February 7th, 2012
I Want More Latinos On My TV

I grew up watching too much TV. I loved watching sitcoms, so I became very well-acquainted with fictional families such as the Tanners and the Huxtables. In fact, I would often fantasize that I was their adopted Mexican cousin, with a “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” kind of vibe. I also loved Balki’s silly Eastern European antics and the all shenanigans of the “Saved by the Bell” characters — I once wrote the cast a letter asking everyone but Screech to be my friend.

But, growing up in a working class Mexican community, I was perpetually confused about the lifestyles of these fictional families. Did people in real life really have stairs inside their house? Wait, did these kids not have cockroaches in their toys? How was it that that little brat Michelle Tanner got horse riding lessons whilst I had to fashion a Lamb Chop out of an old sock like a young McGyver? How was it that those jerks on “Beverly Hills: 90210” actually thought that Andrea Zuckerman was poor? The only family I could even vaguely relate to was Roseanne’s, since their problems seemed relevant: their mom was a scary and effective screamer, they argued about money, their jobs required physical labor. I can’t even think of any current TV shows that are even remotely like this.

All I knew was my working class Mexican community, where my friends’ parents worked in factories, our homes were small and sometimes run-down. I never saw my reality reflected or any other Latinos on TV save Luis and María from “Sesame Street,” mullet-boy Mario Lopez on “Saved by the Bell” (who was not even initially cast as a Latino character), and Desi Arnaz on “I Love Lucy” re-runs. It astounds me that a groundbreaking show about an interracial marriage which aired in 1951 still seems radical. I can’t think of any current shows with an interracial leads.

What happens when children never see reflections of themselves in the media? We grow up confused. Little brown girls grow up desiring blond hair, blue eyes, and light skin because that’s what we’re told is beautiful. Many of my peers dyed their hair hair alarming shades of blondish-orange and wore colored contacts — which made them look terrifying. We grow up utterly perplexed about our place in society. We feel like the world doesn’t acknowledge us. There are more of us on TV now, but the numbers are still paltry despite the fact that we make up 16.3% of the U.S. population. I love Aubrey Plaza’s character on “Parks and Recreation,” Sofia Vergara is hilarious on “Modern Family,” and “The George Lopez Show” was a hit, and continues to do well in syndication. (Please don’t even mention that new Rob Schneider show because I would like to punch that man in the face.)

I would love to see a sitcom about first generation working class Latinos, one that doesn’t make cheap, ethnic jokes about being a Mexicant (barf), one that isn’t filtered through a white-male perspective. I want to see story lines about problems such as poverty, racism, and deported family members, problems that so many of us can relate to. I don’t think a TV show will be a panacea for American xenophobia or our issues of invisibility, but shedding light on our realities and showing our humanity may alter perspectives.

The anti-Latino rhetoric in our country is overwhelming right now. It keeps spreading like an itchy and tenacious rash. I can’t help but think that some of it may be a result of our complete absence in popular media. All people see is our demonization by the political right. According to these portrayals, this vast group of people is solely composed of shifty criminals and sexy ladies. This needs to change. Seeing ourselves portrayed in positive light would also make us feel like the world acknowledges us and that our stories matter. I would love to be a part of that kind of project. Any takers?

[Screenshot Via NBCUniversal]

6 thoughts on “I Want More Latinos On My TV

  1. I concur. This also extends to movies. And even when they try to portray a Mexican it is portrayed by someone who isn’t even Mexican. And as you stated they perpetrate stereotypes that you mentioned. I’m not sure what’s worse to be honest. It’s sad that in this day and age we are not portrayed positively in movies either. That’s why when I write my stories or screenplays I always envision myself as the lead actress. I never want to perpetrate ideals that make people think being brown is somehow inferior. I’m never letting some Jennifer Aniston type make a mockery of my screenplays or stories! It always weirded me out that girls in our high school would color their hair blonde and wear green contact lenses. I never wanted to do that. Although I did want to wear contact lenses that were hazel, because I wanted to have pretty eyes like my dad. I was told hazel is a rare eye color which I always thought was pretty awesome.

  2. I’m white and grew up being able to identify with many characters on TV. In my adult years, I’ve wondered what it felt like to be underrepresented and misrepresented by the media and in general. Now I have a better idea. Thanks for enlightening me. 

  3. I understand what you are saying completely and these same thoughts have been going on in my mind for at least 50 years. I grew up in East San Jose from the age of 5 and I can remember watching black and white TV and trying to read the credits, always searching for at least 1 Spanish last name in “the rolling by fast” list. When the Chicano movement was emerging and we finally were able to see Spanish names in the news or in magazines, it filled me with so much pride. Many of my peers went on to colleges and universities to become Doctors, Lawyers, Engineers, Scientist, Astronauts and teachers because of the empowering feeling they too felt by being recognized as a force of intelligent and diligent citizens of the USA.  Many of my peers went to wars and did not return and many who did return, came back “damaged” and never recovered from the ugly horror of war that was Vietnam. I am also saddened and feel so much shame and disgrace by the fact that our prisons are full of “La Raza” both male and female. Why did they have to go that way instead of college??? I think it is because there has been such a shortage of positive roles that display or tell our stories in the media. I lived in Los Angeles for 2 years while my husband attended UCLA’s theater arts department. I worked while he studied and we struggled to make ends meet but he accomplished what he set out to do, earn his BA from UCLA. I felt bigotry or racism for the very first time in Los Angeles because I was not Anglo and I was not dripping in gold or driving a Bentley. I know my husband also felt racism towards people with Spanish last names while at UCLA too, but he ignored all of it and excelled at whatever challenges were put in front of him. Many times people would be shocked to see me as his wife, because they would assume that he was Italian and not of Mexican descent.  I learned very fast to be haughty and to hold my head up with pride and to not let anyone take advantage of me there, especially there, where everyone is a phoney to the power of 10… 
    Many Latinos, Hispanics or Chicanos must continue to pave the path for our youngsters so that one day they will feel included in this big country..because when it comes down to it, the ones with money will always promote themselves first in the media and how much money do we have to spend on these things? Not much…
    All things beautiful remind me of my Mexican-American Heritage and of my Mexican grandmother. Whether it is a big garden full of chilis and tomatoes or hearing the Spanish guitar or big brown eyes or little girls wearing long braids to little boys hustling to work for the family, it makes me proud to know that some things can never be left unseen or unheard. I have to admit that, for many years I would always still look for a Spanish name in the credits at the movies or on ballots in the voting booths because I feel they deserve the credit and the chance to prove that “yes we can” do anything we set our minds and hearts to without hesitation and we can do it with a smile and a big hearty laugh because we are full of JOY no matter where we are.            

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