It is no secret that I have always loved to watch television – as do so many others around the world. I have always enjoyed the idea of immersing myself in the lives of fictional characters and keeping up with them through the passing episodes.
However, as I grew older, I began to come to the realization that there was a significant lack of Latinx representation when it came to the television shows that I enjoyed and loved so much. Simply put: very rarely would I ever see a Latin character, like myself, in these shows. Then, when I would actually come across a Latinx character, he or she would usually be portrayed as the angry sex icon of the series and usually nothing more. This brings into question: why is the Latin community both so underrepresented and misrepresented when it comes to the television shows, films, and the other forms of modern media that we know and love?
Well, even though numerous recent surveys have shown that Hispanic and Latin families are the most dedicated movie-goers, members of the community are still very rarely cast in major roles. A specific study, the Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity, found that although Latinx individuals make up a significant 17.4 percent of the entire United States population, they are still among the least represented speaking roles. Not only that, but out of 11,000 speaking characters who were surveyed on film and television, only 5.8 percent were Hispanic or Latinx.
Not only is underrepresentation an issue in the industry, but so is misrepresentation. We have all borne witness to it: the sexy, spicy, and wild Latina stereotype and media portrayal, insinuating that Latin women do not have much to offer apart from their sexual appeal. This common and stubborn portrayal of Latin women in popular media most likely stems from not only politics, but a desire to please an audience that otherwise would not pay much mind to such a minority group. Yet, while the writers behind characters of this nature initially make the women out to be ‘rebellious’ and ‘independent’, they still ensure that they are ‘kept in their place’, as some would put it, by frequently pushing the ladies to take advice from men and placing them in incriminating situations.
So, with this knowledge, one may ask: what particular effect does this have on young Latinx individuals?
As it turns out, there are multiple effects that a lack of Latinx screen-time can have on members belonging to the Latin-American community. These effects include but are not limited to a lifetime of insecurities or a feeling of “not being good enough”, erasure of ethnicity by others due to misconstrued perceptions of what a “true Latinx individual” should look and/or behave like, and a lack of connectivity with their cultural background.
More often than not, one will hear stories about a Latinx individual who grew up out of touch, or even partly ashamed of their Latin roots, simply because they were deemed “not Latin enough” as a child – be it due to not knowing the language or due to not being the spitting physical image of the stereotypes that popular media is always trying to shove down their audience’s throats.
This is particularly demonstrated in Jane the Virgin star, Gina Rodriguez’s interview with Huffington Post Live, in which she addresses comments implying that she is somehow less of a Latina simply because of her lack of Spanish fluency. As Miss Rodriguez states in the interview, there are so many things that can differentiate a Latinx individual, “we have different music, we have different food, we have different slang, we wear different cultural garb, we have different skin colors….to put us in a box is unfair” and “so often we judge people (Latinxs) by their first appearance, so often we judge people by whether they speak Spanish or they don’t, or they’re dark skinned or they’re not, if they have a big booty or they don’t…so often we are perceived or judged by our appearance…what happened to being perceived or judged by our character, by the people that we are?”.
In my own personal experience, I have found Rodriguez’s questions and commentary to be extremely necessary and well-placed. Much too often is my own cultural background erased all because I am not the textbook definition of what a Latina “should be”. So many individuals expect us all to be tan, curvaceous, noisy, and have an overflowing sex appeal. However, I am none of this. I have a very fair skin tone, light brown hair, do not have a very big booty, and am relatively shy. While I most definitely understand the privileges that tend to come with the fact that I am white-passing, it also definitely does suck that we, as latinx individuals are so often placed into a box filled with stereotypes, in which if you deviate just a small amount from what is expected, then you are almost immediately disregarded.
This has also proven to be true for many Afro-Latinxs who feel that they are not welcome in either community. In a short interview with fellow Afro-Latina Affinity writer, Ja’Loni Amor, in which I asked what her personal experience was like growing up as a Latina under these conditions, she linked me to this twitter thread:
In the thread, Amor describes the exact struggles that she has personally had to endure as a result of her race and ethnicity. She elaborated further on the topic when she stated, “Much of me not feeling entitled is a result of only seeing white Latinas. My mom is very fair skinned. She has long silky hair. My hair is not anything like that. My skin, though it is lighter than many black women and I acknowledge that privilege, is darker than hers and most latinas represented on screen. I have fuller lips. My nose is wider. For a long time I did not feel “latina enough” or like puerto-rican things belonged to me. The anti-blackness in the community definitely didn’t help with that”.
From eliminating stereotypes to casting more multifaceted Latinx characters to being more inclusive of our Latin brothers and sisters, there is a lot of work to be done in the Latin community. When thinking through the cause of these “problems” thoroughly, it is almost clear that it all begins in the media that we are exposed to. Once the Latinx characters that we are demonstrated on television and film are granted deeper, more thought-provoking roles, free from any and all stereotypes, then we can hope for a more secure and confident Latin-American community, that will last generations to come.