feminist sphere, This Bridge Called My Back, brought together women writers from all kinds of backgrounds: Chicanas, African-Americans, Asian women, indigenous women and others. First published in 1981, the anthology quickly became an important work in the feminist movement.

This past March, 34 years after its original publication, the book was reissued by SUNY Press and in a year that has seen fascinating online conversations about more inclusive types of feminism, the book’s topics and themes are just as relevant now as they were then.

Gloria Anzaldúa passed away in 2004, but Cherríe Moraga, now an artist-in-residence at Stanford University, continues to teach and fight for the causes she still believes in. She spoke with Maria about why her work remains ever important.

Photo by Warren K Leffler via Wikipedia/Library of Congress. 

Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 11.36.24 AM

Cherríe Moraga is a Chicana writer, playwright, poet, feminist activist and an artist-in-residence at Stanford University. She is the co-editor of the feminist anthology This Bridge Called My Back.

Princess Nokia’s Smart Girl Club

Destiny Frasqueri grew up splitting time between the Lower East Side and Spanish Harlem. She describes her most recent musical alter ego, Princess Nokia, as an autobiographical project. Drawing inspiration from both rock operas and graphic novels, Destiny penned Princess Nokia’s Metallic Butterfly album focusing on her life from 16 to 21. It’s the story of a young orphan girl living in the inner city, who enters New York’s nightlife in order to escape foster care.

Associated with queer rappers like Mykki Blanco, Le1f and Cakes da killa, Destiny finds inspiration in collaboration with other young artists of color working in New York. Noting that the city can often feel like a boy’s club, Destiny decided to create Smart Girls’ Club, a collective of urban feminists working and support one another’s creative visions.

With her Smart Girls Club co-founder Milah Libin, Destiny and the rotating collective members push each other to create, collaborate and place one another’s art front and center in their lives.

Here, Destiny chats with fellow Smart Girl Club member Arianna Maya Gil, founder of all-women-of-color skate gang Las Brujas and SZA bassist, about what it means to support one another as best friends pushing the envelope in New York’s nightlife and arts scene.

Photo by Milah Libin, Arianna Maya Gil to the left, Destiny Frasqueri to the right. 

Managua Nicaragua’s Hip-Hop Hall of Femme

In Managua, Nicaragua, women are making music, making art and making themselves visible.  They’re breakers, raperas and graffiteras, challenging boundaries in art forms often dominated by men. Hall of Femme is a gathering where women come together to compete and connect to other women who share their interest in hip-hop culture.


Photo by Sara Van Note 

Diversity in Geekdom: Cosplay

If you’ve ever seen pictures of regular people dressed as superheroes, you’ve seen someone doing cosplay. It stands for costume play, and it’s a hobby that started in Japan.

Cosplayers don’t just dress like superheroes, they draw their inspiration from movies, television shows, books and more.

There is a passionate and thriving cosplay community in the United States, but that doesn’t mean it is always welcoming. In this segment, we hear from three women —Che Grayson, Chaka Cumberbatch and Elizabeth Schweizer— who share their stories of why they love cosplay, what they’ve learned and the harassment that some of them have faced.


Photo by Filipo Monteforti AFP/Getty Images. 


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