The Sad State of Latin@ Representation on TV

(NOTICE: NO mainpage and NO crossposting. I will handle crossposting myself.)

Croguesberg's excellent piece on Powder Room got me thinking about about how Latinos and Latinas are represented on television. I touched a little bit in the comments on that post about our poor representation, but there is plenty to expand on and just so much more to talk about.

Latin@ Professionals Just Don't Exist on TV

There are so many great characters on television who are skilled professionals who also happen to be people of color. There's Claire Huxtable, Esq., and Maxine Shaw, Esq., two New York city lawyers. There's the Honorable Philip Banks, a judge of the Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles. There's Phil's wife Vivienne Banks, Ph.D., a tenured English professor. There's also Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, OB/GYN, Khadija James, magazine editor, and Kyle Barker, stockbroker.

Which begs the question: if working-class *and* professional individuals of color in other races, cultures, and ethnicities can be represented on television, then why have I yet to see a single engineer, chemist, researcher, lawyer, judge, doctor, mathematician, psychologist, or academic who also happens to be a Latin@?

Look at the banner at the top of this article. It has the word "maid" on it, and that's largely how American audiences see Latin@s. As "the help." And that needs to change. Like right now.

Some folks mentioned George Lopez. On his show, George wasn't a doctor, or a lawyer, or any of the other professions I mentioned. His character started as a worker on an assembly line who got eventually promoted to a management/supervisory position. Which is great, but that's not enough.

Nightclub entertainers a la Ricky Ricardo? Also not enough.

Police officers (i.e. The Bridge, Law and Order: SVU, New York Undercover, Southland)? My cousins are gonna kill me for saying this, but also not enough.

Latin@s, Particularly Latinas, are Fetishized

The Sad State of Latin@ Representation on TV

Exhibit A: Gloria Delgado-Pritchett. Trophy wife of family patriarch Jay Pritchett on Modern Family.

Don't get me wrong, I love me some Sofia Vergara (or "Chofi" as some have affectionately nicknamed her in the community). I remember when she used to have a travel show on Univision (which we'll get to in a bit) called "Fuera de Serie" and I'm glad her career has taken off as much as it has. She strikes me as a very nice person in real life, and certainly someone who has fought very hard to get to where she has.

Notwithstanding, I'm still critical of Gloria's characterization on the show. She's the obvious "sex appeal" character; always in skintight and lowcut clothing to emphasize her assets and to contrast her with dowdy, frumpy Claire, the show's other housewife. Claire's husband, Phil, has an obvious crush on Gloria, and in the show's early days, much comedic material was mined from awkward situations between Phil and Gloria — Phil not wanting his crush to get the better of him and Gloria having to brush off unintentional, yet still grossly inappropriate, behavior on Phil's part.

Further, Gloria constantly has to fight assumptions and outright accusations that she married Jay solely for his money. She's also painted in broad strokes: loud, vain, poorly-spoken, and quick to anger. I've been privy to various accounts, both on and off the record, describing how Chofi, a natural blonde, has to dye her hair black and is forced to tan because the producers are worried that she won't read "Latin" enough otherwise to middle American audiences (facepalm); and how she's forced to crank her slight accent up to eleven for the same reason (double facepalm).

Despite our Diversity as a Group, Representation of Latin@s is Limited to Latin@s of Specific Nationalities

The Sad State of Latin@ Representation on TV

This is going to sound like an odd complaint, seeing as how I'm a Mexican-American, but for once, I'd like to see Latin@s on TV who *aren't* Mexican-Americans. I have neighbors, friends, schoolmates, and colleagues of various nationalities — Salvadoreans, Guatemalans, Argentines, Chileans, Dominicans, Costa Ricans, Hondurans, Nicaraguans, Colombians, Panamanians, Peruvians, Cubans, and Brazilians, just to name a few — who aren't represented on television as much as people of my particular background. Which is odd because they live in this country too and have as much right to representation in the media as I do.

Consider the following, rather curious case:

A group of American producers, including, oddly, a Cuban-American, get ahold of a Colombian soap and decide they want to adapt it for American television. The original story is about a woman working in the fashion industry on the business side of things, but who can't move forward in her career despite her education, talent, and intellect because of her looks. Therefore, setting the American adaption in New York, the Fashion Capital of the United States, makes perfect sense. So does that mean that the main character will be a Latina from one of the established, long-standing Latino communities in NYC, like the Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, or Colombians? AHAHAHA NO. She's gonna be Mexican!

Ummm, why? At the time the show premiered, I can guarantee you that the number of Mexicans living in New York could be counted on one hand. I *was* one of those Mexicans, having chosen to do my undergraduate work on the East Coast after having grown up on the West Coast. It was a lovely experience and I don't regret it one bit, but I felt isolated and homesick. The culture shock was ENORMOUS.

Latin@s of a Skin Color Other than "Olive/Brown" are Completely Erased

Hey, did you know that there are Black Latin@s? YOU DIDN'T? Well, judging by the sad state of Latin@ representation on TV, I don't blame you one bit.

I'm gonna step back and let a Black Latina, Gina Torres (YES, SHE'S ONE OF OURS, DEAL WITH IT), describe her experiences in the media, in her own words:

Spanish Language Television is Extremely Sexist and Utterly, Hopelessly, Completely Outdated

The Sad State of Latin@ Representation on TV

Some of you might be saying, "why do Latin@s want representation on American television when you have specialty channels, like Univision, that cater specifically to Latin@ audiences?"

Well, two problems:

One, Spanish-language television is completely oblivious to the fact that a rather large portion of Latin@s in the United States don't speak Spanish. There are various reasons why this is. Namely, they don't because we're largely forced to assimilate and Spanish is just sooooo "Un-American." This is changing, but we're still left with a HUGE number of people who don't speak Spanish.

Two, even those of us who do speak the language and do tune into the channel ARE JUST REALLY, REALLY, REALLY FUCKING EMBARRASSED BY WHAT PASSES FOR PROGRAMMING THERE.

Despite the fact that Latin America is producing some really great television — primetime dramas, sitcoms, reality shows, all in addition to that staple of Spanish language TV, the novela — those of us in the United States are still getting rehashes and remakes of stories that are waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay past their expiration dates. They are airing novelas on Univision right now that are literally remakes and re-imaginings of novelas that were first made in the 40's and 50's, which were in turn based on weepies printed in Women's magazines of the early 20th century. Putting them in a modern setting does NOTHING to modernize the extremely dated, sexist, and offensive material at play. Marital rape as compelling drama? THAT IS SO 19TH CENTURY.

Even more aneurysm-inducing is the fact that the highest rated reality show on Univision right now is a pageant show. A. FUCKING. PAGEANT SHOW. Where girls compete to win a title and the chance to compete in pageants like Miss World and Miss Universe. I'm sorry, but I didn't spend four years at NYU and three years in law school to aspire to be a fucking 1950's style beauty queen, and I can safely say that most Latinas living in the United States right now don't aspire to that either.