Contact Us

Nuestras Américas An Exploration of Expressive Cultures in Latina and Latino America

Latino Centers of Cultural Production

Global events in the 1940s and 1950s fueled an interest in Latin American music in the United States. The expansion of U.S. economic investment—such as the United Fruit Company—and political interventionist policies in Latin America facilitated the growth of images from these tropical places.

Carmen Miranda’s over-the-top fetishized “tropical” self-adornment in the cinema and on album covers offered a distraction from WWII in the 1940s. Desi Arnaz’s ballroom-style mambo arrangements and lavish pageantry invoked the exuberance of post-WWII U.S. tourism in Havana. Audiences and listeners were mesmerized by the percussive rhythms that accompanied these tropical rhythms and the “exotic” iconography that accompanied the music.

Decades later, the work of Chicana feminist artists like Diane Gamboa offered a radical departure by rebuking these fetishized, racialized, and gendered images.

Carmen Miranda

Portuguese-born Carmen Miranda immigrated to Brazil as a child and became a world-famous samba singer, dancer, and film star. She often wore the trademark dress of baianas, Black women from northeastern Brazil. In 1942 she released “The South American Way,” which featured samba classics made famous by her film appearances.

From the Pecourt Tango and Latin American Music Collection. Special Research Collections, UCSB Library.

Desi Arnaz

Desi Arnaz was a Cuban musician who became a television star in the U.S. In 1953 Desi Arnaz and his orchestra released “Babalú” and seven other classics that highlighted popular songs of previous generations like “El Manicero” or “The Peanut Vendor.”

From the Pecourt Tango and Latin American Music Collection. Special Research Collections, UCSB Library.

Elvira Rios

In 1940 Mexican singer and actress Elvira Ríos released “Tropic Nights” with José Morand and his Orchestra. It featured a variety of classic Latin American music styles including boleros, valses (waltzes), and even the classic U.S. phenomenon, the fox trot.

From the Pecourt Tango and Latin American Music Collection. Special Research Collections, UCSB Library.