by Natalie Finn | Wed., Nov. 30, 2016 8:00 AM
You can take the girl out of the Bronx, but...
Well, you actually could just as easily take the Bronx out of the girl. But that's only if she's willing to let it go—and Jennifer Lopezhas shown no indication over the last 20 years that she's going to let that happen.
When she doubled down on her "just a girl from the neighborhood" vibe with her signature hit "Jenny From the Block," the world was skeptical. How could Lopez, who had just sold 1.3 million albums and put Ben Affleck in her video for goodness' sake, expect people to believe that she was some down-to-earth, family-first, regular person?
She was so rich, so famous, so Hollywood, so... she literally glowed right off the pages of the magazines! Sure, maybe she was born in Castle Hill, to Puerto Rican parents Guadalupe Rodríguez and David Lopez. Maybe she and her two sisters spent their early childhood in an apartment before their family saved enough for their own two-story house, her dad working nights at an insurance company and her mom selling Tupperware.
All true. But forgive the people who were fooled by the rocks that she got. It seemed safe to assume that her love must have cost something.
Santi / Splash News
But for all of her success, which doesn't seem like a very satisfactory word when you consider the iconic status J.Lo has achieved as a pop-culture figure, she has never stopped attributing the woman she is today to her formative years in the Bronx.
In fact, her grip on her roots has only grown tighter in recent years.
"To this day my taste, my preferences, my outlook, my attitude, everything about me is so influenced by the fact I grew up in the Bronx," Lopez said in the 2015 TNT special Neighborhood Sessions With Jennifer Lopez, which chronicled her June 4, 2014, concert in Orchard Beach—her first-ever show in her hometown, and one which didn't cost fans a thing other than subway or cab fare.
The special also showed her taking her twins, Max and Emme, around the neighborhood, including to the local Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club where she spent time as a kid. She pointed out the house she grew up in and the Rising Stars School (which, ironically, she did not attend) across the street.
Santi / Splash News
"Yeah, I've gone out into the world and I've done all these things but it's because of the stability and the footing that I got from my family and the Bronx that made me be able to go out and handle all this craziness," Lopez said.
And "I still love big jewelry," she added, a nod to the flashy glamour that informed her picture of celebrity as a kid growing up in the Bronx, which thanks to a large immigrant population has famously become a melting pot of cultures from all over, as well as a wellspring of hip-hop and Latin music
Touring the neighborhood with W in 2013, she said, "Now I love Los Angeles, but it doesn't give me strength the way the Bronx did. All the strength that I needed for life, I got from that neighborhood." (She also revealed that she never set foot in her childhood house again after the day her parents gathered the kids to tell them they were separating after 33 years.)
But for all that the Bronx instilled in Lopez, has the river run both ways?
To play devil's advocate regarding her homecoming performance in 2014, you could say that she didn't even have a concert there until 2014, 17 years after her breakout role in Selena, 15 years after the release of her debut album, On the Six—and 12 years after she paid tribute to her 'hood on "Jenny From the Block."
We can imagine the locals being irked in 2011 when The Smoking Gun reported that it wasn't even Lopez but a body double who was driving through the Bronx in those ubiquitous, much-maligned Fiat commercials, in which Lopez, who apparently filmed her shots in L.A., called the Bronx "my world," "the place that inspires me."
As if belief didn't have to be suspended enough to think that J.Lo was driving around in a Fiat in real life.
So that didn't do her any favors when, a couple of years later, she did return to the Bronx, glossy fashion magazine in tow.
"Yes, J. Lo donates millions to charities, particularly dealing with women and children's issues but what about the Bronx? Sure it's her money and yes she can decide what to do with it but at some point isn't it almost a responsibility to give something back to the community who's [sic] name you invoke all the time and essentially use?" Ed García Conde wrote in July 2013 on Welcome2TheBronx.com in response to Lopez'sW spread.
"This is a topic that has been on Bronxites minds for quite some time. If Jenny from the block is reading this, I'd love to sit down and chit chat with her, invite her back home and talk about the issues that ail her fans at her home base and what we can do to partner up."
Conde didn't have to wait that long, at least for Jenny to come home. Less than a year later, news that Lopez would be doing her first show in the Bronx effectively made any bad blood so much water under the Triborough Bridge.
Anthony Behar/Sipa USA
Lopez would say later that the lack of a "real" concert venue kept her from performing there, and that she still regretted that Pelham Bay Park couldn't accommodate as many people as there were who wanted to see her in 2014. (Concerts at Yankee Stadium are actually rarer than you might think, not least because acts have to share the space with the actual Yankees—only eight acts have performed there since the new stadium opened in 2009.)
But while she has handily set her coming-of-age tale on the streets of the Bronx, inextricably linking her fortune to her humble beginnings, her fellow Bronxites have been perfectly happy to fly the J.Lo flag whenever she comes around as well, the two using each other for name-brand recognition.
Moreover, it's not as though Lopez is the only huge star from the neighborhood. Kerry Washington(who grew up near Lopez), Al Pacino, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Tracy Morganare just a few of the big names born in or who grew up in the Bronx, so plenty of star power has walked those streets.
But the idea of the neighborhood shaping Lopez into who she is today and her efforts to give back have been a recurring theme throughout the duration of her career, and having a hometown hero like Lopez has certainly left a positive mark on the neighborhood. And it's not as though 2014 marked the first time Lopez had given back to her community.
In 2007, Lopez and then-husband Marc Anthony donated a portion of the proceeds from their joint En Concierto tour (which was actually Lopez's first-ever tour) to ING's Run for Something Better, the money earmarked in their case for fitness programs in public schools with high Latino enrollment. Before hitting the road they visited PS 36 Unionport School in J.Lo's old stomping grounds of Castle Hill, where they were treated to a serenade from the students.
"We look at you and we see ourselves," an emotional Lopez told the kids. "I can remember doing little songs at school and being onstage and dreaming of great things. And seeing all of you so full of beauty and life and energy, and knowing how far you can go, it still touches my heart."
And civic pride is nothing to scoff at—especially when it's young people who are being inspired.
"She's my role model," a young woman who caught the 2014 show in Orchard Beach told New York's NBC 4. "She's from the Bronx, she made it from, like, a regular neighborhood like where I'm from, and she made it to the top. She's so caring, she's always giving back. I love her."
Also in attendance were members of the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club that Lopez frequented as a child. "She gave back, she came back, finally," another satisfied concertgoer told the station after the show was over. "She came home, to the Bronx."
Lopez put on a show that rivaled anything on one of her arena tours, with seven outfit changes, pyrotechnics, intricate choreography and a host of backup dancers.
"This is such an amazing moment for me. I am so happy to be home. Doing this tonight is honestly a dream come true for me," the pop star told the crowd as the sun started to set. Peering at the audience, she added, "Let me see ya—where my Latinos at? That's right, we in here!"
Her encore? "Jenny From the Block," naturally.
And while some locals were concerned that traffic going to City Island would turn the bridge into a parking lot (it didn't, according to local reports after the fact), others were excited about the potential boost for businesses.
But while the one-and-done concert might not have seemed so marvelous to some (such as those who'd rather not risk a traffic headache), that wasn't all Lopez was up to in 2014.
The Lopez Family Foundation, a nonprofit started by J.Lo and sister Lynda in 2009 to improve people's access to healthcare in underserved areas, teamed with the Bronx's Montefiore Medical Center to establish the Center for a Healthy Childhood. The sisters were on hand to kick off the program at the hospital's health fair with a donation of $250,000.
"We didn't have a lot of vegetables or salads or greens or fruits or things like that [growing up]," Lopez told Michael Strahan on ABC News about the motivation behind the venture. "It was a whole different culture."
"For the center we want to do that for children, we want to teach mothers, it's kind of going through the whole family so that everybody gets on board with what you want to do," Lynda added.
VIP packages to the otherwise free concert were also being sold for $150 a ticket, with all proceeds going to the Lopez Family Foundation, the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club, Teach for America and other Bronx-based institutions.
New Yorkers also lined up in droves to catch a glimpse of Lopez when the American Idol crew touched down in 2014 for a round of final-season auditions—and some, of course, wanted to sing for her.
"I love you, J.Lo," one young man told her when he got to the front of the line. "I love you," she replied. "You know why?" he inquired. "Why? Bronx?" she guessed. "All day," he confirmed as much. "That's right—that's right!" she replied enthusiastically.
"It always feels like I never left," Lopez mused about the pleasures of coming home to New York.
Speaking of which, she gets to do that a lot more now thanks to her NBC series Shades of Blue, which has filmed all over the city—and of course it made the local news when they shot a scene at Asylum Tattoo Studios on East Tremont Avenue in the Bronx last year.
Lopez plays a detective with the NYPD's 64th Precinct in Brooklyn—but perhaps if she had her pick, she would've been walking the beat in a different borough.
"I feel like my life is something that's surreal and out of, like, a fairy tale," Lopez said in 2014 as she revved up for her concert.
And it may sound cheesy, but the consensus is that having someone like her to look up to—someone who has worked tirelessly for what she has, who's a devoted family woman and who has never forgotten where she came from—has been a pretty good deal for the Bronx in return.
Almost 30 years since leaving home to seek her fortune in L.A., that was her then and that's still her...now.
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