Monday, Aug. 22, 2005

Jennifer Lopez

Even if we count only her performances in Selena and Out of Sight (and absolve her of her contributions to Anaconda and Gigli), Jennifer Lopez doesn't really belong on a list of America's greatest actresses. And now that she's married to fellow Boricua Marc Anthony, she can't even claim to be the best singer in her own house. But J. Lo's place on a list of most influential Hispanics is a no-brainer. Why? Because over a decade ago, she was an anonymous background dancer on the second-rated sketch-comedy show. Today she's known by two syllables. That's one less than Madonna, and, yes, Lopez is probably counting.

Ambition is what makes America move — and what makes Hispanics move to America. As the Bronx-born daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants, Lopez, 36, has an outsider's hunger and a native's assumption of infinite possibility. She works hard and dreams big. In 2001 she became the first actress to have a movie (The Wedding Planner) and an album (J. Lo) top the charts in the same week. Now there are clothing lines (JLO by Jennifer Lopez and the newly launched Sweetface) and fragrances (Glow, Still), which together brought in more than $300 million in revenue in 2004, making her the 19th richest person under 40, according to Fortune magazine.

Lopez's lunge for icon status has not always been graceful. Her movie choices are sometimes bizarre, and her string of boyfriends (P. Diddy), husbands (remember Cris Judd?) and near husbands (Ben Affleck) has made her the butt of jokes. Speaking of which, Lopez is famed for her callipygousness, but less so for the humor with which she embraces the public discussion of her curves. (She once described her backside as "two potatoes on sticks.") Lopez speaks of her shape as a cultural legacy — and one she's quite proud of. She may want to rule the world, but, like the lady says, at least in some ways she's still Jenny from the block.