Esquire Magazine Cover for April 2012

Esquire Magazine Cover for April 2012

Opinion: Stop the sexy Latina stereotype

CHICAGO — Data can do wonders. It can free you from feeling weird about having a counterintuitive opinion. You learn that you’re not alone and you don’t feel so reluctant to admit something you’d previously figured wasn’t even worth mentioning.

A recent New York Times article chronicling the angst television networks are feeling as they attempt to appeal to Hispanics noted that “Modern Family” is not a hit with them. “Out of its overall viewership of 12.9 million, ‘Modern Family’ drew an average of only about 798,000 Hispanic viewers in the season,” the article said. “That audience accounts for only about 6 percent of the show’s viewers — less than half of what you might expect given the 48 million Hispanic television viewers that Nielsen measures.”

So knowing that, here’s my secret pet peeve: Sofia Vergara. I don’t care if she’s the highest-paid actress on TV or that we share South American roots — she’s Colombian — or that she’s a star on “Modern Family,” one of the most highly lauded, award-winning shows on television. I just can’t stand her public persona.

I don’t begrudge her for being super-gorgeous — probably the most typical reason for females to dislike her — I just hate that she so expertly works the dreaded, overdone “sexy, ditzy, bombshell Latina” stereotype that many Hispanic women have worked their whole lives to overcome.

Her appearance on the cover of Esquire magazine’s April issue, in frilly lingerie, with the word “SEX” superimposed on her midsection, pretty much encapsulated the damage she adds to an overly sexualized pop-culture image of Latinos in general, and Hispanic women in particular.

But hey, it’s not just me — I’ve seen some very poignant columns written by men also bemoaning Vergara’s message to young Hispanic girls that Latina sexuality is a commodity to be leveraged for fame and fortune.

To me, the list of Vergara’s sins against the Hispanic community seems never-ending. From her super-racy line of Kmart women’s clothing (hello, Latina teen pregnancy crisis!) to letting a cosmetics company make fun of her accent in an advertising campaign at a national moment of high anti-immigrant sentiment, to … OK, I’ll stop. My real point is that I am not alone in this hesitation about how Latinos are often portrayed in entertainment.

But though I learned something new about “Modern Family,” Latinos’ general entertainment habits shouldn’t be any kind of surprise. It drives me crazy that very few people understand that Hispanics have varied tastes just like any other group of viewers.

For instance, we’re actually sort of torn on Vergara — an unscientific poll on Huffington Post Latino Voices took my vote for “she’s starting to get annoying” and still calculated that most respondents (41 percent) said they did not think Vergara was taking the Latino stereotypes “too far.” So what do I know?

I do know that there is no mystery or magic involved in the task of English-language entertainment companies appealing to 50 million U.S. Latinos who overwhelmingly consider themselves bicultural. Two-thirds either speak only English at home or speak English very well.

It’s super simple: good stories, respectful portrayals and widespread integration.

First, good storytelling is universal. Narratives that weave humanity into complex relationships, paint the details of place, time and circumstance in an honest way and move us through comedy or drama will win people’s attention every time. That’s just entertainment 101.

Second, respectful portrayals are key. I wouldn’t mind Vergara, or Eva Longoria, so much if the characters those actresses inhabited weren’t always shallow sexpots. Give these women roles as astronauts, lawyers, investment bankers or captains of industry.

More generally, give the maids, bad boys and victimized immigrants a rest. Yes, those are real-life characters, but there’s no reason why art can’t imitate a diversity of life and show new — and also very real — Hispanic archetypes more often.

How about casting Latinos as up-and-coming-politicians, overachieving college students, folksy-vegan-all-organic environmental activists, or the overscheduled suburban soccer mom-slash-superstar mommy blogger?

Finally, don’t dump all of these characters in one show or movie. Latinos are huge consumers of mainstream TV shows, Web series and movies. We don’t require a Latino “hook” to be interested, just great entertainment and make-believe settings that adequately and respectfully reflect America’s multiracial, multiethnic and multicultural population.

How hard can that possibly be?

Opinion: Stop the sexy Latina stereotype  esthercapeda2 news NBC Latino News

Esther Cepeda is syndicated columnist and an NBC Latino Contributor.

You can reach her at estherjcepeda@washpost.com. 

(c) 2012, Washington Post Writers Group

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