Jenni Rivera Dead: Will the U.S. Finally Take Latin Music Seriously?

You had probably never heard of Mexican-American singer Jenni Rivera before last week.

Since her tragic death caused by a plane crash in Mexico, you have most likely read that Rivera, who grew up in Long Beach, Calif., rose to stardom as a powerful female singer in the male-dominated Mexican genre of banda. You may have read that she sold more than 15 million records, and starred on three reality shows. Perhaps by now you have also learned more sordid details about her life, like the fact that she was detained at the Mexico City airport in 2009 for failing to declare that she was carrying $52,167 in cash, or that her first husband was convicted in 2006 on charges of molesting her eldest daughter and younger sister.

It seems like suddenly every major news outlet is trying to make up for the under-reporting of Latino news and culture in the United States — especially in light of the post-election buzz about the growing presence of Latinos in the United States. 

Writer Gustavo Arellano, author of the nationally syndicated column “¡Ask a Mexican!” excoriated the media last week for picking up the story too late. 

On the website of the OC Weekly, of which he is the editor-in-chief, he wrote

“The media requests for me to opine on the death of Mexican regional superstar … Jenni Rivera are already coming in, and I expect them to only increase as the American media trips over themselves to cover the story … I'm more than happy to take them, if only to help the MSM [Mainstream Media] correct their pathetic record on reporting on a mega-superstar that operated in plain sight under a media that, like usual, didn't bother to pay attention while she was alive because she was a Mexican and popular mostly to Mexicans — and they never matter unless you can get a diversity grant to cover them.”

Arellano himself had interviewed and written about Rivera several times in the past, which he recounted in a funny and moving obituary last week. Before he first interviewed Rivera and became an “eternal fan,” Arellano recalled: “I really didn't care for her music — being a traditionalist, I found it improper a mujer would sing about getting drunk and flirting around and being proud of it, especially in a genre and culture in which females were expected to be classy damas.”

Another critique of the sudden media frenzy surrounding Rivera’s death came from a more unlikely source, a staff writer for the Washington Post named Paul Farhi. He wrote: “Rivera’s life and death suggest once again that it’s possible to live in parallel Americas, with the larger part only dimly aware of the enormous things happening in the other one … The Washington Post had never mentioned Rivera’s name until Sunday, nor had the news divisions at ABC, CBS, Fox or NBC, according to Nexis.”

As Rivera’s family and fans prepare for her memorial Wednesday in Los Angeles, let’s hope that her untimely death will bring about a new era of media coverage of Latin music and entertainment in the U.S.

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Joanna Zuckerman Bernstein

Joanna received her B.A. in English and Hispanic Studies from Columbia University in 2009. After graduation, she spent a year in Mexico City as a Princeton in Latin America fellow, and two years in the Mexican immigrant communities of Chicago. She currently works at a public defender office in New York.

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