Psych, What We Do in The Shadows & More: Thoughts on Latino Identity
I have been a big fan of the push for diversity lately. As Latina and growing up outside the US, I never realized how little Latino representation there actually is given that I was constantly surrounded by channels and artists who looked like me. Once I grew up and moved here, it became painfully clear that people like me just didn't matter when it came to television. When I grew up, there were only two Disney princesses I really liked because their skin looked more like mine than the others did (Jasmine and Pocahontas)- but their stories had nothing to do with my parents' or mine.
More often than not, I tend to cringe and shy away from any type of show that promises me a "new take on a Latina female lead." I am beyond pissed at seeing Latina women as "typical maid" or "femme fatale" who is ready to steal husbands, so giving me a "softer" version with modern take thrown in here and there to look "woke" isn't much change. I saw a perfect example with Gloria (Sofia Vergara) from Modern Family. While the first seven seasons did have some over-the-top cliches sprinkled throughout, as broad, ensemble sitcoms go I thought it did a solid job of bringing a better understanding of different cultures and the importance of understanding. Gloria went from stereotype to strong, independent mother who can stand on her own- only to then become a different kind of cliche after it felt like the writers didn't know what to do with her except play-up questionable aspects of being a successful woman.
Lately, we have seen people rediscovering their heritage and roots with their Latino community. Psych star James Roday Rodriguez recently spoke out on reclaiming his last name after two decades of deciding to go by "Roday" instead of "Rodriguez" since he was told multiple times that he did not "look Latino enough" to go by "Rodriguez." During an interview with TVLine, Rodriguez explained, "The point is: Now is the time to dig in and seize the opportunity, collectively, to just be better. I want to be the best, most honest ally and amplifier that I can be for my own community and for my friends of color. I don't think any of us could do that if we're not even putting the truest versions of ourselves out there." The actor continued, "I have never felt so activated in my life. Nor have I ever been this aware of what is going on around me and inside of me. I do feel that we are living through an incredibly pivotal moment right now. I pray it can sustain itself."
That last part is what I feel is key and sums up how being represented makes you feel: energized, a stronger sense of self-awareness, and that you actually matter. Recently, Harvey Guillen (Guillermo, What We Do in the Shadows) was the subject of an interview with Remezcla that really got me to love, understand, and appreciate him even more. One anecdote that stood out from the conversation was the story he told of getting to set for the last episode where Guillermo is back home with his mom after leaving Nandor. He decided to go buy the ingredients after seeing they had the wrong buñuelos on set as they were not the Mexican buñuelos. I am not Mexican, but I find that little detail so endearing and incredibly important in making sure all aspects of the Latino community are represented accurately and properly. It is the little details that matter after all. While it may not seem like a "big deal" to you, I will refer back to Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michael's answer as to why Gilda Radner needed to wear such an expensive sweater during a sketch when the viewers can't tell the difference: she'll know, and that makes all the difference.
I will always remember the feeling when I first saw The Book of Life. While not Mexican, it was the first time seeing that part of Latino culture and its stories that I grew up with celebrated in such a grand manner- and in my favorite format, cartoons. Disney followed that up with Coco, which at first I refused to see after ignorantly claiming it was "just a copy of The Book of Life." Wow, I was wrong. I still get chills and my eyes are tearing up even as I write this, because there is no way to ever fully describe how seeing Coco makes me feel: songs I grew up with and a story so beautifully-rendered for the rest of the world to understand and appreciate. It is such a beautiful feeling that begins to make amends for decades of being made to feel like a second-class citizen. My culture's time has come to finally be seen and heard as the "leads" we are.
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