Super Bowl halftime show: Celebration of cultures, not clash of them

As she watched the halftime performance — first, live, on Sunday night and then three more times on Monday — Claribel Torres Cortes couldn’t help but get a sense of pride. And couldn’t help but be transported back to an earlier time in her life, when she was a youngster growing up in New York City.

“I remember flipping through the channels between Univision and the American channels and not seeing anyone that looked like me on the American channels,” she said. “Not seeing that certainly limited what I thought I could be. Seeing these amazing women performing during halftime of the Super Bowl, the epitome of an American game, made me say, ‘Wow, we made it.’

“There was just so much pride, from the symbolism of the multicultural perspective to the legacy it will leave behind. There were so many young Latinas who were watching this. I think it changed the game for so many of them. I’m choking up a little bit as I talk about it, because I never thought I would see that in my lifetime. It’s kind of crazy to say that, but, now that it’s happened, it shows that our culture is being accepted.”

The halftime show featuring Shakira and Jennifer Lopez was as talked-about as the game itself Monday. Many, like Cortes, beamed with pride. Others wondered if the acts were too provocative.

A clash of cultures or a celebration of them? Cortes chooses to believe the latter.

Cortes, the co-founder and president of the Setroc Group, a New Brunswick-based communications and public relations firm, said being able to see the Latino culture celebrated was very empowering. And, hopefully, very educational.

“Women moving their hips and dancing — it’s not something that’s done to be provocative, it’s just the way our music goes, it’s how our body flows,” she said. “It’s normal for me to see that.

“I know that might be shocking to some people that are not accustomed to the Latin culture. So, I could see why there is a little bit of backlash, but that’s the beauty of the world. If we all see the world through the same lens, it’s boring. I think that we should see the world through different lenses.”

That includes the business community, too.

Cortes, who worked on the corporate side of some of the country’s biggest media companies — Fox, ABC and the Associated Press — said she knows the Latino culture still faces challenges in the mainstream business world.

“Even the way we do business is different in the Hispanic culture,” she said.

She can only hope that business leaders saw the celebration of Latino culture Sunday night and saw the future. It’s a future, Cortes said, that already is here.

“Latinos have a lot of spending power,” she said. “So, from a business perspective, I hope it definitely sends a message to all the advertisers and anyone who wants to do business here in the United States, that Latinos are a huge market.”

Cortes, who serves as the vice chair of the board of directors of the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, can easily spout the numbers: Hispanics have a U.S. population of 60 million that generates $2.3 trillion in economic activity, she said.

“We’re not a minority,” Cortes said.

The halftime show, however, was about more than just economic acceptance. Cortes hopes it will stand as a symbol for what the country can — and should — be about.

“It was also empowering to see how J-Lo used the platform to send a message that, ‘United we’re stronger,’” she said. “At least, that’s what I was able to get from it.

“When she was singing ‘Let’s Get Loud,’ there were children in cages. They were symbolic cages that were delicately put in front of the stage. But, I definitely got the message of, ‘Use your voice.’”

Cortes said the show also was a symbol of pride — and strength — for all women.

“To see two women who are over 40 owning a stage and commanding a crowd like that, is empowering,” she said. “We live in a society where, especially for women, once you hit 40, it’s over. It’s not. Life begins at 40. They gave women, no matter what race you are, a sense of empowerment.”

And if they did it in a way that celebrates Latino culture — and one in which “scantily clad” could describe the action — Cortes is fine with that, too.

After all, she remembers history.

“I know there was a lot of controversy with the performance, but I remember clearly how Adam Levine of Maroon 5 didn’t have a shirt on the entire time (last year),” she said. “Why is that acceptable? And why is it when two women — and, God bless them, I went to the gym today with a lot more energy — are up there, it’s different? It was empowering, not just because they’re Latinas, but because they are powerful women.”

That message came through on Cortes’ TV set Sunday night. And she wasn’t the only one who saw it.

Her 13-year-old daughter, she said, loved every minute of it. And loved the fact that two people who looked like her were on the TV.

“She turned to me and said, ‘Mom, this is so awesome; they are both Latinas,’” Cortes said.

That’s what Cortes said she’ll remember about the show.

“The sense of joy on her face was priceless,” she said. “Overall, my major takeaway is that all is possible, and that race and age does not define us.”