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Latinx Files: The Latinx Year that was

A collage of photos against a black background.
Clockwise from left: Canelo Alvarez; “In the Heights”; Bad Bunny in WWE; a U.S. Border Patrol agent on horseback pursues a Haitian migrant near the Rio Grande; the coronavirus.
(Martina Ibáñez-Baldor / For The Times; Al Bello/Getty Images; Warner Bros.; WWE; AFP via Getty Images; Getty Images)

When Jennifer Lopez sang, “Let’s get loud!” at Joe Biden’s inauguration back in January, I seriously doubt she meant it as a challenge. And yet, 2021 took it as such.

With only two days left to this wretched year, I think I speak for everyone when I say que se puede ir al carajo.

For the record:

11:31 a.m. Jan. 4, 2022An earlier version of this newsletter said that at the Tokyo Games, Jasmine Camacho-Quinn gave Puerto Rico its first Olympic gold medal after winning the 100-meter hurdles. It was Puerto Rico’s second gold medal. The first was earned by tennis player Monica Puig in 2016.

2021 sucked. Big time. It’s like it saw how harsh 2020 was, told it to hold its beer, then tried to one-up it.

It certainly succeeded when it came to the pandemic and the way it affected the Latinx community. Sure, 2021 brought us the vaccine, but its rollout was not without gringaderas — in Los Angeles, some residents of whiter, affluent neighborhoods drove to predominantly Black and Latinx communities to get the shot before it was their turn.

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COVID-19 extracted a heavy toll from our health, our wallets and our education. As my colleague Alejandra Reyes-Velarde reported in her recent series “Pandemic portraits: The Latino experience,” COVID-19 has cost California Latinxs about 370,000 years of potential life. It has stolen the hearts of families, and has caused familial rifts.

And then there’s immigration, a subject I’ve written about in this space often. When Joe Biden was running for president, he promised to undo much of the damage wreaked by the Trump administration. Nearly a year into his presidency, he has continued two of his predecessor’s more controversial practices: Title 42 and Remain in Mexico. Biden has also failed to deliver on any meaningful immigration reform.

What, then, differentiates his administration from the last? Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the person who oversees the Border Patrol and ICE, is Latinx. Representation is important, after all.

And speaking of, Hollywood once again got called out for pretending we don’t exist even though the U.S. Census told us Latinxs accounted for half of the country’s population growth in the last 10 years. To its credit, it did the bare minimum and gave us “In the Heights” and “West Side Story,” two problematic musicals that nobody watched.

Admittedly, not everything about 2021 was bad. We had some victories.

In the world of sport, Jasmine Camacho-Quinn gave Puerto Rico its second-ever Olympic gold medal after winning the 100-meter hurdles at the Tokyo Games, and Canelo Alvarez made Mexicans on both sides of the border proud when he became the first boxer from Latin America to unify a division after knocking out Caleb Plant in November. Legendary NFL coach Tom Flores finally got his due and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

And no one had a better 2021 than Bad Bunny, who spent the better part of the year haciendo lo que le da la gana. Not only did San Benito continue his dominion over the world by being Spotify’s most streamed artist for the second year in a row, but he also branched out into acting and wrestling.

This year also brought us some LOLs. Remember Jenny 69, la chingona que salió de Riversai? To this day, I still find myself uttering the phrase “From a pobrecita to a bad b—” whenever I need to fill the uncomfortable silence in my head.

But despite all the good and all the laughs, the point still stands: 2021 can head to the dustbin of history now.

This year tried its best to end us. And yet here we are. We’re still here. How could we not be? We’ve survived dictatorships, desapariciones, migration, and the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement.

We’ve survived despite being underschooled, underemployed and underpaid. 2021 felt like hell on earth, and yet we survived it too. 2022 looks to be no different — the year hasn’t even begun yet and the government has already started waving the white flag on COVID-19, not to mention the upcoming midterm elections — and guess what? We’ll still be here 12 months from now.

So bring on the 2022 desmadre!

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Things we dug this year that we think you should check out

I can’t think of another story that my editor and I talked about more this year than Tina Vazquez’s personal essay for the Lily about becoming her father’s retirement plan. It’s so honest and beautifully written, I find myself recommending it to people any chance I get.

— There are so many things to love about Isabelia Herrera’s New York Times report on the city’s Dominican sound-system subculture. The visual presentation and her prose make you feel like you’re standing next to a wall of speakers blowing out your ear drums.

— 2021 marked the anniversary of two culturally significant sporting events: 40 years since Fernandomania and 25 years since the Julio César Chavez vs. Oscar De La Hoya fight. The Los Angeles Times Sports staff had phenomenal coverage of both in the shape of a multi-episode documentary for the former and a fantastic oral history on the latter.

— Much has been written about the Great Resignation, the trend of people quitting their jobs because of the pandemic. Refinery 29 spoke to several Latinas, the group who left the workforce at a higher rate than any other in 2021, on why they did it.

— This is really dumb, but earlier this month I made a joke on Twitter about putting together a thread of my favorite Mexican memes y mamadas of the year, but then I got bored enough that I actually did it.

— This year my colleague Karen Garcia launched a series of utility stories that center on Latinx mental health. So far she’s written about first-generation trauma and on the importance of finding a culturally competent therapist.

— Two weeks ago, Marvel released “Marvel Voices: Comunidades #1,” a one-off collection of stories featuring Latinx superheroes written and drawn by Latinx writers and artists. I’ve read it during this holiday break, and let me tell you, having the likes of White Tiger, Anya Corazon and Miles Morales all in one book is a beautiful thing.

— It was a good year for Latinx podcasts. Six of them were named to the Atlantic’s list of 50 best podcasts of 2021: Futuro Media’s “Anything for Selena,” “La Brega,” “Suave” and “Loud”; “Smoke Screen: The Sellout”; and “The Wild.”

— I’ve been visiting family during the holidays, and one of the more fascinating things about being home has been discovering my mom’s obsession with Turkish dramas dubbed in Spanish. It turns out she’s not the only one.

The best thing on the Latinternet: No, you’re crying.

It’s been five days since I first came across this TikTok of a middle-aged Latina woman breaking down after opening a Christmas gift and finding a doll, the first she’s ever had, and it still turns me into a puddle of tears every time I watch it. I think it’s because it makes me realize how much adulthood really is about healing your inner child.

And now, for something a little different...

A GIF of an illustration of a tamale on a plate with a bow.
“Tamales really are a gift our families give us.”
(Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

Jade Cuevas is an art director and illustrator for the Los Angeles Times. Originally from San Antonio, Texas, her work often makes use of bright colors and playful textures that remind her of childhood.

“This piece is a nod to something my grandpa said about tamales one Christmas that I never forgot: ‘I got y'all dozens of presents! And you can unwrap as many as you want!’ Hearing that as a kid made me want to roll my eyes, but as I’ve grown up, I’ve learned how to make tamales and seen how much effort and time are put into them. They really are a gift our families give us.”

Are you a Latinx artist? We want your help telling our stories. Send us your pitches for illustrations, comics, GIFs and more! Email our art director at martina.ibanezbaldor@latimes.com.


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