Jennifer Lopez
Jennifer Lopez breaks ground as role model for Latinas

By Mary Emerita Montoro, California
College Bureau

La boricua from the Bronx has made and continues to make waves in middle America and is definitely getting her respect. Jennifer Lopez the dancer and actress has moved into singing territory and so far, girlfriend is blowing up. Her single from her debut CD "On the 6" (referring to the train she took to auditions) "If you Want My Love" has crossed over to the pop, dance and R&B charts with phenomenal success.

Lopez's latest single -- a duet with salsero Marc Anthony, "No Me Ames" ("Donāt Love Me")-- is soaring. Though her musical aspirations began when she was younger, Lopez felt the desire to sing when she portrayed slain Tejana singer Selena in 1997.

In the film, Lopez lip-synced to Selenaās voice, but it inspired her to do a demo. After wrapping the movie, she sent her tape to Sony CEO Tommy Mottola, who sent Lopez to Emilio Estefan. Estefan, who had success with Jon Secada and Shakira, asked R&B producers Puff Daddy and Rodney Jerkins to collaborate. The result? A mixture of R&B, dance and pop with a Latin flavor. The claves and timbales hold their own with electric guitars and percussion combining a unity between cultures.

Lopezās rise to fame has given many young Latinas a role model. Her message? "If I can do it, I know you can."

What was once considered to be the dream only of blonde, busty, anorexic white women was changed by Lopezās heritage, talent and curvaceousness. Now, mujeres con cuerpo are considered sexy. The people like what they see, and itās being heard.

"She is a very good singer, dancer and actress. She is an inspiration to me because she seems so incredibly dedicated to her craft," said Thea Nayler, a high school sophomore in Sunnyvale, Calif. "I love her music and her calm, cool, collected attitude in interviews."

Lopez grew up in a neighborhood where she heard Lisa Lisaās "Can You Feel the Beat" on the street and Cuban diva Celia Cruzās "Quimbara" around the house. "On the 6" combines her nostalgia for the old school clothed in salsa and R&B she heard during her growing up years.

Despite the glamour of her phat lifestyle, Lopez is a simple girl from Castle Hill, a section of the Bronx. Sheās close to her parents and three sisters and her childhood friend Arlene who is her personal assistant. A performer since childhood, Lopez was in awe of Rita Morenoās performance in "West Side Story" and decided that performing would be her calling.

She auditioned in 1990 as a Fly Girl on the variety show "In Living Color." That stint led her to audition and land a job as a dancer in a Janet Jackson tour. Lopez can be spotted in the "Thatās the Way Love Goes" video. It was a toss up between the Jackson tour and a new show "South Central," in which she also was offered a role. Without thinking twice, Lopez took the Jackson gig. The show died after one season, but Lopez was on her way.

She co-starred in two short-lived series -- "Second Chances" and "Malibu Road" before moving on to a minor role in Gregory Navaās 1995 movie "My Family/Mi Familia." The roles kept on coming steadily with "Money Train," "Jack" and "Blood and Wine." Even though Lopez had a body of work and mega-energy, she had to audition for her breakthrough role in "Selena." After casting directors made a lengthy search in California, Texas and Mexico for an actress to play the singer, Lopez got the part along with a lot of backlash. The Latino community resented that a puertoriquena was cast to play a tejana.

The hoopla soon died, and Lopez received good reviews. She also received a million dollar paycheck -- the highest amount ever paid a Latina actress. The movie did more than make her visible, it also ignited her passion to sing. Along the way, she found love with South Beach waiter-turned-model Ojani Noa and married in February 1997.

The business side has her partnered with actor Jimmy Smits, comedian Paul Rodriguez, singer Tito Nieves and other investors in the L.A. salsa hotspot Conga. The world looked pretty damn good. Then, slowly it unraveled.

Her marriage to Noa broke up before their first anniversary. Lopezās infamous interview with Movieline magazine had her allegedly dissinā actresses like Winona Ryder, Gwyneth Paltrow and Cameron Diaz. Since, then sheās been more cautious.

She appeared in last summerās hit "Out of Sight" with former "ER" pediatrician George Clooney as U.S. Marshal Karen Cisco. Normally, a streak of movies, especially the success of "Out of Sight," would force a leading lady to continue. Lopez took a chance in taking the year off to complete On the 6. A move that has paid off nicely. The currently unattached Lopez will tour next January to support the album. In the meantime, the roles continues going her way.

Later this month she will star in the movie "The Cell." Lopez will play a psychiatrist who has developed a unique treatment for schizophrenia. Her next project, "The Wedding Planner" is slated for next year. Lopez has recently been offered the role of a police officer dealing with the effects of an abusive childhood in "Angel Eyes" for Warner Brothers. Whether sheāll accept the $5 million dollar role is anyoneās guess. Also in the works: co-starring with Eddie Murphy in "Pluto Nash" and a remake of "A Star is Born" with Will Smith. You go hermanita!

Lopez's ambitiousness and drive makes her the most-talked-about woman around right now. Her younger fans seem to appreciate that you donāt have to look like Gwyneth Paltrow or Winona Ryder to achieve success. Michelle Werner, who is a sophomore at the Bronx's Preston High, Lopez's alma mater, agrees: "She is a role model because she is a proud Latin woman, and we need someone like that to represent us."

You canāt ignore Lopez even if you try. Sheās L'OrŽalās pitchwoman for hair products. She made a die-hard fanās dream a reality on MTVās "FANatic" show and most recently caused a riot as grand marshal in New Yorkās annual Puerto Rican Day Parade last month. The girl is everywhere.

The States are seeing that brown is beautiful and sexy, and itās perfectly OK to be driven. You have to be to reach your goals and dreams. About dang time!!