Thoughts on Latina Media Role Models

Many Latina women struggle with being able to relate to the “sassy, sensual, hot-tempered and street smart Latina” mold portrayed by the media. As a Latina woman, I have never quite fit into that mold and often wondered about the existence of Latina role models.

Where Are the Latina Role Models?:
There are still many stereotypical Latina characters in mainstream media. Originally I felt like America Ferrera’s character in Ugly Betty spoke to me, but felt like most of the  humor in the show was at her expense. Despite being a writer, I could not connect with her and didn’t really want to. She did eventually work her way to the top, but I felt like I was left wanting. This experience has happened many times with other young Latina characters. Many of them often miss the mark. I was looking for someone to look up to and say “I want to be her when I grow up!” That aha! moment seemed to happen when I watched the pilot of 30 Rock.

My Role Model is Not Latina:
I related more to characters like Liz Lemon on 30 Rock. Liz Lemon’s humor is more easily identified and even a bigger part of her personality. She is quite sardonic and at times self-deprecating. I genuinely felt like I could relate to her flaws and her vices such as stress eating. In the pilot Jack, Liz’s future boss, describes Liz Lemon as a “New York third-wave feminist, college-educated, single-and-pretending-to-be-happy-about-it, over-scheduled … [person who] buy[s] any magazine that says ‘healthy body image’ on the cover and every two years [takes up] knitting for…a week.” I felt as if he described me as well. Something inside me connected to the socially inept comedy writer. Seeing a strong female character who I can relate to was inspiring for me.

Be Your Own Role Model:
Sometimes, we have to be the pioneers to encourage others to follow their dreams. Our role models can be of a different ethnicity, gender, or sexuality than us. The first woman astronaut in space, Valentina Tereshkova, did not have a fellow woman to look up to that was in the field she aspired to be in.  Lack of role models did not stop her and she achieved her dreams and she became a role model for future aspiring female astronauts.

Choosing a Role Model:
It is unfortunate that we still do not have the variety of Latina characters on television to look up to; however, do not let that stop you from looking to women you know in real life. It may be your mother, sister, aunt, grandmother or small business owner you know across the street. You can have more than one role model and not all of them have to resemble your outer shell. Sometimes you just have to pick out the best qualities of the best women you know and make them a part of your own. You might be a role for someone else by using the characteristics from YOUR role models.

Hope for the Future:
You may be a big-shot lawyer one day, a best selling author, a politician or even an astronaut. The point is to never let lack of representation affect your lack of ambition. You might even pave the way for feature generations of Latinitas as the first female or Latina in your chosen field. The world needs more people achieving their true potential and if that means expanding your pool of role models, then in the mean time, so be it!

Latinas and the Oscars

I am almost ashamed to admit it, but until this year I did not notice or question why there were so few Latinos in Hollywood. I didn’t realize how skewed things were until I saw an online post celebrating 20 Academy Award winners of African American descent. Seeing that post was a wake up call: “Where are the Latinos and Latinas hiding?” “How many of my own people have actually won an Academy Award?” and “Why didn’t I notice this before?”

Driven by a vigilance that would not die, I did a little research and was even more aggravated by what I found. In the eighty-one years the Academy has been handing out awards, just fourteen Latinos have been nominated for the acting category. Guess how many have won an Oscar. Give me your best guess. Ten? No. Seven? No. Five? Ha! I wish. Three Latinos and one Latina have actually won in the Actor category. We have yet to see a Latina win Best Actress.

It has been 51 years since West Side Story. Rita Moreno, one of my idols, won for the category of Supporting Actress. Who knew that I would be here, a nineteen year old in 2012 wondering QUE PASO?! There has to be other amazing Latina actresses out there that are just as “Oscar Worthy.” While I do have much admiration for Rita Moreno, she’s Puerto Rican and not even from my generation!

There was a scene from West Side Story that has resonated with me until now. It’s when Anita starts mocking Benito’s negativity by saying, “Your mother’s a Pole. Your father’s a Swede. You were born here, that’s all that you need. But us? Foreigners!” Does that ring a bell? If not it should because that is how Latinos are being portrayed in films . Those “foreigners” are certainly getting more Oscars than Latinos. Only 8 Mexicans are Academy Award winners. Guess how many people from Spain have won Academy Awards? Thirteen. My theory is you can win an Oscar with as Spanish surname as long as you’re European or not included in the United States. How sad is that? I am missing other Latin American countries, but clearly there is an obvious pattern.

Color-lines.com featured an article on the  “Strong Presence of Latinos in the Academy Awards.” While it was written by a Latino, I was disappointed by the lack of perspective in the piece. “Bichir is the second Mexican-born actor in history to be nominated in the Leading actor category. Anthony Quinn is the only other Mexican-born actor to be nominated in the Leading and supporting role categories.” That was in the early 1950s. WOW! We really are on a roll. Only half a century has passed and only one other actor has been nominated in a leading role.  A strong presence, ahi por favor (0h please).

The source of this phenomenon is not just the lack of actors in the nomination pool, but there is also a flaw in the nomination process. In a study conducted by the Los Angeles Times, “the Academy’s 5,765 members [are] 94% are Caucasian, 77% are Male, 14% are younger than 50, [and here's the real kicker], 4% represent minority voters, with Hispanics and African-Americans evenly representing their votes at 2 percent each.” Ok, I’ve moved on from being angry, I’m ready to take some action. ¡Órale!

So what does this mean for you?

You might ask yourself, “what can I do, I am only one person, I am a Latinita, and what change could I possibly make?” I’m glad you asked. Hollywood may be an all-boys club, and predominantly white. However we are not devoid of power. We can protest, we can boycott, we can raise awareness, and we can stop ignoring what is staring us in the face.

You don’t have to wait for Hollywood to change its mind. You can change it for them.

We need screenwriters, we need directors, we need producers, and we need actors! We need you more desperately than you think. As a culture, we watch stories that are not our own yet find some way to connect to them. Why is it so crazy that they won’t be able to connect to our stories? We need people changing the scripts and making more diverse casting decisions. We need to get our foot in the door first so we can knock that barrier down. ¡Hecha pa’lante!

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