by María Elena Cepeda

About María Elena Cepeda

Maria Elena Cepeda is Professor of Latina/o Studies at Williams College. Her most recent book is The Routledge Companion to Latina/o Media.


Music has long served as an essential conduit of Latina/o self-expression and social organization within the United States, and a primary vehicle through which Latinas/os are sonically, visually, and kinesthetically registered within the U.S. popular imagination. It constitutes a cultural vector through which Latinidad is rendered legible to both non-Latinas/os and Latinas/ os alike, albeit not always in the most nuanced of terms. These processes possess demonstrable historical roots not only in more contemporary phenomena such as the most recent Latin(o) music “boom” of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, but also in earlier moments such as the rumba craze of the 1930s and the mambo fad of the late 1940s and 1950s, among others. Significantly, these historical junctures are best understood not necessarily as signs of an increased acceptance of the Latina/o presence within the United States, but rather as market-driven responses to shifting demographics and political conditions throughout the hemisphere, such as the enhanced (although not unprecedented) incidence of transnational activity prompted by greater Latina/o (im)migration throughout the twentieth century. The latest Latin(o) music “boom” is thus in part a market-driven media phenomenon predicated upon the commodification of Latinidad and Latina/o audiences, or an attempt to capitalize on the monetary resources of Latina/o consumers and engage in the management of social identities (Levine 2001). Current market environments and genre categorizations notwithstanding, Latin(o) musical forms may be conceptualized as incisive social mirrors that lend greater insight into the communal values and practices of a given moment, particularly with respect to normative notions of ethno-racial identity, gender, sexuality, class, and nation.