- In Search of Belonging: Latinas, Media, and Citizenship by Jillian M. Báez
By Jillian M. BáezChampaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2018. 202 pp. ISBN 978-0-25208341-9
In Search of Belonging makes a timely and well-researched contribution to Latinx media and cultural studies, women of color feminisms, communication and audience studies, and citizenship studies. Foregrounding Latina voices and using citizenship as a lens for understanding media audiences, In Search of Belonging is an ethnographic audience study of 40 Latinas from different age groups, classes, nationalities, and sexualities (24) that seeks to "make sense of their subtle and symbolic alienation in the media" (136). Choosing Chicago as a research site due to the diversity of the Latinx community, Jillian Báez artfully writes that, based on a wealth of research, "Latina audiences read media images through the lens of citizenship and view consumption as belonging" (5). In this context, citizenship, or belonging, refers to the acceptance that Latina media audiences feel when consuming media, regardless of national citizenship. Latina audiences are complex media consumers, neither entirely active or passive, but are contemplative "imperfect voices that echo neoliberal demands for equity in media, the constructing of Latina 'buying power,' and a desire to belong to and be recognized by the nation" (21).
In viewing representations of Latinas in English, Spanish, and ethnic media, Latina audiences wanted more inclusive images of Indigenous and black women. Nevertheless, the ideal image of Latinas, as pushed by Spanish and English language women in Báez's study, sought a beauty ideal that she terms "neo-mestizaje" wherein "the 'brownness' embodied in the mestiza or mulata body is celebrated" (62). These assertions of neo-mestizaje beauty standards, "despite pressures to conform to Eurocentric beauty standards," as Báez argues, are "an expression of racialized citizenship whereby notions of belonging and worthiness are mapped onto mediated bodies (i.e., Latina celebrities) and beauty norms are questioned" (55). These calls for more expansive and mixed-race representations of Latinas are examples of what Shirley Tate (2008) terms "beauty citizenship," whereby women expand what is deemed "beautiful" (62).
Báez asserts that claims to citizenship are locally based, in the case of her study specific to Chicago, and that Latina audiences "use the city as a lens through which to integrate local, national, and transnational media representations of Latina womanhood" (81). With two historic Mexican and Puerto Rican populations in Chicago, Báez writes that her respondents suggest that—even for Central and South American Latinos—"Latinidad is understood within the boundaries of mexicanidad and puertoriqueñidad" (69) and that expressions of Latinidad represented a politics of both "conflict and solidarity" between Latinx groups (71). Báez contends that there are few audience studies projects that focus specifically on Puerto Rican women in Chicago; therefore, chapter 2 focuses mostly on Puerto Rican points of view. Specifically, she looks at Puerto Rican audience reception of two films, Chicago Boricua and Nothing Like the Holidays, that both take place in Humboldt Park. Chicago Puerto Ricans preferred Nothing Like the Holidays, as it did not cast characters and cultures in a stereotypical way as seen by most informants in Chicago Boricua. Audiences had a similar reception to the American Girls book series and doll named Marisol, who leaves Pilsen for the white suburbs and is obsessed with dancing. Here, individuals protested the ways that dolls and accompanying books assumed white middle-class norms while villainizing the city as unsafe; the company stopped making the doll after a year.
Báez charts the multitude of oppositional and non-oppositional ways that Latinas "talk back" (hooks 1989) to dominate representations (16). Báez foregrounds "Latina gaze" or a "double mirroring" that "gives the marginalized spectator the agency to look at her (subordinated) body" that has been constructed as the "other" (20). Through their sometimes-subversive views of hypersexualized Latinas in television, film, and advertisements, Báez argues that Latinas assert a type of "symbolic citizenship" or "feelings of belonging and recognition" rather than material, nation-state citizenship (112). In looking at...