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This summer, Jennifer Lopez turns 50. To commemorate the multi-hyphenate's birthday on July 24th, we’re counting down with 50 Days of J.Lo, a celebration of the woman who’s shown us all by example how to be ageless-inside and out.
Jennifer Lopez is many things: Singer, actress, producer, mom, health and fitness enthusiast, the list goes on and on. Starting as a Fly Girl dancer on Fox's In Living Color sketch show, she officially rose to stardom with her breakthrough starring role in the 1997 Selena biopic and...things clearly took off from there.
While Lopez's work speaks for itself, her origin story has always been a significant part of her personal brand, cemented by the lyrics from her 2002 hit "Jenny From the Block": She used to have a little, now she has a lot; no matter where she goes, she knows where she came from (the Bronx!).
As recognizable as J.Lo's become, the mixed reactions to her Motown tribute at the 2019 Grammys underscored the fact that not everyone's in complete agreement about her racial identity-and the fact that it's technically none of their business did nothing to stem the tide of Tweets and Reddit threads debating the issue.
That Jennifer Lopez is not a Black woman is a fact nothing (save for a surprising 23andMe result) could call into question. But whether she's white is another matter entirely.
So, what is Jennifer Lopez's race? Any attempt to answer that question has to start with the difference between "race" and "ethnicity."
J.Lo is of Puerto Rican descent, but "Puerto Rican" is not a race.
Jennifer Lopez was born and raised in the Castle Hill section of the Bronx, a borough of New York City. Her family came to New York from Ponce, Puerto Rico's largest city after San Juan. Puerto Rico is an unincorporated U.S. territory.
So, in short: Lopez is Puerto Rican. But "Puerto Rican" is an ethnicity, not a race. Because it's a Caribbean island that historically served as a major port for other countries (in Europe, especially), one can be Puerto Rican and of one or several different mixed races.
According to 2016 Census data, 76% of Puerto Ricans are from the white ethnic group, while 12.4% of Puerto Ricans say they're of African heritage. The rest self-declare as "mixed race," and again, any further parsing would require a DNA test.
Jennifer Lopez identifies as Latina (also not a race).
"I’ve never tried to hide the fact that I’m Latina,” Lopez told People En Español in 2006. “I think that’s why Hispanics are like ‘She’s ours; she’s out there, but she belongs to us’ and that’s true. With the Latino community, I am theirs. I do belong to them-that’s who I am.”
While Lopez deems herself Latina because of her Puerto Rican heritage, the term "Latina" -like its masculine-form counterpart "Latino," and the gender-inclusive "Latinx"-is not a racial category. It's actually a diverse ethnic and cultural umbrella term used to describe a person who hails from a Latin American country or territory-such as Puerto Rico, Mexico, or Cuba-or has ancestors who did.
J.Lo's Latina pride has influenced her entire career.
She's recorded in both English and Spanish since her debut album, On the 6, and her first Spanish language album, 2007's Como Ama una Mujer, was co-written and co-produced by Latin music superstar Marc Anthony, her husband at the time.
Her company Nuyorican Productions, a force behind many of her recent projects (including World of Dance and the upcoming Hustlers movie), is also a nod to her background: "Nuyorican" is a term commonly ascribed to New Yorkers of Puerto Rican descent.
In more recent years, Lopez has donated time and money to advocate for Puerto Rico residents affected by 2017's Hurricane Maria devastation. In 2018, the Second Act star and her fiancé, Alex Rodriguez, traveled to P.R. to raise visibility for recovery efforts and help allocate donated funds.
"We just want to be treated equally. We're Americans," Lopez told ABC News.
A post shared by Jennifer Lopez (@jlo) on Jan 9, 2018 at 12:28am PST
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