Hispanic representation: We can do better


Apart from holidays to Spain as a child and building houses in Mexico before I’d thought critically about voluntourism, I don’t have a connection to Spain or Latin America. But from the moment I started learning Spanish at school, I loved it. I didn’t end up studying Spanish at university, for various reasons, and part of me regrets that: I miss speaking it, hearing it and being able to read a book in Spanish.

Recently I’ve found several shows which have reminded me of my love for Spanish. Not only that, but when it comes to the media, representation matters and Latinx representation on American TV seems to be a new phenomenon.

Firstly, Jane the Virgin provides insights into Latin American culture as, by nature, it’s a telenovela. Now in its fourth season, I don’t want to give much away about the plot: if you decide to watch it, try to avoid spoilers. Telenovelas are the Hispanic equivalent of soap operas, but way more dramatic than British soaps. This is definitely the case with Jane because every episode seems to end on a cliffhanger. It’s not just a telenovela though: the narrator of the show constantly reminds the viewer of that: Jane can be seen as a parody of the telenovela genre, or at least the most self-aware show around. Another feature of the show is magical realism, the great Hispanic literary genre which produced the book we read for A Level. The eponymous Jane sees posters winking and her fantasies or inner thoughts manifest in front of her.

As well as showcasing these two elements of Latin culture, Jane the Virgin is bilingual, with Jane’s abuela, or grandma, a first-generation Venezuelan immigrant to Florida, barely speaks English on screen. I’m surprised to find I rarely need to read the subtitles to understand what Alba is saying. Perhaps they write her dialogue to be simple enough that people like me who have a bit of Spanish can understand, but it makes me so happy to understand her.

Sharing some of its cast with Jane is Netflix’s One Day at a Time. This sitcom follows a Cuban family, complete with abuela played by Rita Moreno (who is fabulous), as they navigate the stresses and strains of life in America, getting through one day at a time. Aside from being hilarious and wholesome, what makes the show is its ability to tackle serious issues. In two seasons, they’ve looked at issues of gender and sexuality, immigration, racism, guns, and class. You wouldn’t think this would be possible in a sitcom, but it really works. It doesn’t show this family of immigrants to be perfect, model citizens, nor does it perpetuate negative stereotypes: they’re simply normal people living their lives.

When it comes to representation, TV still has a long way to go. We rarely see Hispanic characters living their lives in stories which aren’t about them being Hispanic. An exception to this is Brooklyn Nine-Nine, as Santiago and Diaz are normal features of the precinct. The characters don’t have to be Hispanic, but the fact that they’re not white means the cast is more representative of the population of America. More programmes like these, which show Latinx people living normal lives, but also address struggles they face, are a breath of fresh air and are sorely needed.

Photograph: Allaysafelisilda via Flickr

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