Understanding What Makes Up Our Identities
Growing up I couldn’t help but notice the lack of Latinx representation in media, specifically T.V. shows. Now don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of side characters that embodied common stereotypes and misconceptions. But there were no honest depictions of our culture that progressed or even directly impacted the plot.
How was it that I sat through That 70’s Show never realizing that the only traits that made up the only Latinx character were racist and had no real growth or development? He was there to be funny, not interesting. We never know his name, where he was from, or anything about his family. Nor did we ever see an ounce of his culture. Not to mention that the nickname was inherently racist (Foreign Exchange [Z]tudent).
The actor was Latinx (Venezuelan and Colombian) and his accent was an exaggeration of the actor’s natural cadence, but we are never given any real information because his character relies on the fact that he’s ambiguously brown. It wasn’t that the show didn’t try, it was that the show-runners thought it didn’t need true diversity. A brown man was enough to include everyone, and it was better that he didn’t have a specific background.
It’s frustrating and damaging, but not all T.V. has accepted flat brown characters in their scripts. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is arguably one of the the best examples of equal representation. Both Rosa Diaz and Amy Santiago are main cast members with developed backgrounds and dynanic personalities. They are both played by women of color (an Argentinean-American and Cuban-American, respectively), and the writers do not rely on their Latinx background to define their characters’ motivations and humor. I had an intrinsic connection to Amy ‘s ambition and dedication and that was the reason I should have felt connected to her.
Noticing this is such an important thing, it defines a large part of societal interpretation of PoC in average communities. That’s not to say that shows with static POC characters are all disappointing, but it should be pointed out that they can be better. Finding bad examples is not a difficult task, especially concerning Asian and Black representation. But there are good examples out there and fighting for better writing in the entertainment industry is everyone’s job.