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‘They call me Lanita’: Unpacking Mexico’s undying love for Lana Del Rey

From the visuals in her short film Tropico to her nickname ‘Lanita’, Lana has always had a unique affinity with Latino and Mexican culture

On the inaugural night of Lana Del Rey’s concert circuit in Mexico, an audience of 65,000 chanted “¡Lana, hermana, ya eres Mexicana!”, or “Lana, our sister – you are now Mexican!”

Her shows in Mexico – including Del Rey’s largest performance to date at the Foro Sol stadium in Mexico City, where she sold 65,000 tickets within an hour of general sale launching – have become an internet sensation, with social media users swooning over the singer’s wholesome engagement with Mexican culture during her time south of the border. A photo of her holding a Mexican flag emblazoned with her nickname ‘Lanita’ has racked up over 25,000 likes on Twitter; a TikTok photo carousel documenting other instances where she’s engaged with Mexican culture has over 75,000 likes. The hype surrounding the mini-tour has demonstrated beyond doubt that Latinos – specifically, Mexicans – love, love, Lana Del Rey.

This isn’t anything new, though; our hearts were arguably won over the moment Elizabeth Grant christened herself with a Spanish name. Throughout her career, Lana has continuously engaged with Mexicanidad and, more broadly, Latinidad – the condition of being Mexican or Latino respectively. Perhaps the most literal examples of this are in Tropico, the short film released by Del Rey in 2013. Here, Lana and Shaun Ross star as a gangster and stripper couple in East LA, an Angeleno neighbourhood with the highest concentration of Mexican Americans in the city. The film not only features Lana dressed in the style of a Latina gangster, but also as the Virgin Mary in a style reminiscent of the Virgin of Guadalupe, a symbol of Mexican identity and culture.

When it came out, Tropico was lambasted for cultural appropriation. “Dressing up like an entire culture and calling it ‘fashion’ is offensive,” wrote one Jezebel article. “Using another person or culture as an outfit to make your art edgy is in poor taste.” Some fans also feel that while Del Rey’s proximity to Latin culture is cute or touching, she does not necessarily do anything to ‘help’ Latinos in a meaningful way. Speaking to Dazed, Mexican fan Danielle says she is a fan of Lana’s work, but notes that she doesn’t think Del Rey is “in necessarily any solidarity with Latinidad or our culture […] she is in no way an activist trying to uplift Chicano culture.”

Still, like any demographic, Mexican Americans are not homogenous, and opinions differ from individual to individual. Many Chicanas resonated with Tropico. Mexican-American fan Kaitlyn tells Dazed that for her, Del Rey captures the complexity of womanhood. “[I listen to her] when I feel sexy and strong and also delicate at the same time,” she says, adding that Del Rey’s self-presentation such as the “lace, veils, bold red lips, curls” in Tropico – evoke Latino femininity specifically, and make her ‘feel seen’. After all, Mexican Catholicism and Chicano culture are both premised on remixing, adaptation and interpretation – so why shouldn’t Lana be able to remix in the same way, when such self-fashioning clearly feels authentic to her experiences?

@mexico_fairy #stitch with @paloma⭐️🧸💌 #greenscreen really curious as to what you all think esp if youre a lana fan! what does she offer you about your identity? what are some specific examples— songs, lyrics, acts? #lanadelrey #lanadelreylatina #mirrorpalais #catholiccore #mexicancore #mexicocore #mexicanidentity #morrissey ♬ original sound - steph 🤍

Tropico aside, Del Rey’s earlier years are characterised by ‘Americana’ imagery, as she styled herself after white American cultural icons: Jackie Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, Priscilla Presley, the fictional Lolita. With her apparent reverence for white America – and at a time when white nationalism was rearing its ugly head – it made sense that some people described Lana as a Republican. But in recent years, Lana’s take on America has developed and become far more nuanced. The pivot had roots in Lust for Life but crystallised with Norman Fucking Rockwell!: as Hannah Williams writes in the New Statesman, “[the album] heralded the arrival of a poet... It feels vast, generational, emblematic of 21st-century America.”

The artistic momentum of Norman Fucking Rockwell! and Did You Know That There's a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd, combined with changing attitudes about the boundaries of identity, have sparked new discussions about Del Rey’s affinity with Latino and Mexican culture and prompted jokes about her actually being Latino (technically, she describes herself as such in ‘West Coast’ when she sings “he’s crazy y Cubano como yo, my love”). She is Lanita: our prima from Jalisco, our working-class Chicana queen.

Most of these posts are made in jest, but they contain an undercurrent of sincerity. Her position as an honorary Latina is not unprecedented: ‘outsiders’ have often been participants and tastemakers in Latin American culture. Chicanos famously crowned Morrissey as one of their own, with multiple bars in east LA hosting Morrissey karaoke nights and the band ‘Mexrrissey’ reinventing Smiths and Morrissey songs with a Mexican twist. Costa Rican-born Mexican singer Chavela Vargas put it well: “¡Los mexicanos nacemos donde nos da la rechingada gana!”, or “we Mexicans are born wherever the fuck we want!”. ‘Being’ Latino or Mexican is less about geography and more about pouring your heart into it; getting it.

And Del Rey gets it – specifically, what it means to be an outsider, having rejected her WASPy upbringing and aligned herself closer to blue-collar diners, open roads, and trailer parks of Middle America. Post-Norman Fucking Rockwell!, as she matured, she began to include more Mexican spaces in her vision of America: taco trucks, Long Beach and Santee Alley. In the music video for “The Greatest”, for example, Del Rey makes the Port of Long Beach, where countless Mexican-American longshoremen work, the site of her elegy for America. For some fans, it is this deep knowledge of a non-mainstream, non-white Latino Los Angeles that elevates her work and rubbishes claims of ‘appropriation’. If Lana knows about the swap meets and oil refineries, then she is definitely a bonafide Long Beach girl, explains self-proclaimed Mexican “super stan” Daniel*. And if she is a “Long Beach girlie,” he playfully continues, “then of course she’s Latina.”

Many diasporic Mexicans also regard Lana as the Anglophone heir to the cultural tradition of tragic, elder female singers – colloquially dubbed “señora music”. In señora music, outsidership features as a gendered position: one of underappreciation and martyrdom. TikTok often compares Del Rey to Jenni Rivera, a Long Beach-bred Mexican-American singer, while Danielle suggests that she’s also reminiscent of Amanda Miguel and Jeanette. “This is the music introduced to us by our parents,” she says, describing it as exploring “dramatic vulnerability and unhinged emotional release”. Del Rey’s lyrics – an alchemy of love, duty, desire and neglect – clearly chime with this. As Kimberly, another Mexican fan, says: “She suffers in her relationships, [and that parallels] the sort of imbalanced relationships dynamics we see play out at home.”

Del Rey fits into an interpretation of Latinidad that welcomes participants because of, not in spite of, their whiteness. But it’s important to note that her fluency in Latino culture and her acceptance in Latino spaces does not mean that she is exempt from critique when it comes to her engagement with Indigenous or Black culture. After all, as evidenced in the past, Lana has been pretty clumsy when it comes to her comments about race – most notably in her ‘question for the culture’ post.

Many fans welcome Del Rey’s engagement with the Latin experience precisely because they feel it represents something authentic about her experiences, and it strikes a chord with them too. Particularly in her recent work, Lana is fluent in several aspects of Latino culture that are not necessarily obvious: multi-layered femininity, melancholy, working-class Los Angeles. It is not straightforward ‘copy-paste’ cultural appropriation, nor is it “in poor taste”. It’s done sincerely. As Williams put it, “she has a fascination with American lives, an ability to be, as Whitman put it, ‘commensurate with a people’”. That’s why we call her Lanita.

*Name has been changed

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