Jenny's Image On the Block
Saturday, May 21, 2005
This past winter, Kimlan Fong Wong and her boyfriend of several years, Anthony Taveras, stopped talking to each other for three days after she threw a vase at him during an argument. The subject: Jennifer Lopez.
"He kept calling her J. Ho," says Wong, a 29-year-old office manager and college student in Queens, who's originally from Trinidad & Tobago. "It was 'J. Ho this' and 'J. Ho that.' He knows I like her. I felt like he wasn't respecting me."
From his apartment in Takoma Park, Ramon Rivera wages his own defense of the singer/actress/entrepreneur -- in his case, against his Honduran grandmother, who lives in Miami. Rivera, 22, lived there with his extended family until last year, when he decided he needed to assert his independence.
"Some of the older people have more traditional views," he says. "So the way she dresses, or the fact that she's been married three times, those things make people like my grandmother say, 'Oh, no, I don't like her.' But I say, 'Look at everything she's accomplished.' "
This is familiar ground to the three Rios sisters, who grew up in Puerto Rico and are now scattered on the East Coast, two in Washington and one in New York. Normally pretty tight, the sisters are divided along the Lopez line -- two for and one against -- and have discussed the topic enough that Ralph Sordyl, husband to dissenter Mary Blanca, knows exactly where the others stand.
"They love her," he says, wonderingly. "They go see her movies the first day they open."
"Don't tell people that!" snaps his wife. "It's so embarrassing!"
Once again, we are talking about J. Lo.
Last weekend Lopez's latest movie, "Monster-in-Law," a romantic comedy co-starring Jane Fonda, opened as the nation's No. 1 film, grossing more than $23 million at the box office. Lopez mounted a tireless publicity blitz to support it, appearing in the past few weeks on the "Tonight Show" and "Good Morning America," MTV and BET, the cover of Blender magazine and the wall of your corner bus shelter. Everywhere, it seemed.
This, for some Latinos, is how Lopez's presence feels all the time .
And it's not just because of the gallons of ink spilt over Lopez and her high-profile paramours (notably P. Diddy, Ben Affleck and now salsa superstar Marc Anthony). Or the number of times that green Grammys dress -- filmy and slit from here to there -- pops up on the Internet. Or the number of times VH1 reruns "The Fabulous Life of: Jennifer Lopez." It's because Lopez is a figure who straddles an amazing number of Latino fault lines, areas of often-vehement disagreement about what is and isn't Latino.
The price of ambition? Check. The importance -- or not -- of being identified as Hispanic? Check. Of speaking Spanish? Check. Of a bodacious booty? Check. Dating white? Check. Dating black? Check. The politics of going blond? Check. And so on.