East Los High and Latinx Visibility in Hollywood

EastLosHighKey

East Los High is a teen drama series that first aired on Hulu in 2013 and has since had three very successful seasons. This show, which is meant to take place at East Los Angeles High School and its surrounding neighborhoods, has been compared to other popular teen dramas such as Degrassi andGlee. However, East Los High is different from these shows in that it focuses on the lives of Latinx teens. In fact, one of the writers and directors, Carlos Portugal, specifies that one of the goals in creating this show was to portray real-life situations that impact teens in east Los Angeles.

In order to accurately represent the Latinx teen community in east Los Angeles, the majority of the show’s cast is Latinx identifying, which is a very rare feature for Hollywood productions. It is so often the case that the majority of TV show and movie cast members in the U.S. are white. In fact, according to a recent study, only about 5% of actors in Hollywood identify as Latinx. Many believe that people of color as a whole have been poorly represented in Hollywood, which is evident in other studies as well, which suggest that Black, Asian, and Native American actors also fill a fairly small percentage of roles in Hollywood.

 

On the subject of Latinx visibility and representation in Hollywood, however, 19-year-old college student, Miriam Myers has this to say: “When I think of Latinx representation… the first thing that comes to mind is telenovelas, or other shows where the females are cast into roles that fall into a common stereotype… So even though there may be some visibility for Latinx people in Hollywood, the issue is that there is a certain type of visibility. Those that are most visible, I would argue, are those that fit the mold.” It is clear that Miriam considers this casting trend in Hollywood a problem because she, a Mexican-American identifying person herself, knows that the Latinx community has so much more to offer.

 

The creators of East Los High take pride in the fact that, once you get past the soap opera-like drama that usually attracts viewers, what you have is a show performed by actors who actually identify as Latinx and who are portraying real-life situations that impact underrepresented teens in East LA. The show covers topics such as immigration rights, financial troubles, ethnic discrimination, sexuality, and also makes use of Spanglish and bilingual dialogue. Miriam believes that it is valuable for young adults to have a true-to-life show such as this. Viewers can watch the show and say, ‘Hey, that character is totally like my mom, brother, friend, or myself!’ You don’t get that very often… [and] the fact that East Los High incorporates bilingual dialogue makes the show seem more believable… the show is giving Spanglish a sort of visibility that hasn’t has such a strong presence…”

It is clear that East Los High is a show aiming to break down barriers in Hollywood, and four seasons in, we can tell that those behind the shows are succeeding. Danielle Vega, one of East Los High’s cast members, while discussing the show’s success in an interview, was quoted to have said, “I think that Hollywood is finally starting to get it!” By saying this, Vega is implying that Hollywood is starting to realize that there is value in accurately representing the diverse cultures in this country. Miriam agrees with Vega, saying, “The fact that there are casts made up mostly of Latinx-identifying actors, or of people of color in general, is a huge step forward… Hollywood has made progress, that’s for sure. But that does not mean that the work is finished.” Working to increase Latinx visibility is certainly key at this point. It isn’t necessarily right that the Latinx community has had to overcome limitations and stereotypes in Hollywood, but it is amazingly empowering to see the Latinx leaders in the TV and movie industries overcome the odds.

College Talk: Financial Burden

Every typical family, no matter the demographic, has financial concerns to think about, such as bills, mortgages, and weekly expenses, just to name a few. However, when we do take families’ backgrounds into account, a different perspective on the possible financial grind of American life is revealed. Latino households are still feeling the effects of the recession that hit the nation starting in 2008, which was a nation-wide lag in economic activity. While there are many American families who can say they have recovered from the hard times the recession imposed, there are a number of Latino families who are having to make financial decision with the weight of the recession still on their shoulders.

So for the Latino families still feeling the recession, what expenses will have to be put on the back-burner? Well, the answer to this may be different for each household depending on the family’s needs. However, one particular expense to highlight at present would be the cost of higher education. Teens in high school are typically encouraged by counselors and administrators to consider college. It is not unusual for parents to want their children to lead lives more successful than their own, which, for many Latino teens, especially first-generation U.S. citizens, this would mean attending college and perhaps earning multiple degrees.

Although Latino parents would likely want their teen to be looking into higher education, there is still the issue that this might be a financial burden on the family. It is common in a family for the parents to want to protect their children from the world of “grown-up concerns,” one of which is money. However, teens are old enough to know that they are not guaranteed a place in an American college or university without work, motivation, and money, so what is the conversation about the prospect of college like between Latina teens and their parents, if there even is one?

For El Paso teens Camila Mosier, 15, and Melissa Acosta, 13, conversations about college have definitely been held at length before. Both girls’ parents have expressed that they want them to attend college although they understand it might be a financial strain. That is why they have also encouraged the girls to stay focused and work hard throughout their high school years, allowing them a better chance of earning scholarships. Although she is only a first-year in high school and won’t be making serious choices about college for a few years, Melissa Acosta has shown that there are ways in which she as a dedicated student can make sure she has a better chance of attending college.

“I decided to attend Valle Verde High School. It’s an early-college school, and I am planning to study psychology…I hope that with great effort and work I can be valedictorian,” says Melissa.

Because she is attending an early-college high school, Melissa will be able to graduate with her associate’s degree and will have the opportunity to graduate from a Texas college or university in fewer years than most.

“My parents have started a fund but these days that’s obviously not enough,” says Camila, who has the understanding that what she pursues now will influence her college applications.

Camila plays the cello and acts, and although she doesn’t know what she wants to study yet, she knows that she can continue to grow in her skills as a cellist and actress and use these skills to her advantage.

Getting Involved in Sports

People turn to sports as kids, teens, and young adults for a number of reasons. For many, playing a sport is an extracurricular outlet that allows them to exercise their skills in teamwork and physical activity.

Evelyn currently runs track and cross-country at Americas High School in El Paso, Texas. “People don’t appreciate girls in sports, specifically Latina women…so I think it [is] better to have more diversity,” states Evelyn Gomez , 16.  Although Evelyn makes a very good point by acknowledging that female athletes are not shown the same appreciation as the men in the world of athletics, she also recognizes that girls and women continue to excel in their respective sports, regardless, and achieve their goals.

“I admire the [girls] in my high school that get scholarships for the sports I play.” Seeing that her fellow teammates can accomplish so much is very motivating to Evelyn.

19-year-old college sophomore Zaira Lujan also ran track and cross-country throughout her years at Coronado High School in El Paso, Texas. When she started at the University of Rochester in the Fall of 2014, Zaira had intend to run track again, but plans changed and she did not join the team. Instead, come second semester, Zaira found herself playing a different sport altogether, one she’d never imagined she would play.

“I went to the [rugby] practices and loved the vibe the team had. They were open and accepting…I’m glad that I gave it a chance,” said Zaira.

Having played multiple sports, both Evelyn and Zaira know a thing or two about dedication and teamwork. These are the values that make each team member strong in mind and body. “In my competitions, I didn’t run against other girls, per say, but I ran against  myself. I don’t know about the abilities of the other runners, but I know mine and that’s all I need to concentrate on…” says Zaira, as she reflects on her years as a runner. Zaira believes that through self-motivation as well as encouragement by her coaches and teammates, she has become a better athlete.

Evelyn also acknowledges the positive impact that playing a sport has had on her life: “Participating in a sport provides structure and discipline…It helps you be prompt, ready, [and able to] overcome challenges.” These are qualities that both athletes have been able to apply when they are participating in their respective sports, but they have also positively affected their approaches to academics and other responsibilities.

Not only are women athletes underappreciated, as Evelyn suggests, but Latinas are also noticeably underrepresented in U.S. sports teams. This is not necessarily something that should be a weight on the shoulders of young Latinas, whether they are simply looking for an activity to join or looking to play professionally. However, it is something for the nation as a whole keep in mind. It is difficult for girls to even name a professional U.S. Latina athlete that they can say they admire.

Evelyn and Zaira definitely advise Latinas everywhere to stick with or try out a sport, if they are up for it. They both see the value of playing in a sport from a non-competitive standpoint, as participation can result in new friendships and help one learn about her physical strengths.

Machismo Culture

feminismopunhoMachismo, or macho, can usually be described as a number of presumably masculine traits, such as aggressiveness, strength, and dominance, that a man identifies with and which form his personality. This personality can dictate his behavior and ultimately affect everyone around him. Although this “manly man” can surely be found in almost any culture, we can take a look at it from a Latino perspective and see how it has influenced women over the generations and see if it has evolved with the changing times.

For a lot of Latinas, their fathers are the first macho people that they encounter and are affected by regularly. “I recall, in high school, telling [my dad] I wanted to leave home to attend college and he wasn’t supportive; if anything, he discouraged me and told me I was a girl [and] I needed to stay close to home,” reflects 32 year-old Linda Flores. Linda also acknowledges that her father was the one to help her with her homework and encourage her to finish high school, which she is thankful for. However, she still felt stifled by the limitations that he placed on her while growing up.

It is not uncommon for a girl who grows up in an environment fueled by machismo to feel limited, to be told that she is not capable of certain things, such as leaving home for college or going to college at all. It is not necessarily the case that this girl is unloved, but rather, is expected to meet different standards than her brothers, for example.

“I grew up with four brothers,” shares 20-year-old Latinitas volunteer Polet Espinoza.

“When our dad would ground us our punishments would be different. I would have to clean the house and the boys would get their phones taken away,” adds Polet.

Although Polet recognizes the machismo nature of her father and how this affects the way the household is run, she also acknowledges that her mother has been the one to teach her that women are capable of leading independent lives. Polet compares her own world-view to that of her grandmother’s, whom she declares has the understanding that a woman cannot be independent, and decides that, in her family, the way women deal with machismo has definitely changed over the generations.

“I grew up in an all girl household. It’s more of my school life…it’s like guys are good at math and science, but I want to be also,” states 17-year-old Alliris Lopez. While she doesn’t necessarily feel the effects of machismo culture in her home, she has definitely noticed the macho tendencies of her classmates and teachers. Alliris is in the Math club at her school and expresses that she and the other few girls in the club have to try especially hard to be acknowledged as much as the boys.

This is the reality that many Latinas over the years have had to deal with in their own ways, whether it has been domestically or socially. Some choose obedience, some choose to rebel, but it is also safe to say that in recent decades many girls have taken the negative influences of Machismo and used that to help themselves grow as strong women.

“I believe…it’s made me stronger, it’s made me want to excel, and show myself it is possible for women to be independent and successful,” asserts Linda.

Above all else, perhaps what we can be sure of is that girls and women will continue to set goals and continue to strive. Machismo influences may have evolved and become less impactful to a great many American Latinas, but is still a factor in certain domestic environments and even in the media. However, what we can also see is that so many girls and women have changed their ideas about their own roles in the world too. “[Since I began college], I’ve started to think I can do anything, “declares Polet. “I have my own voice.”

Frida by Design

Latina designer Adriana Pavon has worked in the fashion industry for years, and was responsible for overseeing the design and manufacturing processes of many popular clothing brands. However, two years ago, Pavon realized that the industry she was working for was doing more harm than good. Many mass production clothing factories that are located in third world countries have been known to provide unsafe work spaces for employees and pollute the air and water in the surrounding regions. Pavon decided she did not want to contribute to this industry anymore, and she went on to create a fashion line that supports fair trade between countries.

“My goal was to create contemporary collections in collaboration with indigenous people of my native Mexico,” states Pavon. She realized that there is a more fulfilling approach to the way we look at fashion and clothing production, as an art and a representation of culture. Pavon has also found that European and American mainstream fashion industries have been know to mimic the styles of many indigenous groups from around the world, including those in Mexico, and create inauthentic designs based on the originals. These are the reasons why Pavon decided to name her new collection Mexico: Cultura y Orgullo, or in English, Mexico: Culture and Pride. She has been working with the indigenous people of Oaxaca, Mexico, who artfully hand-make all of the collection’s products.

“Frida on White Bench,” photograph by Nickolas Muray, 1939. Submitted image“I was inspired by Frida Kahlo…her colorful wardrobe, the designs, the richness within her personality and within her life,” says Pavon. She did research on Frida Kahlo’s wardrobe and the way her clothes were made so that she and her team could come up with designs that represented Frida’s style. Pavon and her team at Mexico: Cultura y Orgullo also decided to launch a collaborative exhibit called “Through Frida’s Eyes.”  Pavon explains that the exhibit will travel around the U.S. and that the experience will be like visitors are virtually traveling through Oaxaca, getting a close-up look at what life is like in this community. Money to pay for the exhibit’s tour is currently being fundraised through an organization called Kickstarter. Pavon is hoping that people will be inspired by the finely crafted works of the indigenous people of Oaxaca and motivated by the use of ethical labor and production (rephrase?) so that they will want to contribute.

It must not have been easy for Adriana Pavon to leave the industry she had been dedicated to for 20 years, but she took the chance anyway is clearly glad that she did. “I wanted to make a positive impact on people’s lives,” expresses Pavon. Looking at the way Mexico: Cultura y Orgullo is making efforts to preserve and respect the culture of an indigenous group as well as the environment, it seems like Pavon and her team are definitely making a positive difference in the world.

Latinas and Spoken-Word Poetry

Spoken-word poetry, also known as slam poetry, is a type of poetic expression written and performed for an audience. Because they are performed, the poets tend to focus on the rhythm, musicality, and emotional impact of their poems. This type of poetic expression has been weaved into the American arts scene since the 1980s when open-mic performances in cafes became popular in big cities across the nation. Since then, spoken-word poetry has grown in popularity, giving rise to annual competitions such as the National Poetry Slam and the Women of the World Poetry Slam. These competitions attract hundreds of people from all different backgrounds and who have very different experiences and outlooks on life. What brings these poets share in common is that they each have a story to tell and a voice to be heard.

Spoken-word poetry is known for being appealing to people of  different cultures, age groups, and educational backgrounds because it does not necessarily have a scripted style. A slam poem is what the writer wants it to be. With this in mind, we can then turn to the question, What role might spoken-word poetry play in the life of a Latina girl?

“I think spoken-word poetry attracts each Latina’s generation differently. For example, my mother was the first to come to this country with only an elementary educational background…for her the art may be beautiful, but sometimes she’ll question the boldness of the topic I choose to speak on,” says 19-year-old poet Selena Martinez who has been writing since she was 13.

Like many young spoken-word poets, Selena turns to poetry to express her feelings and thoughts about certain experiences in her life that have brought her grief, happiness, and even questions that seem unanswerable. Selena suggests that the generational differences within a Latino family are also something she has found worth speaking about because these differences can sometimes be marked as obstacles to overcome. She says, “[In] a household such as mine…men embraced the machismo and women stuck to the cultural norms. I think spoken-word is a way to help us evolve beyond those expectations to voice stories that [need] to be heard.”

Another young Latina poet, Sofi Chavez, age 19, acknowledges that she too looks to writing in order to makes sense of her life experiences. “[It] was amazing because I could turn something negative and sad into an experience that I was proud of, and something that I did for myself,” states Sofi as she reflects on her first open-mic performance, which revolved around a poem that was initially inspired by angry feelings. However, Sofi is proud that she is able to draw from these emotions and create something beautiful that others can appreciate as well.

When it comes to creative expression and performance, there is always the question of who or what can be identified as the inspiration. Both Selena and Sofi make it known that relatives of theirs originally inspired them to write and perform, for Selena it was her cousin and for Sofi, her sister. However, the situation varies for each young Latina writer. For instance, a great many young writers who have taken on spoken-word poetry have noted that they found out about this style of poetry mostly from peers and/or YouTube. It has come to the point where hundreds of videos of world-famous slam poem performances have been posted on YouTube and can be watched by virtually anyone. One Latina spoken-word poet whose YouTube videos have likely served as inspiration for countless Latina writers is Denice Frohman. Frohman began performing in college in the early 2000s and is best known for winning the 2013 Women of the World Poetry Slam. A performance of Frohman’s poem “Accents” was recorded and uploaded onto YouTube, and this video alone has received over 180,000 views in the past two years. Latinas across the country have sung praises for Frohman and been inspired by the way she so boldly speaks about her culture and family.

Selena Martinez adds on a young adult’s perspective, commenting on the personal growth that one may experiences as a result of practicing spoken-word: “When people can challenge norms, propose unusual questions and express it with all their body, confidence begins to grow…your character transforms mentally, spiritually, and physically. There’s no way you’ll ever be the same person again.”

“Write even when you think you have nothing special to say…The only way you’ll get to the poem that you’re proud of is to practice,” advises Sofi, who acknowledges that she still has a lot to learn about writing and performing, but is not going to let that stop her from putting herself out there. It is evident that these women practice poetry not only to empower themselves but to send an empowering message to their audienceas well. Finding the strength in one’s voice is one of the main reasons why these women chose to practice spoken-word poetry and encourage others to do so.

Latinas in Comedy

MusicEverybody, regardless of their age or background, wants to laugh and be entertained. After having faced a stressful day, plenty of us would revel in the thought of having our mood lightened by turning to our favorite comedy shows for a laugh. It is safe to say that with mediums like television, YouTube, and Netflix, comedy has never been more accessible in this country. However, by whom the comedy is being performed is what we as viewers and audience members should be taking into consideration at present.

It can also be safe to say that diverse identities are definitely represented in the world of comedy, particularly in stand-up comedy, for example, but to what extent? In many ways, comedy in the United States is still an industry that is dominated by men. So what does that mean for female comedians, more specifically, Latinas? Well, there are certainly Latina comedians who have risen to fame, overcoming the obstacles that the industry has placed before them, such as Anjelah Johnson and Cristela Alonzo, both of whom have had successful stand-up careers. In their performances, Johnson and Alonzo have been known to discuss their experiences growing up in Mexican American households. In fact, Alonzo even had her own show, Cristela.

Although there are those in the industry who are striving to connect to audiences of diverse backgrounds, there are still well-known comedians who would argue against this practice.

“Without diversity in comedy…we limit ourselves to listening to the same kinds of experiences and points of view, which limits our ability to progress,” states 21-year-old Emily Crispell. Emily suggests that comedy intersecting with identities that relate to gender, ethnicity, culture, class, and so on, help create performances that are more accessible to modern Americans.

One particular Latina comedian whose work reflects Emily’s perspective is Sandra Valls, who has been doing stand-up since the mid-2000s. In her stand-up routines, Valls is known for discussing how her identities as a lesbian and as a Mexican American intersect. “One of my goals is to represent the LGBT community and Latinos and women, and to make a difference, not just be funny,” states Valls in a 2007 interview.

Both Sandra Valls as a professional comedian and Emily Crispell as a viewer can agree that relatability is essential when it comes to finding the humor in another’s jokes and stories, especially since the reason why one may become a fan of a particular comedian usually goes beyond a single joke. For example, Emily comments that she is a big fan of Aubrey Plaza’s role as April Ludgate in NBC’s Parks and Recreation. “A lot of people don’t seem to know that she is Latina because she is fair skinned but she is half Puerto Rican. Recently, she “came out” as Latina in an interview…she talked about not feeling Latina enough… I really connected to Aubrey Plaza’s struggle…” Emily is half Dominican and understands what it is like to be ethnically misidentified.

It may be that in terms of diversity, the American comedy industry is nowhere near perfect, especially when it comes to the influence of Latinos and Latinas. However, it is clear that through the work of comedians like Anjelah Johnson, Cristela Alonzo, Sandra Valls, and Aubrey Plaza, progress is being made. As representatives of the Latino community, they are able to draw attention to the big issues like immigration and discrimination, and even daily concerns relating to food and language differences.

Review: Spare Parts

 213957Spare Parts, directed by Sean McNamara, is a film that was released in theaters in January 2015 and is now available for purchase. The movie stars Jamie Lee Curtis, Alexa Vega, Carlos Pena, and George Lopez, who is also a producer.

Spare Parts is based on a true story about a group of Latino high school boys who join an engineering club. These boys, with the support and guidance from their teacher Fredi Cameron (George Lopez), strive to build a robot that they hope to enter into a robotics competition in which they would face-off with championing schools such as MIT and Stanford. Winning this competition means beating the odds, though, because these students have practically no funding and a limited amount of resources in order to get the job done.

Although science and robotics is one of the reasons why this rag-tag team formed, it is not the only theme within the movie. This film covers the heart-warming bases like family and friendship as well. However, this film does not shy away from the hard-hitting issues that can be relevant in the lives of hard-working Latin American families in the Southwest United States. Carlos Pena’s character, Oscar Vasquez, hopes to join the U.S. Army, but his plans come to a halt when he learns that he cannot do so as an undocumented immigrant. Undocumented immigration, financial struggles, and tough life choices are the foundation for a film like this, a film about how dedication and ambition can take you places you wouldn’t have thought possible.

Spare Parts is definitely a film worth checking out! It is well paced, running just under 2 hours. The plotline is easy to follow but not without its shocks and surprises throughout that will make you want to lean just a little bit closer to the screen, wondering…who is at the door, who is on the phone, who will win the grand prize?