Latina Representation on TV: We’re More Than Just a Spicy Chicken Sandwich!

It'sCaliente

By Liz Felix

EllenOchoa.400
Astronaut Ellen Ochoa

I wasn’t a M.E.Ch.A. member in high school. My Spanish isn’t great, I eat hot dogs and hamburgers, I drink Coors, and I place my right hand over my heart when I sing the national anthem. And so when it comes to portrayal of Latinas in pop culture, where are the people like me? Where are the Sonia Sotomayor characters? The Ellen Ochoas? Where’s my American history teacher, Mrs. Piña? I guess what I’m trying to say is that the problem doesn’t lie in the portrayal of “us” as a culture, but in not being seen as regular American citizens who happen to come from a Hispanic background. It’s not an “us versus them” but an “us plus you.”

Spicy! Muy caliente! Ay-ay-ay!

I cringe every time I hear these words describe a Latina. By the sound of it, they seem to be more descriptive of a chicken sandwich on a drive-thru menu than a person.

I’d like to start off by saying that I’ve never really been one of those, “Hey! They said stuff about Latinos! Let’s get ‘em!” kind of a gal, but then I saw a skit on Saturday Night Live last week called, “Jewelry Party” and I felt really disappointed, offended and kind of sad.

I was excited to see Lena Dunham host SNL, so I tuned in and there she was, Marisol, played by Cecily Strong and a stereotype of a Latina; heavy accent, bright colored garb and of course the Latin woman’s favorite accessory, the misogynistic husband. I wasn’t so much offended by what Marisol was wearing or how she was speaking but rather, why she was the focus of the joke.

In case you missed it, the skit introduces us to a group of middle-aged white women who are having a jewelry party. They invite Marisol, who brings along her husband, and the joke is that Marisol is completely oblivious to her husband’s male chauvinistic ways.  After the very concerned white ladies explain to Marisol that her husband isn’t who she thinks he is, she finally gets it.

I didn’t laugh once.

Why?

I guess I didn’t get it.

Maybe I needed a white lady of my own to help me understand what was happening. What was so funny about Marisol being dumb and why did she have to be a Latina?

Lorne MichaelsLook, I get it, comedy is comedy and everyone is mocked in SNL sketches. But as an aspiring television and film writer, I ask myself when writing for my chicas, can Latina women only be funny when they’re being reduced by society? Of course not! But that’s what’s being propagated and the fault lies in not staffing any Latina/o writers. I’m lookin’ at chu, Mr. Michaels.

I understand that SNL isn’t a platform for representation of diversity à la It’s A Small World, but let’s face it, if you don’t know too many of us, you’re idea of what a Hispanic person is, is going to be based off what you see on television and movies. Bob Campbell from Rawlins, Wyoming isn’t reading up on Hispanic culture just because it’s Hispanic Heritage Month.

Lorne Michael’s stance on searching for funny first and race second is an excuse, and again, I get it. It’s your show, so do what you want.  But if you’re not going to staff us, then don’t write about us.

I love the hell out of SNL. I grew up watching my favorite funny ladies and inspirations, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph and Ana Gastayer do their thing every Saturday night, so it kinda breaks my corazon to see that in 2014, we still have no Latinos on the 8H studio stage or in the writers room, and instead of portraying us as normal folks, we’re just the butt of jokes.

Nothing’s really changed. We’re always the hot-tempered sexpot, the ignorant immigrant, or the violent chola. Hashtag, I’m over it.

Advice from The Comedy Girls for Lorne Michaels

Why does Gloria Delgado-Pritchett on Modern Family have to be a sexualized mother figure with a short fuse? Sure, my mom’s been known to throw a chancla or two in a fit of anger but whose mom hasn’t? Why does Ana Ortiz have to play a sexy maid? Don’t get me wrong, there are far worse ways to be portrayed,  but when we need to be taken seriously, in a professional environment, this kind of perception comes into play. It’s hard enough being a woman in a male dominated world, you throw in brown skin and a hard to pronounce surname, and it gets even harder. ¿Que no, Lourdes Trujillo-Echevarría?

What makes these cultural misconceptions even more frustrating is that even though the Hispanic-American population is one of the fastest growing in the U.S. with a projection that by 2050, we’ll make up 30% of the U.S. population, our representation has yet to shift to more realistic portrayals. We’ve even proven to be political game changers, and yet we still see stuff like Cecily Strong (a non-Latina) portraying some ignorant immigrant who speaks in a heavy accent. Really, SNL writers? Why didn’t you just have her come in on a burro, eating tacos and wearing a poncho while shaking her cans?

No one wants to talk about race and that’s a problem. As a native Arizonan and a Latina who has to live with the absurdity that is SB1070, the way people perceive me is important. Because where I’m from, it’s a matter of whether or not I get pulled over and asked to show my papers to prove that my brown skin is permitted in a place I call home, the land where I was born.

I’ll end with a few poignant lines of dialogue from the same SNL episode, where Lena Dunham’s character (in a skit about ABC’s television drama, Scandal) praises the hit show for its colorful cast.

 “You are the most beautiful and ethnically diverse people I’ve ever seen in one room. And you should be, like, really proud of that.”

I hope that in the future, these same words are uttered in the SNL writer’s room and in every writer’s room.

 Liz Felix is an aspiring television/film writer from Tucson, Arizona. She’s currently working on producing a short film called, Benny which focuses on important cultural issues affecting the low-income Latino community.