Monday, March 01, 2010

Tostitos Salsa & the Carmen Miranda/Chiquita Banana/Sexy Señorita Image

As someone who has almost zero interest in sports or watching them on TV, it was only this weekend that I happened to spot this Frito Lay Salsa commercial, created for the football season:

At first glance, I thought it was really creative and cool, had great music, and I love the animation, but it also stirred some discomfort in me that I had to process and I would love to hear your thoughts on...

First, the Carmen Miranda/Chiquita Banana/Sexy Señorita image has always both fascinated and repulsed me.

On one hand, she is beautiful, sultry, and seductive.

On the other, she only perpetuates the "stereotypical images of Latinos as perpetual fun-seekers, flirts, and flamboyant dancers,” always coming across as sexualized objects of entertainment and servitude.

As a Latina woman, the issues go even deeper: She is always overtly sexual. The singing and dancing while working theme is a direct tie to image of the slave, "happily" toiling and singing in the fields.

Since the stereotype is always associated with fruit and food, it only serves to sustain the image of the Latina, as the cook, the maid, always in the kitchen and perhaps the picking fields, always "dishing" it out. The fact that she's got on full make-up, tats, a flamenco outfit, high heels, and dancing, gives it a humiliating caricaturisating Sambo touch.

Then there is the slicing and dicing, yet another link to another stereotype: A Latina who will cut you. Only this time, it's her skirt that is doing the chopping. A nod to the vagina dentata archetype, perhaps?

She blooms in the garden, opening up like that "Spanish Harlem Rose" that's been neglected and waiting to be cultivated, lending some element of magical realism that is only apropos of the animation and ninja stylized stunts. (After all, we all know that Latinas and all people of color have magical powers, see Magical Negro).

She's one with nature, dancing and spinning like some insatiable whirling dervish, picking "fruit" off trees - a salute to Eve and her sin? Hot as hell but tempting too, no?

And even the music is muy caliente - The Weatherston Hays' track used is "Hot Sauce," described on their site as a "spicy blend of hot and hotter." Yum! Gotta love that blend!

In the end, perhaps, I've gone overboard. Perhaps, I just like to analyze and scrutinize art too much and it's all a stretch here. Maybe the makers of the ad were acutely aware of all of this and it's all actually commentary turned over on its head to promote a product that is ultimately Latino in essence, making it genius...

Or is it just the same old, historical stereotype refined and digitized for a new generation?

You decide...

Updated to add one more thought:

I remembered after a comment from a fellow blogger via email that I left one an additional issue. Rampant throughout the commercial is the transmogrification of Latino culture. We know Latinos to be a diverse group with diverse cultures, traditions and history. Yet we have a commercial for salsa (Mexican cuisine) with a dancer in a flamenco dress(Spain), dancing to some "latin" music...treating the Latino aspect as a whole, one homogenous synthesis of all they could fit in.


  1. I don't think you're going overboard at all. The stereotypes that leak out into pop culture are indicative of the overall mindset that people generally have. Yes its a commercial, but its also a video that is being broadcasted worldwide, and therefore deserves a certain amount of scrutiny. I loved this analysis. I think that of all groups, Latinas are the most heavily stereotyped and painted as one-dimensional (even on so-called tame network TV: Look at Eva Longoria's character on Desperate Housewives).

  2. Well, my first reaction to the ad when I saw it during the Super Bowl is...hasn't this been done already? And overdone? Why can't they come up with anything new?

    I did not get defensive about it (not being Latino) but I did get that it was perpetuating a stereotype, and not only that, but a stereotype that has been overdone so much I am surprised they even wanted to bother with it.

    Do I want to buy more salsa now that a hot Latina dancer/vegetable slicer has given her blessings to it? No, I don't. It did nothing for the salsa's image (in fact, I can't even remember who's salsa it was) and it probably even hurt them some.

    Yes, people want to buy salsa that is hot and flavorful and full of passion/fire. But I am sure a more creative advertising group could come up with a better way to align their salsa with those needs than the overdone image they used.

  3. Great post! Here are some of my thoughts. Television is still a powerful learning tool when it comes to people (especially children) learning about their role in society. Advertisements, magazines, and other media sources are often the way people either accept or reinforce social and gender roles. Given that events such as the Super Bowl or the Olympics give advertisers a tremendous opportunity to broadcast a great number of commercials and images, they have an incredible influence on one’s self-image. Over time, I think these images and messages can impact the way young people think about themselves and ultimately the roles they choose in society. I think these type of advertisement also create gender stereotypes. In order to sell their products or services, advertisers are often selling the “idea” of what a person should be or look like. Even if it means reinforcing an old stereotype like the one in this commercial. Today, technology (computerization) has done much to make either distort or make that image even more ideal.

  4. Your discomfort is reflective of how we, Latinas, have been treated by media & pop culture for many years. It's natural and totally understandable. I also think you're correct to question the image and thank you for the additional comment about mixing cultures to get a salsa Latina culture for salsa.

  5. Your questions are smart and thoughtful. I would agree with you 100% about the whole fruit on the head, cut you with a knife, magical, mystery people thing.

    I think it is a beautiful commercial, but I would second the "hasn't this been done already?''

    Are we only represented via Carmen Miranda and all the hot chichi mama stuff?

  6. Brilliant questions, and great start to the analysis of the ad! I like that you were able to pull in a lot of different angles to observe this piece of media. Keep it up!

  7. I agree that this ad is pretty questionable when you actually take the time to think about it. Weird that the music is flamenco guitar (from Spain) and she is basically dancing flamenco (without castañuelas) yet the product is inspired by a Mexican dish. Misunderstanding the fundamental differences between vastly different Spanish-speaking cultures or assuming the general American won't know the difference. Pretty lame either way if you ask me.

    You may be interested in the blog post I wrote about the same ad:

  8. Anonymous5:05 PM

    I'm more annoyed she's in a world of aromatics without a nose.

    REALLY? Does that make any sense?

  9. Art Hays1:35 AM

    Hi! I am the Hays of "Weatherston Hays". I enjoyed your points on this ad ( especially your favorable take on the music!)
    I have been noticing how much angst this ad has stirred up. It's remarkable. I didn't think you were over-analyzing. The whole theme they present, even though well-worn, has taken on a different tone given the context of "modern" society. You have every right to analyze this as much as you want. Questioning things is always the best policy!

    Keep up the good work.



  10. Anonymous12:43 PM

    Excellent article!
    Congratulations on your tribute to the eternal diva Carmen Miranda.

    Please have a look at my blog, where I too make a tribute to Carmen Miranda through my art and paintings.
    Best regards,
    Gabriela Marques da Costa

  11. I have a tendency to be super naiive about stuff like race issues, but I have to say, I'm Latina, and I love this commercial. While you're correct in saying that this theme is perhaps overdone, I don't think it's portraying any truly negative stereotype of Hispanic people. Even though it was an ad for salsa, which is very much a Mexican food, I thought the girl was a bit more ambiguous than that. She was more like the Muse of Salsa, which I thought was actually kind of an interesting idea. The girl/Muse in the salsa's sister commercial ( is even more ambiguous. And besides, if the girl in the salsa commercial was a blonde haired, blue eyed woman or a black woman, that, to me, wouldn't say "salsa" because salsa is notoriously a Hispanic food. I dunno. I, personally, love the commercial. The animation is gorgeous and the music is catchy. I thought Tostitos hit a home run with the salsa girl and the queso flame girl.

  12. Besides melding different Spanish-speaking cultures into one indistinct one, there's the issue of using the colonizer's images (flamenco) to promote indigenous dishes. Appropriating cultural markers and making them into a marker of the oppressor's culture happens all too often. Even flamenco which is considered Spanish from Spain was adopted from Roma people, originally from India.

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