ReMezcla: The Digital Formation of a Latino Genre of Music (Abstract + Intro)


As streaming music services become more ubiquitous, the ability to configure new listening experiences through the creation and sharing of playlists has implications for how culture and identity is communicated and understood. The rise of streaming is plotted concurrently with the changing demographics of the United States and the ongoing formation of U.S. Latino racial and cultural identity. This paper examines the transformation of Latino communities in America from distinct regional and ethnic groupings, with unique musical genres and tastes, towards an increasingly pan-ethnic Latino identity as Latin musical genres are remixed and mashed up. In particular, this paper asks how users of the popular Spotify streaming service construct their own “Latino” playlists. Embedded within these evolving cultural artifacts are the politics of a Latino population in flux, with social forces attempting to shape Latinos into a marketable and voting entity and marshal its cultural resources towards those goals. 


Alongside tabs for EDM, Hip-Hop, Workout and Chill in the “Genres and Moods” section of the Spotify application there is a tab for “Latino.” Neither classifiable as a genre or mood, the inclusion of a Latino tab nonetheless does not seem out of place. Adorned with the silhouette of a Spanish guitar, this tab houses playlists from a mishmash of genres from across Latin America along with top “Latino” hit playlists. 

While gathering more mainstream attention, prompting some to say Latino music has “arrived,” U.S. Latino musical styles have historical legacies in the U.S. stretching into Latin America. The overarching signifier Latino obscures its diverse histories, as “Latino music making has always entailed crossing musical, geographic, racial and ethnic boundaries” (Pacini Hernandez 2010). Yet as an emerging category, “Latino music” deserves some scrutiny.
Examining “Latino music” as social phenomena cannot be separated from the ongoing political reality. There is surging attention in the political mainstream by pundits and politicians towards the “changing demographics” of the nation and the so-called “emergence” of Latinos (Taylor, Fry 2007). The Latinization of America is being met with anti-immigrant and racist rhetoric (Chavez 2013) and paradoxically, a budding optimism that Latinos will rejuvenate and transform American politics (Barreto, Segura 2014). 

The nexus of Latino politics of assimilation, protest, immigration and citizenship and Latino musical expression is apparent in the Salsa scene in New York (Padilla 2004) and the popularity of Narcocorridos on the U.S./Mexican Border describing the drug trade (Wald 2002). For an underrepresented community, there are few prominent Latino political leaders, the onus of speaking up for the gente falls to popular musicians. Spikes in nativist attitudes periodically arise in American political feeling during times of economic uncertainty (Higham 1955). In 2015, the anti-immigrant and racist rhetoric of leading presidential candidate Donald Trump ® prompted the popular bands Maná and Los Tigres de Norte to hold up a banner that read “Latinos unidos no voten por racistas” during a performance of “Somos Más Americanos” at the 2015 Latin Grammys. Although both bands are based in Mexico, their popularity in the U.S. allows them to make political claims on the behalf of U.S. Latinos. Following their performance, the Maná lead singer said to Rolling Stone, “We took this iconic song [of Los Tigres del Norte] and are using it as a weapon of protest to what’s happening here with immigration reform and all the xenophobic remarks made by Donald Trump” (Raygoza 2015).

The other side of privileging popular musicians to speak for U.S. Latinos reveals however that they are not simply avatars for Latino communities but also avatars for commercial interests seeking to create and corner the Latino market. This marketing logic is apparent when Pitbull, a Cuban-American rapper with large crossover appeal, is “shown shilling vodka, Bud Light and Dr. Pepper and says in an interview, ‘We’re a very loyal culture, that’s why products want us so bad because we’re loyal consumers’” in the HBO documentary “The Latin Explosion: A New America” (Hale 2015). This is not an innocent remark on the peculiarities of Latino consumers, the supposed loyalty of Latino consumers is a marketing fiction created by early Hispanic advertising firms to justify mainstream product marketing budgets (Davila 56-87 2010). Corporations and other commercial interests have taken notice of the “emerging Hispanic market” in the United States and seek to capture the immense buying power of over 50 million people. For marketers, Latino attention and consumption is “hot”- engendering a 5 billion dollar marketing industry with growth outpacing general audience marketing  (Davila 1-22 2012).

Thus the gaze of industrial and power relations within and outside of Latino communities cannot be separated from the act of listening to, sharing, remixing and ultimately creating a Latino genre of music in the America. This paper examines how the practice of creating Latino playlists on social music streaming applications such as Spotify by users and sharing them contributes to the construction of the overarching racial signifier Latino.

Users created playlists on streaming applications are fertile ground for critical analysis because they represent creative expressions of everyday people and feature low barriers of participation. Constructed as public representations of musical taste, they also serve as grounded perceptions of what Latino music is versus what professionally curated playlists purport to present. At the same time, even as popular representations of taste, hegemonic categorization of what Latino music is filters in throughout people’s ways of knowing.

This paper presents a literature review covering the key concepts necessary to understand the research problem, a section detailing the data collection and analysis, and concludes with a discussion of the results and other final thoughts including the limitations of the research and future directions. 

Is Ethnic Media Alternative?

When Univision anchor Jorge Ramos was thrown out of a Donald Trump press conference it was for many Americans their first time encountering the man who some call the “Latino Walter Cronkite.” For many of Latinos in the United States, Ramos is a familiar face. He has delivered the news for years as the anchor of the nightly news on Noticiero Univision. While being just a few channels away from the mainstream networks, Ramos and the rest of Spanish language news remain foreign to most Americans. 

The concept of alternative media, partly outlined by Lievrouw, is media that is not the mainstream media. In practice however, this concept of alternative media is difficult to define. An outlet could publish alternative content; yet follow a hierarchal model similar to other mainstream publishers. Can ethnic media be considered alternative? Instead of targeting a national audience, as mainstream media does, ethnic media targets a niche audience of a particular ethnicity. Ethnic audiences often turn to and trust ethnic media before mainstream news. For immigrant communities, ethnic media connects them to their sending country’s culture and news amidst the foreign and unfamiliar in their new home. Finally, ethnic media also provides important spaces for ethnic groups to form community.

However, there are also some aspects of ethnic media that prevent it from being completely categorized as alternative media. For one, ethnic media outlets are not immune from market forces. In fact they be more susceptible to market fluctuations because of their smaller audiences. Ethnic media outlets are also often owned by major media conglomerates of other ethnic media, mainstream media companies or foreign media companies. Ethnic media also often reuse content from sending countries mainstream media to fill their pages and airtime. Finally, and most importantly, ethnic media can also fall prey to replicating hegemonic discourses on race and power from both countries they operate in. 

I’ll analyze Spanish language media in the United States to be more specific on these claims. Spanish language media is the most prominent ethnic media system in the United States; Univision will often beat English language networks in key demographics in ratings. There is a vibrant network of national broadcast channels, Univision and Telemundo, their local affiliates and Spanish daily and weekly newspapers in most major American cities. An important point, almost all of these outlets was started in the United States not in Latin America, although strong ties remain. 

NBC Universal owns Telemundo. Univision recently partnered with ABC to produce Fusion, a Bilingual channel directed towards Latinos who seek programming in both languages. These moves can be celebrated as American Latinos moving closer into the national imagination and agenda as important player and also be concerning. Univision and Telemundo derive much of their non-news content from Mexico. 

Specifically, Univision imports popular telenovelas from the near monopolistic Mexican media giant Televisa. These telenovelas, popular and engaging as they may be, have been rightly criticized for the racial order they celebrate – elevating European aesthetics as the most desirable and placing Mestizo and black aesthetics in subservient, if even visible, roles. They also strongly tie the racial order of Mexico and Latin America with the economic order of capitalism, white characters are of capital and are rarely even seen working.

When imported to Latino audiences in the United States, what do these telenovelas represent? Nostalgia, even for a past that didn’t exist, is powerful in telenovelas. Images of working ranches, happy priests, and happier house servants fill the screen. I suggest these nostalgias, when viewed from the U.S. attempt to create a Latin American that didn’t exist and simultaneously draw Latino audiences into accepting Univision as the authentic voice for Latinos in the U.S.

ImpreMedia owns two of the largest Latino newspapers in major markets, La Opinion in Los Angeles and El Diario La Prensa in New York. In addition, La Nacion, the leading conservative newspaper in Argentina, recently bought ImpreMedia. El Nuevo Herald, the Spanish newspaper in Miami, is the sister paper of the Miami Herald. 

To be fair, Spanish language news in the United States cover news that is often “missed” by the mainstream English news. Spanish language journalists have dual loyalties, one to objectivity but also toward representing Latino audiences. For his part, Ramos doesn’t ask, “Univision wants to know…”his questions are usually formatted as “Latinos want to know.” 

The Public Sphere - and some thoughts on what it means for U.S. Latinos

Is the public sphere a useful concept in communication and media studies, where it often used as a short hand to describe deliberative spaces (both online and offline) or should it be regarded as an anachronistic and utopian idea of democracy that never was? The public sphere as conceptualized by Habermas and updated by countless others describes the public (open, free, equalizing) space where citizens come together from all sectors of society to contest matters of the state separate from the parliamentary apparatus itself and create “public opinion.” 

The modern public sphere as understood by Peter Dahlgren (2005) functions much closer to a ““a constellation of communicative spaces in society that permit the circulation of information, ideas, debates— ideally in an unfettered manner—and also the formation of political will (i.e., public opinion)” (148).” Dahlgren argues the public sphere concept is being destabilized along multiple vectors – the increasing (or rather legitimation) status of heterogeneous groups, non-political uses of the sphere (or rather the opening up of private spaces to political deliberation) and the blurring of national projects (what could be said of an international public sphere/s?).

Fraser (1990) preceded Dahlgren in her critique of the Habermasian public sphere. She additionally approximated what the public sphere (could) look like in actually existing democracy. She posits the ideal utopic public sphere concept makes four fundamental assumptions; 1. participants will exchange ideas and debate each other as though they are equals, 2. multiple publics are a move away from a functioning democracy, 3. A clear divide between public and private issues is present and 4. civil society (the public) is clearly divorced from the state. From these four assumptions, Fraser constructs a public sphere concept more viable in a heterogeneous society. Her contribution here is the idea of subaltern counterpublics, spaces in which non-dominant, oppressed groups can also come together and deliberate matters. She argues the overarching public sphere must be found at the nexus of the constellation of multiple spheres.

The critical tension in the public sphere is what type of rhetoric, spectrum of ideologies and tones are considered “reasonable” to discuss among reasonable people. Kohn (2000) argues, “reasonableness is itself a social construction which usually benefits those already in power.” Habermas’ legacy of the bourgeois public sphere carries on in the imagination of current democratic deliberation – where certain voices are privileged to discuss what is in the best interests of the “we.”  Think of immigration protestors dismissed at campaigns rallies and told “there will be a time and place” for their concerns to be heard or “if they would just sit down and talk like us” their concerns would be taken more seriously. Fraser identifies this tension when she says “discursive interaction within the bourgeois public sphere was governed by protocols of style and decorum that were themselves correlates and markers of status inequality.” 

My own work challenges the forces of political assimilation U.S. Latinos undergo in order to participate in the American conception of the public sphere. Indeed, there are significant interactional barriers (see Dahlgren) to full participation including language, perceptions of foreignness (Chavez in the Latino Threat Narrative) and the limiting of debate to “citizens” (Amaya in Citizenship Excess). U.S Latinos form multiple counter publics in the United States - Spanish language journalism primary among them. However despite the existence of these counter publics, the hierarchal positioning of the “true” public sphere pressures U.S. Latinos to abandon their spaces (through discursive formations of internalized racism and the delegitimization of Spanish) for the mainstream. 


Amaya, Hector. Citizenship Excess: Latino/as, Media, and the Nation. New York City: New York UP, 2013. Print.

Chavez, Leo. The Latino Threat: Constructing Immigrants, Citizens, and the Nation. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2013. Web.

Dahlgren, Peter. “The Internet, Public Spheres, and Political Communication: Dispersion and Deliberation.” Political Communication 22.2 (2005): 147-62. Web.

Fraser, Nancy. “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy.” Social Text 25/26 (1990): Web.

Habermas, Jürgen. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1991. Print.

Kohn, M. Language, power, and persuasion: Towards a critique of deliberative democracy. Constellations, 7, (2000) 408–429.