When the Super Bowl halftime show began, Yol-Itzma Aguirre and her relatives watched with anticipation. The El Paso, Texas, family was curious how Colombian-born Shakira and New York-raised Jennifer Lopez, two of the world’s most popular Latino artists, would seize the stage.
The performance Sunday was draped in Hollywood tropes of female sexuality. But it also contained subtle political messages about anxieties shared by many Latinos in the U.S. — children in cages, Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and the urge to be heard.
Aguirre, 39, had to watch the performance again. “My sister was tearing up. We saw more things,” Aguirre said. “We stopped caring about the game.”
Across the U.S., Latinos took to social media to praise and dissect the show.
Shakira paid homage to her Colombian roots by performing the mapalé —an Afro-Colombian style of dance from the country’s Caribbean coast. She also made a tongue expression called zaghrouta, a way to express joy in Arab culture. Her father is of Lebanese descent.
During her performance, Lopez brought out a dual Puerto Rican-American flag while her daughter sang the lyrics to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” Her daughter and other children with American flags on their shirts had emerged from what appeared to be steel cages.
“Let’s get loud!” Lopez sang as her daughter sang the Springsteen hook. Shakira hit some drums.
In the background, strobe lights crossed each other to form an image of a cage.
Latinos saw the juxtaposition as a call for them to vote, being mindful that American authorities on the U.S.-Mexico border separated migrant children from their parents and locked them up.
“It was brilliant,” said Aguirre, a writer who has toured immigration facilities holding children.
Others pointed out that Lopez held up a Puerto Rican flag — once banned in 1948 — at a time of anger over how President Donald Trump has handled relief efforts after the island was hit by the hurricane and a recent earthquake.
The flag became a symbol of resilience and hope following the hurricane, which struck in September 2017 as a Category 4 storm. It caused more than $100 billion in damage and killed an estimated 2,975 people in its aftermath. The flag also became a symbol of resistance and justice last summer when massive protests over corruption and other issues led to the resignation of the island’s former Governor.