With the amount of media that is shown on TV, it really is incredible the very little coverage they get on and about Latinx culture. From the 1950s through the early 1990s, while the Latino population was growing, Latino characters made up about one to two percent of prime time roles. There were slight improvements throughout the 1990s. By 2013, Latinos accounted for 17 percent of the population, but there were no lead Latino characters on the top time television series of that year. Our numbers grow, but the media isn't reflecting it. Here is a list of shows that have contributed to the advocacy of latinx media.
In the early years of television, TV Westerns took off in terms of including Latina/o characters. Unfortunately, these shows enforced the stereotype that Mexican cowboys are criminals, speak with broken English, have disrespectful values, and have low intelligence. These characters often "appeared as the villains, sidekicks, or servants", as Mary Beltran states in her piece "Latina/os on TV!". I Love Lucy (1951-1957) was an important exception to this trend. Ricky Ricardo, played by Desi Arnaz, was the husband of Lucy Ricardo. While Arnaz was born in Cuba, his fair skin, marriage to Lucille, and his proclaimed love for the United States contributed to winning over the hearts of Americans everywhere. It was demanded that he did use an exaggerated accent, but he was portrayed as a successful musician and businessman with strong and protective characteristics. These choices made in this sitcom helped pave the way for the Latino stereotype to be
In the 1970s, there was an important shift towards a more liberal perspective of Latinx communities. Because this was the peak of Chicano and Puerto Rican activism, supporters fought for visibility and a more positive lens in terms of television. NBC started to branch out by releasing Chico and the Man (1974-1977) which starred Freddie Prinze and Jack
Albertson. This show proved to be a success despite the all-white writing crew. Unfortunately, this dynamic enforced microaggressions towards the treatment of Chico. Prinze also didn't receive any credit for the standup comedy that he provided to the show. There was an increasing gap between people of darker pigment and people of lighter skin color. In Popi (1976), better treatment is served towards people of lighter skin tone which drives the character to try and pass his son off as Cuban.
In today's media, Jane the Virgin is an amazing show that represents a beautiful, 3-dimensional set of Laninx characters with a great storyline and heartwarming relationships. This show encompasses the idea of a Spanish telenovela while bringing modern ideas and environments to today's culture. The main character Jane (played by Gina Rodrigez), is accidentally inseminated with someone else's child. While in a very loving and caring relationship, we follow Jane's struggle with sexuality, religion, relationships, ad family. Often in media, Latina women are portrayed as hypersexual, underclass, and unemployed. Our lady Jane is a full-time employee at a hotel (not a maid!!) and is also, still a virgin. She wears modest clothing throughout the series. This show shows the effects of abstinence-only sexual education surrounding religion in Latino culture. It's also really cool to see the marriage between the Spanish language and everyday life in this show. They don't use Spanish in a way to win over anybody or tokenize the idea of Latin culture. It is so much more complex and dynamic than the superficial idea of it. The characterization of Jane really tops the cake though. Rodrigez portrays her as a fun-loving and complicated girl going through these hardships in her life. Never once in the series is she forced to be defined by her ethnicity, gender, or sexuality. Please watch this show.
One of my favorite movies growing up was Spy Kids. This movie changed my life. Seeing a family on the big screen that held the same cultural values and ideas that my own family did really showed me the value of representation in this form of media. This movie is a classic. It follows the story of a Latin family whose two children have to save the day with top-secret espionage. Recently, the director of this film, Robert Rodriguez, participated in a panel in which he stated that he had to "push really hard for the family to be Latino.
When asked why they can't just be American, he responded with "They're Americans. They're based on my family." This movie has a great moral ending; family sticks together over everything. I think this encapsulates a really prominent idea in Latin culture but also in Latin American and Chicano culture. This was a groundbreaking movie because in 1999 when the movie was first released, there had been no other big movies to include this representation. It opened a lot of the audience's eyes to the possibility of what could this bring to the movie industry.
While there is still a long way for television to have a representative ratio of Latnix communities, we must also acknowledge that we have come a long way since the beginning. These TV show characters helped pave the way for marginalized groups everywhere to focus on representation being seen in the media. Step by step we are reaching a more rounded and equal environment in the television industry.