Latinas through the American Lens “Where am I en el tele?”



Gabriela Rodriguez
Reviewing The Arts FA16
Jim DeRogatis

Latinas through the American Lens
“Where am I en el tele?”

Latinas on the big screen are often portrayed through the American point of view
as either sexy and sassy or only good for labor work like maids, nanny’s and kitchen
workers. Shows and movies excel at providing Americans with a narrow-minded view of
what a Latina is. The truth? We’re not all these tiny, loud ditzes with poorly spoken
English that wear heels all day (I’m looking at you, Sofia Vergara.) Shows like “Modern
Family,” “Family Guy,” and “Orange is The New Black,” all of these feed into what
White America think all Latinas are, as if they need more reasons to racially define us.
Modern Family has been critically acclaimed for the diversity in the cast since it
has a white, gay couple that adopts an Asian baby and a white old man who remarries at
age 60 to a sexy Latina trophy wife. Sensing a pattern yet? While critics rave about how
this show is the perfect depiction of what modern families are in the 21st century, they
have yet again done what every American show does to show diversity: put a bunch of
white people playing the main roles and putting minorities as their props.

Like a fancy Chanel bag, Gloria (Sofia Vergara) prances into every scene in her 6 inch heels screaming
all of her lines with a forced broken-English accent that makes all educated, young
Latinas in America cringe. In the episode “Disneyland” (Season 3, episode 22, ABC) they
go on a family trip to the iconic amusement park. Husband, Jay (Ed O’Neill,) criticizes
Gloria because she only packed high heels for the trip, an obviously insensible option for
the occasion. Jay comes to the rescue and brings her slippers since Gloria was in pain
from walking in heels all day. What could’ve been a sweet moment of Jay caring for
Gloria is quickly ruined by him telling her to calm down and to “not go all Latin on him,”
implying she is incapable of measuring her emotions and that she would yell
incomprehensible Spanish words at him. First of all, going all “Latin” on somebody
would require use of the Latin language, which most people don’t speak anymore, since
Latin isn’t an ethnicity, it’s an ancient language. Secondly, they always set Gloria up for
failure in “Modern Family,” making her incapable of making smart decisions (except of
course, marrying a rich, white dude.) This again reinforces the stereotype of the sexy prop
ditz who’s loud and excessive in her ways and automatically becomes the poster child for
Latina’s everywhere. Being sexy and sultry isn’t the issue, the real problem lies in the
idea that since that representation is what we see in the media whenever a Latina takes
the screen, it becomes the norm and the cultural identity of a Latina is based on their
physical appearance and sex appeal alone, showing America a very shallow picture of
who Latina’s are. Not only do these portrayals deny Latinas of their cultural identity, but
it also perpetuates a stereotype that has long been engrained in American media. As a
Latina born and raised in Puerto Rico for 18 years, then coming into the United States for
college, my white friends often question my authenticity as a Latina because of how well
my English pronunciation is and the fairness of my skin. I can’t blame them, when
you’ve grown up seeing such a one-dimensional stereotype on TV, you’re bound to think
all Latina’s you meet will behave and look the way the TV portrays them.

Although people may not see what the big deal is in depicting minorities as stereotypes (because
it’s somehow funny and entertaining to them,) allow me to paint a picture of how these
TV stereotypes affect my daily life. When I moved to the US roughly 3 years ago, people
would be curious about where I grew up. “I’m from Puerto Rico,” I would proudly say.
Often more than not, I would get confused stares, followed by “But were you born over
there?” “So, you speak Spanish?” and the most annoying one… “But, you don’t even
look Puertorrican.” The truth is, they don’t realize that there’s no assigned skin color that
defines Latinos. Afro-Latinos, Spanish-Latinos, we come in all sorts of shades. The
problem? They’re not exposed to the diversity that exists within our communities, so they
put us in a box, which in most cases is defined by what they see in TV and mainstream
media. This is where stereotyping affects us, not being able to go a day without getting
your authenticity questioned because of the color of your skin or how well you speak
English, which always comes to a shocker for white people who assume we’re all
uneducated and speak how Sofia Vergara does, which in fact isn’t really how she speaks
at all, she forces it for the role, which in itself, is inauthentic.
“Humor is a rubber sword – it allows you to make a point without drawing blood.”
-Mary Hirsch, Humorist
Laughter is the best medicine, they say. Unless, your whole culture is being
ridiculed by a white dude who has no idea what it’s like to be an immigrant. “But it’s ok
though, because it’s funny, right?” Comedy as a genre can get away with so much more
than their counterparts, which is why shows like “Family Guy” feel like they can portray
a stereotype and get away with it. Even the most uptight Latino has had a laugh with
Consuela the Maid (Mike Henry.) Mike Henry created and voices Consuela, modeled
after one of his own former maids. Consuela is of Hispanic origin and speaks very broken
English. For example, she pronounces the word “mister” as “misser” and uses incorrect
sentence structure. She refers to everyone as “Misser” someone or other, regardless of
their gender. According to Stewie (Seth MacFarlane,) this may be because she does not
know the meaning of the word, “mister.” Although “Family Guy’s” intentions may be to
lampoon certain stereotypes by the roles they choose to portray and shine light on issues
happening in American society, Consuela is a prime example of how America view
immigrants as to only be useful for menial labor. While this may be the reality for freshly
arrived Latino immigrants in the US, they have the potential of becoming more, however,
the environment that they’re walking into and the so-called “American dream” is not
readily accessible or welcoming of this community. Media portrayals play a huge role on
how society treats these immigrants as well. Even if “Family Guy” is doing it in a
comedic light, it shows a harsh reality of the hardships immigrants face. In the episode
“Dial Meg for Murder” (Season 8, Episode 11, FOX) Consuela visits her son Rodrigo in
the Quahog Adult Correctional Institute. While it may be reinforcing a stereotype in the
criminal aspect, it’s in cases not far fetched, these types of situations happen, especially
to immigrants and minorities. Speaking to this point, should comedy creators focus on
reflecting what the reality is (undocumented citizens have it hard when they arrive,
having to settle for mediocre labor jobs) or should they take their platform and shine light
on the Latina’s breaking the boundaries, your non-stereotypical student going to college
and having a regular and successful “American” life? Many people see comedy like this
as merely funny, but there’s more there than just a laugh. Beneath the humor lies a rich
layer of social commentary about race relations in the United States. “It’s funny because
she’s Hispanic” makes the conversation harder for actual living and breathing Latina’s
who are successful in their fields who get questioned by their non-minority coworkers as
to how they got there, as if it were some sort of miracle that a Latina landed a normal,
wage-paying job. Ha.
If not as sexpots or menial labor employees, Latina’s are often depicted as
criminals. “Orange is The New Black” is the perfect example of minorities being
depicted in a negative light. However, “Orange is The New Black” is a step in the right
direction, it has multi-faceted characters that are far from the usual stereotypical roles
Latinas play, even if it’s in prison. A perfect example of this is Marisol “Flaca” Gonzales
(Jackie Cruz,) one of the inmates that forms part of the “Spanish Harlem” at Litchfield
Penitentiary, has a particularly interesting backstory shown as her character develop in
“Fake it Till You Fake it Some More” (Season 3, Episode 5, Netflix.) Flaca’s crime is
essentially being too smart, selling fake drugs to kids in her high school (LSD made out
of paper and water.) One of her clients, Jason, was suicidal and reacted to the placebo
effect of the drug by jumping off the school building while he was “high.” She was
arrested for fraud and endangerment. However, in this flashback, they show another side
of US born Latina-Americans that we don’t get to see in the media that often. Flaca is a
punk rock girl who loves Depeche Mode and The Ramones, having interests outside their
expected cultural norms. The “Latino experience” is not the same for everyone in the US,
in fact, only 1/3 of Latinos were born outside of the US, a lot of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd
generation kids that identify as Latinos grew up with a lot of American pop-culture
influences by being raised here. Flaca is someone they can identify and see themselves in
(leaving out that whole criminal, fake drug dealer bit) because of her “uncommon”
interests, which may shock a lot of white people, but newsflash, not all Latinos are tacomaking,
dishwashing, salsa listening, dark-skinned people, and Flaca’s character
definitely brings light to how diverse this community is. Flaca delivers a stellar
performance of how US Latinas can be, remaining in touch with her Latina side while
defining her identity as more than what has been shown to Americans on TV before. It
might be hard as a non-minority to understand why Flaca’s music interests matter unless
you’ve grown up watching TV shows where you have no characters you can relate to.
And yes, there is the fact that they’re in prison, but the show is more than just about
criminals and doesn’t only show minorities as that, there’s also some crazy white bitches
in the Litchfield Penitentiary “Suburbs.” “Orange is The New Black” has set a standard of
creating Latina characters, which, in some level, can be relatable and humanistic, paving
the way for writers, and producers to take a second look at how they choose to portray
White folks, listen up! Now that you’ve had this long-ass lesson about Latina
stereotyping, here are some takeaways from when you meet your next chica:
1. Don’t use words like “spicy and saucy” to describe them; they don’t like to be
compared to a tamale.
2. Secondly, they’re not all made the same, some of them are light-skinned, and
some of them look just like you. Don’t assume, it hurts.
3. Not all Latina’s dance; so don’t ask them for salsa lessons.
4. Lastly, not all Latina’s speak Spanish. This one may be hard to understand but
most 1st to 3rd generation kids are raised in the US by immigrant parents who have
a hard time teaching their kids the language once they’re here. That doesn’t make
them less Latino. They don’t ask for German or Italian lessons when they meet
white people, now do they?
Instead of using food adjectives like spicy to describe Latinas, deeming them only
worthy of doing your laundry or being criminals, why not break the stereotype? Just
because writers and producers add a comedic relief to the stereotype does not make it
okay. The media, especially now with how popular social media platforms have become,
are what teach girls how to act, dress and behave. If we keep teaching brown girls that
how media portrays women of their communities, as currently is the norm is acceptable,
they will most likely portray those stereotypes themselves. Latina girls don’t often get to
see themselves on TV diversely, which makes them feel like they’re not wanted or not
beautiful enough to be portrayed. Teaching Latina girls that they can strive to be more
than just a sexpot or a housekeeper is key to empowering girls at an early age. Sofia
Vergara, while she may be a beautiful Latina, is not what all Latinas look like. Consuela
the Maid’s job is not the only thing that’s available for Latina’s to do and for all the
Flaca’s out there, just because you don’t dance salsa and wear flowers in your hair,
doesn’t mean you’re less Latina. After all, who is measuring the authenticity of your
roots? The United States is what it is today because of immigrants who stemmed from all
over the globe, yet immigrants today receive so much hate. Although many shows like
“Orange is The New Black” use their platforms to shine light on issues within minorities
in the US, there is still work to be done, starting with who takes a space in the writers
room and ending with Latinas carefully considering the roles they chose to play. You
have a voice chicas, sit at the table and make it heard.


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