Immigrant Themes Abound in Super Bowl Halftime Show

This past Sunday marked Super Bowl LIV, the championship game of the National Football League. While millions tuned in to watch the Kansas City Chiefs defeat the San Francisco 49s, another spectacle at Miami’s Hard Rock stadium garnered just as much attention – the halftime show. In recent years, halftime has become an integral part of the Super Bowl, elevating it to a cultural experience as opposed to just a football game. The promise of international exposure has attracted A list performers to its stage, including Beyoncé, Coldplay, and Bruno Mars. But this past Sunday’s show starring Shakira and Jennifer Lopez was different. For the first time, it featured two Latina artists as headliners – and they delivered a show that was a joyful, sensual, unapologetic celebration of their heritages.

Audiences had their first hint that this halftime show would make history during the opening moments when Shakira descended onto the stage with a greeting of “Hola, Miami!” It was a simple yet powerful statement. Performing in a city with a rich LatinAmerican heritage, Shakira, who was born and raised in Colombia, and whose father is from Lebanon, was speaking Spanish during an event steeped in Americana. She continued to pay homage to her dual cultural heritage during a medley of her hit songs, alternating between English and Spanish lyrics and flicking her tongue at the camera while emitting a high-pitched warble – a zaghrouta – a traditional Arab expression of joy used during celebrations. Shakira capped off her portion of the night with a mesmerizing combination of belly dancing and traditional Colombian choreography that drove social media into a frenzy.

Viewers barely had time to catch their breath before Jennifer Lopez took to the stage for the second half of the show. Flanked by the mariachi band, Tigres Del Norte, she too weaved Spanish lyrics into her set, as she danced and gave a shout out to her home neighborhood of the Bronx, in New York City. In perhaps the night’s boldest display of cultural pride, she strutted towards the audience draped in a feather covered American flag as the opening chords of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” echoed throughout the stadium. She then flipped it over, revealing that the other side was emblazoned with the flag of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory and the birthplace of her parents. The camera then panned out to a field full of children in fluorescent cages as Lopez segued into her hit “Let’s Get Loud.” The symbolism was unmistakable – it is unconscionable for the greatest country in the world to detain migrant children who seek refuge with their families, and our protest against the current immigration policies allowing family separation at borders should be deafening.

While Shakira and Jennifer Lopez’s halftime performance certainly has its fair share of critics who decried it as brash and inappropriate for a family audience, it is indisputable that the show has transcended into something beyond entertainment. This halftime show has morphed into a touchstone for a countrywide conversation about cultural identity, immigration, and what it means to be an American. The Super Bowl may be one of the ultimate displays of athletic might, but this past Sunday, two Latinas with immigrant roots reminded us that our biggest strength as a nation is our diversity.


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