I was as shocked as anyone to see a gorgeous, black woman strip down to nothing, and go running down the streets of France painted gold. However, my interpretation Celia Cruz’s music video for “La Negra Tiene Tumbao” strayed from what seemed to be the general classroom consensus. For example, many seemed to be disgusted or offended by the fact that the woman turned to overt sexuality to access power. I feel it is very much within a woman’s right to own her sexuality, particularly, when society forces her to choose between two equally unfavorable social roles. Here, I refer to the idea, described by Frances Aparicio, that women are often cast as saint or sinner, as conservative wife and mother or whore. Since the woman in question was young, beautiful, and black, chances are that no matter what she were to wear, the stereotypes about her would be somewhat sexualized; that is, considering the dominant depictions of Afro-Latinas. If she is to be sexually objectified, then why shouldn’t she possess the power that her own sexuality emits? She was beautiful, and powerful, and men were struck dumb in her presence. She did not cower or submit to the intrusive catcalls or curses that followed her; she just smiled and enjoyed the wonder that surrounded her intense presence.
I found the sexuality exhibited in this video to differ greatly from the majority of ‘video-hoe’-style videos in the U.S., where multiple women shake their butts for the benefit of some ‘playa.’ Rather, Celia Cruz, another woman, is paying tribute to the natural right of women to be sexual on their own terms and for no one in particular. Perhaps, getting completely naked was a little much, but in doing so, the woman asserted her right to leave nothing to the imagination. She left nothing to be coveted and secretly fantasized about, essentially she said “this is all of me, but it’s all mine; I will do with it as I see fit.” Frances Aparicio reminds us that, “the self-eroticizing of many Latinas and Latin American women may not indicate exclusively an internalization of patriarchal codes and expectations” and assuming so is somewhat ethno-centric. Aparicio also explains that we must look within each culture’s histories and realities before distorting other feminist practices as inferior to the “Anglo feminist paradigm” in the U.S. For example, in Catholic cultures it is often the male who is seen as controller of a woman’s body and sexuality, first her father then her husband. La Negra in Celia Cruz’s video let it be known that only she would be master of her body.
However, I do not deny that the self-objectification done by La Negra can be somewhat detrimental, as Frances Aparicio says, it may “unwittingly naturalize the objectification of the female body in the eyes of a misogynist audience.” I have not meant to say that explicit shows of sexuality are the way to go when women want power. What I have hoped to convey is my support for, rather than judgment of, women who have few options or equally unfavorable options, and especially women who have no options but, rather, a stereotype attached to them whether they want it or not. For such women, I support the right to make use of what little power their position provides, when and how they see fit.