Who Owns Latin Culture?

By Maurice Pinzon
Yesterday, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced a Latin music talent search initiated by his Latin Media & Entertainment Commission (LMEC) to be held in New York City.

The Nueva Estrella Awards will select a winner in three bilingual categories, male vocalist, female vocalist, and duo or group. To be eligible contestants must be between the ages of 16 and 29. Although individuals do not have to be Latino, they must be ready to sing in both Spanish and English.

The Spanish-English talent competition was the brainchild of Das Elius Velez, a member of Mayor Bloomberg’s LMEC. Mr. Velez said yesterday that the mayor and the LMEC’s support for the talent program, “acknowledged the importance of the Latin Entertainment Industry in the City of New York.”

Mr. Velez said he saw a new Latino culture emerging out of the mix of the various Latino influences in the United States. He implied the talent search would demonstrate this emerging Latino culture.

The “event is just the latest effort by members of the Latin Media & Entertainment Commission to make New York the world capital of Latin arts, media and entertainment,” said Mayor Bloomberg.

Perhaps symbolically, because yesterday’s announcement only highlighted the limited ownership control Latinos have over their own culture.

According to a press release provided by the mayor’s office, the talent search is being sponsored and promoted by WCBS-TV, Univision/Telefutura, WKTU, Sony BMG, El Diario/La Prensa, and the New York Daily News.

Latinos own none of these media outlets purportedly searching for Latin Music talent. In fact, Latinos do not even own the companies on the list that publish or broadcast only in Spanish.

NBC (the company has a representative on the mayor’s LMEC) acquired Telemundo the second largest Spanish language network a few years ago. El Diario/La Prensa, the Spanish language newspaper that has published in New York for over 90 years was bought by Knight Paton Media in 2003.

Even the venue for the Nueva Estrella Awards seemed incongruous. The preliminary three competitions will be held at the China Club, a trendy nightclub located in Times Square, better known for attracting celebrities to its parties on Mondays than for Latin music.

By contrast, the Copacabana, a nightclub that has been in New York for 65 years and well known for its Latino acts and music was not even contacted by the commission according to Glee Ballard, the manager of the club.

The final competition will be held at the United Palace Theater in Washington Heights. However Manhattan is certainly not the center of the confluence of Latin cultures. That would be some place in Queens around Jackson Heights and Corona according to the Department of City Planning’s recently released report on immigration.

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