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The concept of national identity is as elusive as it is pervasive. Although it constitutes a basic axis of global political organization, it has defied systematic analysis. Scholars, philosophers, and politicians have been unable to agree on what national identity is, much less explain its persistence as a central reference for individuals and groups. My essay examines a book of Arlene Davila,which in its turn focuses on culture as identity and invested traditions through the lens of Puerto Rico and through the voices of Puerto Ricans. It asks how members of an influential group in Puerto Rican society--political elites--have perceived and expressed their own identity in the century of U.S. sovereignty over Puerto Rico. This focus on the experience of national identity provides a way to examine aspects of identity and tradition that have been largely overlooked in theoretical considerations of the topic.
Puerto Rico lends itself to a study of collective identity because of the prominence of identity issues in its recent history. The smallest and easternmost of the Greater Antilles island chain that forms the northern boundary of the Caribbean Sea, Puerto Rico was a Spanish colony for 400 years. The island passed to U.S. control in 1898. For almost a century, Puerto Ricans have been directly exposed to the political, social, and economic influence of the United States. Puerto Ricans hold U.S. citizenship and travel between the island and the U.S. mainland with no restrictions. The island population is 3.5 million; another 2.5 million Puerto Ricans reside in the continental United States temporarily or permanently, many of them making frequent visits to the island in a continual cross-migration. The extent and nature of U.S. influence on islanders' identity-through political sovereignty, institutional links, commercial culture, and mass media--are topics of constant debate.
This study explores national identity through archival and field research.
It first uses primary and secondary historical sources to describe the political interaction between Puerto Rico and the United States since the turn of the century.
Puerto Rico was a Spanish colony from 1493 to 1898. The United States gained sovereignty over the island in 1898 and undertook a sustained "Americanization" campaign designed to make Puerto Rico "in its sympathies, views, and attitude toward life and toward government essentially American" ( Davis 1899: 656). This campaign can be easily called a cultural policy campaign and was waged actively for fifty years before Puerto Ricans were granted a measure of self-rule. Since then, the island has remained integrated into the legal and economic systems of the United States, which retains sovereignty over Puerto Rico. Despite the direct and indirect pressures to "Americanize" felt throughout the twentieth century, Puerto Ricans do not, on the whole, regard themselves as "essentially American." The cultural identity of Puerto Ricans has been influenced by the island's relationship with the United States, but Puerto Ricans have retained an identity that is distinct and separate from their sovereign power.
Arlene Davila's book is a useful and important source for anyone interested in how the media operate in creating and influencing stereotypes of ethnic minorities in the United States. It goes beyond the traditional analyses of how Latinos are portrayed in advertisements and television programs to investigate the ways in which such images are created. Davila, who teaches in the American studies program at New York University, interviewed many advertising executives, market researchers, and content creators who have been active in the business of creating and selling products to the Hispanic market. She found not only that media stereotyping of Latinos is stubbornly pervasive, but also that Latinos themselves have a lot to do with engendering these stereotypes.
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The basic cultural identity premise of the book is not surprising: that popular representations of Hispanics "are produced in conversation and in complicity with--rather than in response or challenge to--dominant hierarchies of race, culture, and nationality" (5). Studying the rise of the television network Univision in the early 1990s, for example, she found that the media kits that the network produced affirmed traditional stereotypes of Hispanics as tradition-minded, brand-loyal, and mostly Roman Catholic. She also found that this kit was made by network executives, some of whom knew that such stereotypes were at variance with recent demographic research. They worked under the influence of advertising agencies that had been founded by Cuban refugees who fit that demographic much more closely. Later marketing to Hispanics took note of population shifts caused by immigration and economic advance. Her interviews with content creators and media executives reveal that many of them were aware, for example, that the national origin of U.S. Latinos was shifting toward Central Americans and Mexicans, and that Latinos in general were becoming both winter and more affluent. Such knowledge led them to broaden the range of intended audience types to include "traditional conformists, recent seekers, young strivers, and established adapters" among its rubrics (75). Yet, according to Davila, "What makes stereotypes so troublesome is not that they order and simplify information by reducing complexities to a few limited conventions, but that in doing so, they both reflect, and more important, engender social hierarchies" (89).
The book demonstrates that disjunctions between cultural stereotypes and cultural policy reality creep in from several quarters. At times, as in the case mentioned above, the particular cultural characteristics of the content creators are presumed to characterize a national Latino audience, in other cases, the homogenizing needs of large corporations often override the particular idiosyncrasies of its employees in various subdivisions.
This phenomenon had a role in the creation of "generic Spanish," the accent used by most actors and commentators in Spanish-language media, where the need for uniformity precludes the tolerance for regional or even national differences in speech. This homogenization weighs against the practice of most U.S. Hispanics, who tend to think of themselves as Cuban or Venezuelan or Salvadoran first and "American" or Latino second or third.
The backdrop of this book is in the sociological research of Celia Lury, Alan Warde, and others, who have studied the creation of investing of tradition in the mainstream mass media. Davila's contribution is to extend this analysis to the Hispanic tradition. She has found that the media have not been unresponsive to demographic shifts and cultural variations within the Hispanic community, as it has become more affluent and winter. Yet stereotypes persist, as for example in the case of heavy advertising budgets for long distance telephone services, which emphasize the maintenance of family connections. The book takes special care to analyze the phenomenon of focus groups, which advertising agencies rely on to track such demographic complexities. To analyze what happens in such groups, Davila formed one of her own and observed it in action. She also located and interviewed several persons who had participated in Latino-based focus groups. Her judgment on them is mixed. While focus groups may provide companies with broad information about general trends in taste and cultural preferences, she also found that many members of focus groups had already internalized some of the stereotypes that these media themselves presented. Thus, the company that sets up a focus group may end up listening in part to itself.
Most of us are aware that cultural appeals not only reflect an intended audience but also help to create it.
This book shows in case-by-case detail how both of these operations, meaning cultural policy and invested tradition, have occurred in the case of marketing to U. S. Hispanics. As recent population surveys indicate that Hispanics have displaced African-Americans as the nation's largest minority group, this book's findings will likely remain important for years to come.
Title: Bureaucracy, Politics, and Public Policy
Number of pages: 5
Date of delivery: February 25, 2004 ($14.95 per page)
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I need a custom paper with critical analysis on the book ‘Sponsored
Identities’ by Arlene Davila. The custom paper should be broken up into
two parts. The first part of the custom paper with critical analysis
should discuss the book and how it relates to “culture as identity” as
cultural policy. The second part of the custom paper with critical analysis
should discuss the book and how it relates to “invested traditions” as
cultural policy. Please reference the book within the custom paper.
by Patrick Frank
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), xv + 287 pp., $22.50 (paper).
Sponsored Identities: Cultural Politics in Puerto Rico Add To Bookshelf
Book by ??Arlene M. Dvila ; Temple University Press, 1997
Puerto Rico, the Search for a National Policy Add To Bookshelf
Book by Richard J. Bloomfield ; Westview Press, 1985
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