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Heidi Denzel de Tirado

Media Monitoring and Ethnicity: Representing Latino Families on American Television (2000-2013)

Monitoreo de medios y etnicidad: la representación de familias latinas en la televisión norteamericana (2000-2013)
[16/12/2013]

Résumés

The discrepancy between demographic and represented realities of ethnic minorities on TV has been noted in several effect and content studies over the last decades. This article offers insights into recent American media monitoring, revealing that the representation of Latino lead characters on prime time television in the 21st century has increased and changed. Drawing on the method of imagology, it analyses Latino-themed shows as discursive constructs and focuses on depictions of positive Latino characters and their families.

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  • 1 The term ‘Chicano’ – originally referring only to Mexicans who grew up in the United States – is ve (...)

1“There are Chicanos in real life/ Doctors, lawyers, husbands, wives/ But all they show us on TV/ Are illegal aliens as they flee”, sang Lalo Guerrero in his song “No Chicanos on TV” in 19841. This observation was shared by numerous psychologists, activists and media specialists at the end of the 20th century. For instance, the study Latinwood and TV (2000) found that most of the Latino protagonists on screen held lower occupations – predominantly nannies, gardeners and servants – and were either villains or secondary characters who were irrelevant for the development of the plot. They concluded that Latino characters were severely underrepresented and often portrayed superficially and negatively. During the 21st century, the social reality of Latinos portrayed in visual media has changed. Even if screen reality does not yet fully meet the demographic reality, several Latino-themed shows have entered the market and now offer various positive Latino lead and secondary characters on the American screen.

  • 2 Beller, Manfred, and Joseph Leerssen, Imagology. The cultural construction and literary representat (...)

2This article gives an insight into research results of recent media monitoring and gives an overview of the most popular Latino-themed shows of the 21st century. In the line of an imagological approach, the Latino characters and plots are analyzed as articulated discursive constructs that can be interpreted as “constitutive of national identification patterns” in order to detect tropes and commonplaces, obtained by narrative repetition and mutual character resemblances2. The study investigates if the image of unstable family units, which dominated the visual discourse of the 20th century, is still prevalent and therefore puts an emphasis on the portrayal of Latino family life and their socio-demographic environment.

Cultivation Theory, Media Monitoring, and the Under- and Misrepresentation of Latinos on TV

  • 3 See: Hall, Stewart, Representation. Cultural representations and signifying practices, London, SAGE (...)
  • 4 See: Navarrete, Lisa and Charles Kamasaki, Out of the picture. Hispanics in the media. State of His (...)
  • 5 The reports of the last eight years can be downloaded from the website of the National Hispanic Med (...)
  • 6 See: Motel, Seth and Eileen Patten, Statistical Portrait of the Foreign-born Population in the Unit (...)

3During the 1980s and 1990s, scientists like Stuart Hall and George Gerbner described the role of television as a “cultural instrument” that imagines, establishes and negotiates identities. According to this perspective, television plays an important role in constructing its viewers’ cognition of social realities and is also able to influence and to “cultivate” the perception of ethnic minorities3. Over the past decades, both quantitative and qualitative research methods have evolved in the field of psychology and media studies and can be classified into three main approaches: empirical cultivation analyses, institutional analyses, and message system analyses. Empirical cultivation analyses concentrate on the socio-cognitive effects of the ongoing under- and misrepresentation of ethnic minorities and determine the impact of television contents on the viewers’ perception of social reality. Their research results have demonstrated that the misrepresentation of racial reality does not only leave children from ethnic minorities without a positive self-image and therefore without constructive role models of their own ethnic group, it also creates a false impression of their culture, which is harmful to their public image and directly contributes to their actual discrimination4. By contrast, institutional analyses of the media investigate how television messages are produced and distributed. Since the Memoranda of Understanding between the four top television broadcast networks of the United States (ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX) and the Multi-Ethnic Media Coalition were signed in 1999, the National Latino Media Council has monitored the involvement of Latino actors, writers, directors, and producers in the networks and has since then produced its yearly “Diversity Report Cards”. Their results go along with other studies that continue to emphasize the underrepresentation of Latino participation in the media, demanding a higher presence of ethnic minorities5. Lastly, message system analyses or content analyses examine samples of television programs on prime time and consist of “headcounts” and the systematic classification of the Latino characters into socio-demographic and narrative categories. Regardless of the methodology employed by these studies, their findings coincide: the representation of Latinos in the media has improved, and recent research could count several Latino-characters in mixed-themed and Latino-themed shows. Nonetheless, they all came to the same conclusion as Signorielli’s study “Minorities Representation in Prime Time: 2000 to 2008”: Latinos are still under-represented, as their average presence of 5% is still far from being representative for the 16.7 Latino percentage of the American population. Besides, the study also concluded that prime time programming broadcast has become “less diverse at the end of the first decade of the 21st century than it was earlier in the decade”6.

“Todo para la familia”: The Core Value of Familismo and the Symbolism of Latino Families on American Television

  • 7 For a more detailed definition of familismo, its interrelated concepts and references to other stud (...)
  • 8 E.g., according to the study Latinwood and TV, only 3 characters were married and only two characte (...)
  • 9 Ramírez Berg, Charles, Latino images in film. Stereotypes, subversion, and resistance, Austin, Univ (...)

4In contrast to the message system analyses described above, this study does not focus on the quantitative evaluation of all the Latino-themed shows during the last years, but rather focuses on a small selection of TV-shows. The first main criterion for the selection of the corpus was the success and accessibility of the format, as many Latino-themed shows – like Greetings from Tucson (The WB, 2002-2003), Luis (Fox, 2003), The Ortegas (Fox, 2003) and Freddie (ABC, 2006) – were cancelled after or even during the first season, or were only accessible for an exclusive group of subscribers like in the case of Resurrection Boulevard (2000-2002) which was relatively successful but was only shown on the premium cable channel Showtime. The second criterion was the narrative function of Latino families. The focus on the depiction of family life and family values was chosen, because familismo – defined as the importance of family closeness – is one of the most emphasized cultural core values in studies about Latin America.7 Despite the relevance of this value and its corresponding socialization practices and behaviors, several media studies noted that Latino family life was rarely seen on TV8. Also, Ramírez Berg’s detailed overview of Latino types of the 20th century Latino Images in Film refers to a "false image” of “abnormal, structurally unstable family units”9.

5In what follows, I analyze a select group of TV shows to investigate if Latino families are still defined by absent parents and “abnormal family units”. To do so, I focus on the characters’ socio-demographic environment, their character traits, and their intercultural function: are the characters assimilated, “othered” or intercultural mediators between two or more different cultures? Do they have contacts with other ethnicities or do they remain isolated in their Latino community? In order to analyze stereotypical depictions it is also useful to distinguish between “auto-images” – the self-images that the Latino writers have towards their own cultural group and their values – and “hetero-images” – describing the attitude of the non-Latino writers towards the culture and image of the Hispanic “others”.

Male Focal Characters and the Importance of the Father Figure

6The 21st century started exclusively with Latino-themed shows privileging male Latino focal characters: The Brothers García (Nickelodeon, 2000-2004), American Family: Journey of Dreams (PBS, 2002-2004), The George Lopez Show (ABC, 2002-2004) and the three previously mentioned shows Resurrection Boulevard, Luis, and Freddie. All focus on middle class characters and the male protagonists are characterized through their strong American work ethic, their ambition, their high morals and their dedication to the family.

  • 10 Calvo, Dana, Dish TV service to carry Sí Network. The channel will target the U.S. Latino market w (...)

7The first Latino family that appeared on an American basic cable and satellite television network was Nickelodeon’s sitcom The Brothers García, which made history because it became the first show on American TV with an all Latino production team10. The series follows the typical plot structure of domestic sitcoms and tells the coming-of-age story of the youngest son Larry, who explicitly verbalizes the leitmotif of the show at the end of every episode with the same voice-over line: “Todo para la familia: everything for the family.” The García children are very protected and Larry is not even allowed to sell cookies in the neighborhood without the company of his elder brothers or his mother. Although Larry is the focal character, his father gets a very important role. Depicted as a very dedicated and popular professor of History at the Alamo College in San Antonio, he is always available for his family and is not only a loving father but also a supportive husband who most of the time does what his wife asks him to do. All episodes end with a grateful summary of the family-oriented accomplishments of Larry’s parents and siblings and Larry always ends up being very proud of being a García.

8The importance of the father figure is also the core of Gregory Nava’s series American Family: Journey of Dreams. Featuring several types of the Latino community, it is shown that even within one family one can find great social diversity. The kin has to deal with two absent mothers, which poses a challenge to all. Jess Gonzalez, the patriarch of the family and the main focal character of the series, is a barber, Republican, and veteran of the Vietnam War. At the beginning of the series, his beloved wife dies and leaves Jess alone with the challenges that his five adult children pose. During the series, not only do many relatives appear regularly but also deceased ancestors from the past reappear through memories, stories, dreams and fantastical ghostly apparitions. Therefore, the epic story of the Gonzalez family shows how important it is to care for members of the family as well as how essential the family tree and their ancestors are to their identity and their destiny. The series presents a very rare Latino plot: the ‘coming-of-age tale’ of the patriarch of the family, who learns to be flexible, tolerant and patient with all his very different children. The episode “The Father” is especially explicit about the responsibilities of a parent, featuring Jess’s declaration that fathers never stop being fathers, as they will never stop trying to win the love of their sons and daughters. Over the course of several episodes, Jess matures as a parent and moves from a judgmental attitude towards the failures, the ‘false’ opinions or ‘ridiculous’ passions of his children to introspective self-criticism. In other words, the macho – who had often neglected his parental duties when he was younger – learns to be a supporting, tolerant and caring single father and grandparent and is rewarded with the gratitude of his children.

9The next successful Latino-themed show focusing on family life was The George Lopez Show. The sitcom focuses on George Lopez, a blue-collar worker who just became the manager of the unit of a factory where he used to work for many years. At first sight, the Lopez family seems to be perfectly intact. Like Jess Gonzalez in American Family, George Lopez is a very dedicated father, who cares for his children and tries to be a responsible parent. Nonetheless, the themes of the hardships of a single mother, the absent father and the suffering child are also present in this family sitcom. George’s love-hate-relationship with his mother, Benny, functions as the recurring narrative tension of the sitcom and both of them constantly complain that they destroyed each other’s happiness. Whereas they always end up appreciating each other’s love and attention at the end of each episode, George’s constant inquiries about his father – a recurring subject matter, especially throughout season two – complicate the mother-son relationship severely. When George finds out that his father did not die after his birth as his mother has always told him, he tries to find him by any means. The sentimental quest for the absent father is parodied in many ways. In contrast to American Family no pathetic reconciliation takes place and the concepts of familismo are constantly sentimentalized and then systematically satirized and deconstructed like in the episode “Mementos” in which George wants to donate a kidney to his father. After several moments of pathetic altruism and familismo, George gets very emotional when he is informed about his father’s death and that his dad wanted him to have the golden watch that he had inherited from George’s grandfather. However, George furiously destroys this token of paternal legacy, when he reads his father’s last wish asking him not to attend his funeral because he wants to hide his illegitimate son from the family. The episode ends with George’s bizarre efforts to repair the watch that turned out to be extremely valuable.

10After several shows focusing on Latino father figures and their development from the Latino “macho” to the Latino “mandilón” – literally “the man who is wearing an apron”, meaning a man who takes over feminine chores and responsibilities – we had to wait until 2013 in order to see Latina mothers as lead characters in Devious Maids (Lifetime, 2013-present). However, in the interim one finds a new trend that challenged previous conventional American Latino-themed narratives and images: the focus on Latina girls that are portrayed as embodying self-empowerment and agency. In contrast to the just described tendency to bring male characters back home to their families, the female protagonists in shows like Dora the Explorer (Nickelodeon, 2000-present), Ugly Betty (ABC, 2006-2010) and Wizards of Waverly Place (Disney Channel, 2007-2012) are characterized by their independence and their desire to get out into the world in order to seize their opportunities. While Dora is not restricted by anyone and anything and is able to cross temporal, spatial, cultural, linguistic and social borders, wizard teenager Alex in Wizards of Waverly Place has to rebel against several constraints that she is experiencing mainly because of her gender and her young age. The most realistic character, Betty, manages to overcome limiting structures of ethnic, social and sexist discrimination.

Female Focal Characters and the Importance of Agency and Independence

  • 11 This theme is even more dominant in the spin-off show Diego (Nickelodeon, 2004-present) that focuse (...)

11Already in 2000, the educative animated television series for children Dora the Explorer – centering on a bilingual Latina girl and her little monkey – went into syndication on the children's television network Nickelodeon. Dora is a smart and good-hearted five-year old girl who teaches American viewers Spanish words. In Dora the Explorer the family does not play a central role in the narrative, but the little cartoon girl definitely can count on the constant support of her kin – and especially on her cousin Diego who appears in several episodes in order to help her – even if she travels around the world all by herself. Her awareness of the core value of familismo is very characteristic for the plot as Dora most of the time puts herself into danger in order to reunite some creatures – be it little animals, elves, stars, etc. – with their parents11.

12This value is also characteristic for Betty Suárez, the main protagonist in Ugly Betty, which was the most successful of the Latino-themed shows, perhaps because it is – as the title reveals – more about the ‘minority’ of ‘ugly people’ than about the largest ethnic minority in the US. Besides, the show does not focus exclusively on a Latino family, but rather on diversity in general, featuring discrimination against gay, ‘old’, ‘ugly’, ‘fat’, and Latino people. But it is a very interesting detail that the Latino writer, producer and director Silvio Horta chose to give Betty a migration background: in contrast to the many other international format adaptations of the successful Colombian telenovela Yo soy Betty, la fea (RCN, 1999-2001), he made sure that his format adaptation for the American market emphasized the importance of Betty’s Mexican background and her family. By repeatedly featuring Betty in the role of the mediator between various antagonistic parties in the families of her employer and her colleagues, the series several times exploits the strong Mexican family ties of the Suárez family and presents familismo as a positive foil to White and Black inexistent family support. Furthermore, Betty’s altruistic and collectivistic character is constantly contrasted with the egocentric and individualistic behavior of her White peers, especially with the egoism of the receptionist Amanda and their fellow assistant Marc. Betty is hardworking, has high moral standards and is also very intelligent. Very often Betty is torn between the competitive American work ethic and the Latino familismo but she always manages to make the right decisions.

13The Italian-Mexican-American Russo family in the supernatural fantasy teen sitcom Wizards of Waverly Place became the first Latino-themed family of the 21st century on TV featuring an interethnic marriage. But it came with an interesting twist as the Mexican-American mother had to deal with a very special educational issue of her three children who had not only a mixed ethnic background but were also of “wizard descent”. Father Jerry, who lost his magical powers and became a mortal when he got married, prepares his children to get by without witchcraft, because only one of the siblings can become the family wizard while the others will eventually lose their magical power and become mortals. Therefore, the first Mexican-American marriage of the 21st century on TV was located in a “safe” surreal and magical realm, comparable to the successful film series Spy Kids (2001-2011) which casted Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino as a bi-ethnic spy agent couple. Apart from its magic premises, Wizards of Waverly Place is a typical domestic sitcom and features the genre’s typical focus on teaching family values. The series’ focal character is the attractive teenage girl Alex who is very egocentric and lazy, but also streetwise and always capable of outsmarting her brothers and her parents in order to get what she wants. Even if familismo is at the core of every episode, Alex seems to have understood the depth of the concept only during the finale of the wizard competition, when the two older Russo children both become wizards because they put their family before their personal success.

14The first successful Latino-themed show in the 21st century that did not focus on family life was the comedy drama series Devious Maids that introduced five Latina lead characters to the screen. In this show, the old stereotype of “no husbands and wives”, mentioned famously in Guerrero’s song “No Chicanos on TV”, reappeared, as the show casted five single maids. Following several American formats like Friends, Desperate Housewives and Sex in the City that prefer friendship to family, familismo is still important as Marisol left her job in order to prove the innocence of her son, Zoila is careful to watch her daughter, and Rosario is doing everything to get reunited with her son.

15Despite the reappearance of the unstable Latino family unit and the stereotypical maid profession in Devious Maids, we could see several stable Latino families and most of the lead-characters belonged to the middle class. Apart from the maids, the owners of a fast food restaurant, two hair-stylists and a barber, the depicted professions of the Latino main and secondary characters belonged mainly to the white-collar work sector as they featured two college professors with PhDs, a lawyer, a doctor, a factory manager and one assistant to the editor of a fashion magazine.

Linguistic und Cultural “Otherness”, Assimilation, Integration and Achievement

  • 12 Jhally, Sut and Justin Lewis, Enlightened racism: The Cosby Show, audiences and the myth of the Ame (...)

16The Cosby Show’s immense success is often explained due to the fact that it portrayed “comedic black characters with dignity and humanity”, to whom black and white audiences could easily relate. Many critics complained that the Cosbys represented “a misleading cozy picture, a sugar candy world unfettered by racism, crime, and economic deprivation”, being “just like white people” and sustaining “the harmful myth of social mobility” because they seemed “to have glided effortlessly into the upper echelons of American middle class society”12.

17This was not at all the case in the Latino-themed shows. True, all the Latino families were able to live the “American Dream” and showed that the movement from ‘rags to riches’ is still possible, but we could see that they had to accomplish it through hard work. The Garcías constantly discuss money issues. In American Family, Jess is only able to renovate the house, because his children help him with the costs. George Lopez is constantly struggling to satisfy the demands of his wife who comes from a richer family. And, the Suárez family in Ugly Betty can barely make ends meet. Even the Russos, who could easily use magic to improve their lives, have to help in the restaurant because father Jerry insists on teaching his children the value of hard work and modesty.

18Even if the Latino-themed shows introduce economic disadvantages and political issues – like illegal immigration in George Lopez, Latino criminality in American Family, or discrimination and affirmative action in Ugly Betty – they mostly remain in Cosby’s “sugar candy world”, probably because most of the formats belong to the genre of the sitcom. In general, it is noticeable that most of the shows emphasize that the Latino families are fully American, assimilated and well integrated. In The Brothers García, the whole family speaks English very well but they often blend Spanish words and expressions – like “mi amor” or “gracias” in their conversations. However, already in episode 4 titled “No hablo español”, it becomes clear that the Garcías are not really bilingual. When Carlos, Larry’s older brother, fails his Spanish exam, Larry’s father is very upset and wants to ground him for a whole month, when he reads his “Spanish-challenged” son’s conjugation of the word hablar: “I speako, you speako, they speako.” First, he wants to send him to “uncle Rudy and the chickens” to Chihuahua, but then he decides that Carlos has to practice his Spanish with his sister who is daily watching telenovelas. After only one afternoon of watching “Amor y Lechuga” – “Love and Salad”, an obvious parody of the genre of telenovelas – Carlos is able to retell the plot in English and is relieved from his punishment. Besides, Larry’s father confesses that he actually never understood Spanish conjugations. It is interesting that the team of Latino writers put this very important linguistic and cultural detail already in episode 4, as if they wanted to make sure from the beginning that this Latino family has already completely assimilated and is actually fully American. Also the Gonzalez family in American Family identify themselves as American, as the title clearly implies and which is repeatedly underlined through stories that make clear that the Gonzalez children are third or even fourth generation immigrants. The patriotism of the family is especially prevalent in the episodes that focus on Jess’s and his eldest son’s military service during three wars. In the last episode, The Flowers and the Songs, the family has to bury Conrado who was killed in Iraq while serving the US Army.

19It is interesting that the first interracial marriage on television of the 21st century was a relation between a Mexican-American woman and a former wizard, therefore not “real” but “surreal”. Besides – like in The Brothers García – the Russo family in The Wizards of Waverley Place was explicitly culturally and linguistically defined as fully American in the very first episodes. Already in episode 2, it becomes obvious that Justin, the oldest son, does not speak Spanish, because he tells his Spanish teacher: “Me llamo biblioteca”: “My name is library”. In episode 3, we learn that Alex failed her Spanish midterm. Alex’s mother is very ashamed that she as “a proud Latina” has been a “horrible role model” who has not been sharing her Mexican heritage with her daughter. She decides to make her own tortillas from now on and to speak only Spanish, but Alex is a lost case. Whenever she has to translate a word, she just adds the suffix “-ito” and produces words like cup-ito, lamp-ito, etc. Like in The Brothers García, she is warned to have to spend sometime in Mexico, as grandma “does need help with the chickens…” Threatened by this Spanish immersion possibility, Alex conjures a “Spanish language pocket elf” – dressed like a mariachi – that assists her successfully to pass the exam. After this episode, the Mexican cultural heritage and the Spanish language become secondary and completely irrelevant for the development of the plot and the characters.

20In The George Lopez Show language is not often an issue and George is the only character who intersperses Spanish terms in the family conversations. However, discrimination and racism are at the core of several episodes, when the divergence between Cubans and Mexicans is elaborated, informing the American viewers that George and his wife Angie have indeed completely different backgrounds, which affects their marriage especially in their interaction with their parents-in-law. Through the lack of interaction with other ethnic groups and the representation of intercultural differences between Mexicans and Cubans, the sitcom is able to criticize discrimination, stereotypes and prejudice without offending its white audience. Like in the wizards’ realm, the Cuban-Mexican context is a safe environment to bring up racial and social discrimination.

21Ugly Betty was the only show that was Latino-themed and multiculturalism-themed. Playing at the very diverse working environment of the fashion magazine Mode, Betty had to interact with many different races and ethnicities and issues of discrimination and racism are very often explicitly treated. Like The Brothers García and The Wizards of Waverley, Ugly Betty also makes it very clear that Betty is American and not Mexican. In the episode "A Tree Grows in Guadalajara" at the end of season one, Betty travels to Mexico and it is revealed that she is actually not bilingual because she constantly falls into the linguistic traps of false cognites, e.g. when she says “yo soy muy embarazada” – “I am very pregnant” – when she actually wanted to state that she is very embarrassed.

  • 13 Bailey, Eric J., The new face of America. How the emerging multiracial, multiethnic majority is cha (...)

22The focal characters’ new Latino identity without fluency in Spanish reflects the new target group of many TV channels and film productions, the "new-generation" of Latinos, who were born in the U.S. and continue to be culturally Latino but do not define themselves by the Spanish language. Non-Latino writers and Latino writers try to reach this hybrid burgeoning group, which belongs to the nation's fastest-growing demographic groups, according to American census13.

The Complex Diversity of the Latino Audience and the Similarity of Latino Auto- and Hetero-Images

23The Latinos in the United States are an extremely diverse target group. Therefore, writers and producers of Latino-themed shows have to offer several possibilities of identification in order to pursue this bicultural market which not only consists of many different nationalities, educational backgrounds, political convictions but also of different generations. This is a sensitive issue, as any representation of cultural relations is a representation of a cultural confrontation, which implies an unavoidable degree of subjectivity, as the author's assumptions and cultural values are inevitably involved. Therefore, Latino activists, media monitors and imagologists claim that it is not only important to study the image of certain nationalities, but also the context and the attitude of the authors which imagologists differentiate between auto-images (attitudes towards one’s own culture) and hetero-images (attitudes towards the culture of the other).

  • 14 White, Kate, “2007 list of the 100 men and women whose power, talent or moral example is transformi (...)
  • 15 Anderson, Sheila, America Ferrera. Latina superstar, New Jersey, Enslow Publishers, 2009, p.36.
  • 16 See, e.g.: Calvert, S. L., Strong, B. L., Jacobs, E. L., & Conger, E. E., "Interaction and particip (...)
  • 17 See: American Family. About the series, uploaded in 2004, consulted on October 28 2013. URL: HYPERL (...)

24After the analysis of Latino-themed shows, this article comes to the conclusion that there are no clear differences between auto- and hetero-images. Two shows provided clear role models for their viewers and got a lot of recognition for their work: Dora, which was conceived by non-Latino writers, and Ugly Betty, which was created by Silvio Horta. Because of the ethnic and social character trait of being Mexican, Ugly Betty and its lead-actress, America Ferrera, left an impressive impact on the American society. The Time Magazine gave Ferrera the honor to become part of the “2007 list of the 100 men and women whose power, talent or moral example is transforming the world”14. Even American politicians took notice of her and Californian Congresswoman Hilda Solis addressed Congress to thank America Ferrera and the team of Ugly Betty for “helping to break down stereotypes and provide a role model for young Latinas“15. Psychologists and media specialists have also been in raptures about the positive effects of Dora the Explorer that appeals to children of all races who proved to be very responsive to the qualities of the symbolic role models, as Dora stimulated more learning than any other show16. Dora’s and Diego’s racialized bodies, their dark skin, their “obvious” Latinidad did not prevent their international success, as the format was translated worldwide. This might be due to the fact that Dora casted its lead character as a transnational figure and global citizen who introduces her viewers not only to several countries and cultures of Latin America but to the whole world, including even trips to otherworldly spaces like fairylands and wonderlands. Dora is the only Latino-themed show that actually tries to motivate its viewers to learn Spanish which is depicted as a magical language because it allows Dora and Diego to communicate with animals, plants, anthropomorphized objects and people from Asian and Arabic countries. Like in the non-Latino production Wizards of Waverley Place, fantasy, magic and other supernatural phenomena are essential plot elements. Also Gregory Nava introduced fantastical, metafictional, surreal and mystical plot elements in his series American Family. However in contrast to Dora and Wizards, his narrative is no fairytale but could be rather labeled with the term magic realism, which is often related to Latin America. Through the story of the Mexican ancestors (episodes 9-12), its lessons about Mexican history, and its elaborate website on Latino Identity, the PBS family saga American Family was also very pedagogical and educational. While the saga dwelt on Latino identity and culture – proudly declaring itself on its website as “the first drama series ever to air on broadcast television featuring a Latino cast”17 and trying to raise awareness for the diverse spectrum of Latinidad – it also tried to prove that the Latinos are actually fully Americans. In contrast to that approach, The George Lopez Show just seemed to endeavor to give a typical American family plot a Latino touch. The show – which was created by non-Latinos, but referred to the help of a few Latino co-writers and George Lopez for some episodes – normally introduced only very few culture-specific references, which were usually packed in short punch-lines like when George did not approve of the swimming lessons for his daughter, arguing: “Why does she need to know how to swim? We are already here”, referring of course to the term “Wetback”, used for illegal Mexicans who crossed the Rio Grande. But despite these self-ironic culture-jokes, the Lopez family could be any American family.

  • 18 See Eva Longoria in the interview “Eva Longoria defends ‘Devious Maids’”: http://deviousmaidstv.tum (...)
  • 19 The quotations from Alisa Valdes and Inez Gonzalez can be heard here: “'Devious Maids' s criticism. (...)

25Only one show was severely criticized for the stereotypical and reductionist depiction of the Latina community: Devious Maids. When asked if the show was not reinforcing already existing stereotypes, producer and Latina activist Eva Longoria – famous because of her role as the Latina lead character Gabriele Solis in Desperate Housewives – contested that maids from Latin America represent “a realistic reflection of our society today in America”18. Devious Maids is an open adaptation of the Mexican TV series Ellas son… la Alegría del Hogar (Canal One de Cablevisión, 2009-present), which is also a drama comedy series about five maids and a murder mystery. Therefore, the screenplay is an interesting mix between the Mexican original format, the creator Marc Cherry’s former creation Desperate Housewives, and the input of six Latino co-writers, a pastiche of clichés and tropes from both markets and backgrounds. Like in Ugly Betty, the Latinas are much simpler than the white women, but this lack of “civilization” gets the positive connotation of moral forthrightness, emotional empathy, intuitive honesty and authenticity. In direct contrast, the women of the refined American high society acquire a bluntly negative depiction, representing superficiality, pretentiousness, untrustworthiness and artificiality. In both shows it is not clear if the viewers should interpret these differences due to class or racial categories. Ugly Betty was conscious to introduce the character of Wilhelmina – embodied by the first Black Miss America, Vanessa Williams – as an “over-civilized” character to the show, and therefore insinuated that the differences in behavior are not necessarily caused by race but rather by wealth. Devious Maids brought in the gay Latino singer, Alejandro Rubio, who is slightly more likeable than the other rich employers, but also often even more aloof, cold and arrogant than his neighbors. Devious Maids stirred a tense controversy among critics and Latino activists, who basically defended two positions. On the one side, opponents like the American writer Alisa Valdes complained about the reproduction of the eternally recurring Latina stereotype of the uneducated, attractive, hyper-sexy maid. On the other side, supporters – like the vice-president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition Inez Gonzalez – celebrated the first historical occurrence of five Latina actresses starring on an American mainstream network television show. Gonzalez explained that the NHMC had backed Devious Maids because they wanted to give the Latino team a chance to enter the market19. I would like to add to this “headcount reasoning” that Devious Maids was not as one-dimensional as it seemed to the opponents and the supporters of the show. Already in the pilot, main protagonist Marisol was met with suspicion when she applied for the job as a maid because she did not have an accent. Her future employer even said explicitly: “You sound as if you went to college.” At the end, the viewers learned that Marisol was indeed a college professor with a PhD, investigating the murder of a maid in order to prove the innocence of her son. The fact that high society and the maids got “deceived” by the role-play of the professor proved that her ethnic appearance was considered as a more dominant character trait than her intellect, personality and her education. Therefore, the viewers could witness a very obvious case of racism as Marisol’s employers and her compatriots noticed several times that she did not behave exactly like the other maids and that something was wrong – a trope that has been exploited in many mixed-themed detective series, in which minority agents can easily go undercover in multi-ethnic gangs or groups of their own race.

  • 20 Beller and Leerssen, Imagology, p.343.
  • 21 Valdes, Alisa, “'Devious Maids' s criticism”, min.19.

26The fact that the non-Latino creator’s writing team of all the 13 episodes included six co-writers who were all Latinos raises the question if the assistance of Latino co-writers is enough to avoid clichés and types of “othering”. Imagologists have observed in several cases “that countries have imported the hetero-image from hegemonic foreign sources and interiorized them as auto-images”. They suggest that “[t]here is reason to suspect that the direction of these processes is determined at least in part by power relations”20. According to Alisa Valdes, “politics and culture are not disconnected”. She sees in the perpetual depiction of Latinas as “sexy and servile” maids a reflection and legitimation of the “very patronizing and imperialistic way” of the American foreign politics agenda towards Latin America21.

  • 22 George Gerbner quoted in Morgan, Michael and Shanahan, James, "The state of cultivation", Journal o (...)

27In the perspective of cultivation theory, television is a centralized and consolidated system of storytelling that is dictated by the market. Therefore the apparent self-determining contributions of television can only be moderately effective: “But just as an average temperature shift of a few degrees can lead to an ice age or the outcomes of elections can be determined by slight margins, so too can a relatively small but pervasive influence make a crucial difference. The size of an effect is far less critical than the direction of its steady contribution“22.

28It has to be determined if the television screen will be able to depict the heterogeneity of Latino lives and cultures or if the climate of Latino participation in the media has reached a plateau as recent studies and NLMC Network Diversity Narratives have claimed.23 Therefore, the second season of Devious Maids is emotionally anticipated by media monitors and Latino activists. It will show if its creators just used recognizable themes and types to enter the market in order to transform them later in the second season or if they will actually continue to recycle and reproduce the same old plots and clichés.

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Bibliographie

Anderson, Sheila, America Ferrera. Latina superstar, New Jersey, Enslow Publishers, 2009.

Bailey, Eric J., The new face of America. How the emerging multiracial, multiethnic majority is changing the United States, Santa Barbara, Praeger, 2013, p.21.

Beller, Manfred and Leerssen, Joseph, Imagology. The cultural construction and literary representation of national characters. A critical survey. Amsterdam, Rodopi, 2007.

Calvert, Sandra et al., "Interaction and participation for young Hispanic and Caucasian girls' and boys' learning of media content", Media Psychology, 2007, vol. 9.2, p. 431-445.

Calvo, Dana, Dish TV service to carry Sí Network. The channel will target the U.S. Latino market with English-language programming”, Los Angeles Times , uploaded on January 2003, consulted on October 28 2013. URL:

January 28, 2003|Dana Calvo | Special to The Times, http://articles.latimes.com/2003/jan/28/business/fi-sitv28

Contreras, Josefina, Kathryn Kerns and Angela Neal-Barnett, Latino Children and Families in the United States: Current Research and Future Directions. Westport, Connecticut, Praeger, 2000.

Hall, Stewart, Representation. Cultural representations and signifying practices, London, SAGE Publications Ltd, 1997.

Humes, Karen, Jones, Nicholas and Ramirez, Roberto, Overview of race and Hispanic origin. 2010, US Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, US Census Bureau, 2011.

Jhally, Sut and Justin Lewis, Enlightened racism: The Cosby Show, audiences and the myth of the American dream, Boulder, Westview Press, 1992.

Longoria, Eva, “Eva Longoria defends ‘Devious Maids’”: http://deviousmaidstv.tumblr.com/tagged/Eva-Longoria, uploaded on August 19 2013, consulted on October 28, 2013.

Motel, Seth and Patten, Eileen, Statistical Portrait of the Foreign-born Population in the United States, 2011, Washington, DC: Pew Hispanic Center, uploaded in January 2013, consulted on October 28 2013. URL: http://www. pewhispanic. org/2013/01/29/statistical-portrait-of-the-foreign-bornpopulation-in-the-united-states-2011.

Morgan Michael, Shanahan James and Signorielli Nancy, “Growing up with television. Cultivation processes,” in Bryant J. & Oliver M. B. (ed.), Media effects. Advances in theory and research, New York, NY, Routledge, 2009, p. 34-49.

Morgan, Michael and Shanahan, James, "The State of Cultivation", Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 2010, vol. 54(2), p. 337-355.

Motel, Seth and Eileen Patten, Statistical Portrait of the Foreign-born Population in the United States, 2011, Washington, DC: Pew Hispanic Center, uploaded in January 2013, consulted on October 28 2013. URL: http://www. pewhispanic. org/2013/01/29/statistical-portrait-of-the-foreign-bornpopulation-in-the-united-states-2011.

National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts and Children Now, Latinwood and TV. Prime time for a reality check, Washington, The Foundation, 2000.

National Hispanic Media Coalition, TV Network Report Cards, uploaded on November 20 2012, consulted on October 28 2013. URL: http://www.nhmc.org/tv-network-report-cards/

Navarrete, Lisa and Charles Kamasaki, Out of the picture. Hispanics in the media. State of Hispanic America, Washington, Policy Analysis Center, Office of Research Advocacy and Legislation, 1992.

PBS, American family. Journey of dreams. About the series, uploaded in 2004, consulted on October 28 2013. URL: HYPERLINK http://www.pbs.org/now/printable/transcript_nava_print.html

Poblete, Juan, "US Latino studies in a global context. Social imagination and the production of in/visibility", in Works and Days, 2006, vol. 24, p. 243-265.

Ramírez Berg, Charles, Latino images in film. Stereotypes, subversion, and resistance, Austin, University of Texas Press, 2002.

Signorielli, Nancy, "Minorities representation in prime time: 2000 to 2008", Communication Research Reports, vol. 26.4, 2009, p. 323-336.

Valdes, Alisa, “'Devious Maids' Criticism: Lifetime Series Continues To Draw Cultural Backlash For Latina Stereotypes (VIDEO)”, uploaded on June 26 2013, consulted on October 28 2013. URL: http://live.huffingtonpost.com/r/segment/devious-maids-misrepresents-latinas/51c9f8332b8c2a41f6000146

White, Kate, “2007 list of the 100 men and women whose power, talent or moral example is transforming the world. America Ferrera”, Time, uploaded on May 8 2007, consulted on October 28 2013. URL: http://www.time.com/time/specials/2007/time100/article/0,28804,1595326_1595332_1616652,00.html #ixzz2RA1L8ozK

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Notes

1 The term ‘Chicano’ – originally referring only to Mexicans who grew up in the United States – is very complex and is interpreted here as a synonym for ‘Hispanics’, and ‘Latinos’. In this article, the terms ‘Hispanic’ or ‘Latino’ are used according to the definition of the 2010 US Census, describing “a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race”. See: Humes, Karen, Nicholas Jones, and Roberto Ramirez, Overview of race and Hispanic origin. 2010, US Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, US Census Bureau, 2011, p.2.

2 Beller, Manfred, and Joseph Leerssen, Imagology. The cultural construction and literary representation of national characters. A critical survey, Amsterdam, Rodopi, 2007, p.11.

3 See: Hall, Stewart, Representation. Cultural representations and signifying practices, London, SAGE Publications Ltd, 1997. See also: Morgan Michael, Shanahan James & Signorielli Nancy, “Growing up with television. Cultivation processes”, in Bryant, Jennings and Oliver, Mary (ed.), Media effects. Advances in theory and research, New York, NY, Routledge, 2009, p.34-49. Compare also: Poblete, Juan, “US Latino studies in a global context. Social imagination and the production of in/visibility”, in Works and Days, 2006, vol. 24, p.243-265.

4 See: Navarrete, Lisa and Charles Kamasaki, Out of the picture. Hispanics in the media. State of Hispanic America, Policy Analysis Center, Office of Research Advocacy and Legislation, 1994, p.2.

5 The reports of the last eight years can be downloaded from the website of the National Hispanic Media Council: http://www.nhmc.org/tv-network-report-cards/, consulted on October 28 2013.

6 See: Motel, Seth and Eileen Patten, Statistical Portrait of the Foreign-born Population in the United States, 2011, Washington, DC: Pew Hispanic Center, uploaded in January 2013, consulted on October 28 2013. URL: http://www. pewhispanic. org/2013/01/29/statistical-portrait-of-the-foreign-bornpopulation-in-the-united-states-2011. See also: Signorielli, Nancy, "Minorities representation in prime time: 2000 to 2008", Communication Research Reports, vol. 26.4, 2009, p.323-336.

7 For a more detailed definition of familismo, its interrelated concepts and references to other studies on this subject see: Contreras, Josefina, Kathryn Kerns and Angela Neal-Barnett, Latino children and families in the United States. Current research and future directions. Westport, Connecticut, Praeger, 2000, p.12-17.

8 E.g., according to the study Latinwood and TV, only 3 characters were married and only two characters were identified as parents. For further information see: National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts and Children Now, Latinwood and TV. Prime time for a reality check, Washington, The Foundation, 2000, p.14.

9 Ramírez Berg, Charles, Latino images in film. Stereotypes, subversion, and resistance, Austin, University of Texas Press, 2002, p.121.

10 Calvo, Dana, Dish TV service to carry Sí Network. The channel will target the U.S. Latino market with English-language programming”, Los Angeles Times, uploaded on January 2003, consulted on October 28 2013. URL:

January 28, 2003|Dana Calvo | Special to The Times, http://articles.latimes.com/2003/jan/28/business/fi-sitv28

11 This theme is even more dominant in the spin-off show Diego (Nickelodeon, 2004-present) that focuses on Dora’s older cousin Diego who is an animal rescuer. Diego is like Dora a true role model and an admirable hero, who is saving animals in every episode.

12 Jhally, Sut and Justin Lewis, Enlightened racism: The Cosby Show, audiences and the myth of the American dream, Boulder, Westview Press, 1992, p.4-5.

13 Bailey, Eric J., The new face of America. How the emerging multiracial, multiethnic majority is changing the United States, Santa Barbara, Praeger, 2013, p.21.

14 White, Kate, “2007 list of the 100 men and women whose power, talent or moral example is transforming the world. America Ferrera”, Time, uploaded on May 8 2007, consulted on October 28 2013. URL: http://www.time.com/time/specials/2007/time100/article/0,28804,1595326_1595332_1616652,00.html #ixzz2RA1L8ozK

15 Anderson, Sheila, America Ferrera. Latina superstar, New Jersey, Enslow Publishers, 2009, p.36.

16 See, e.g.: Calvert, S. L., Strong, B. L., Jacobs, E. L., & Conger, E. E., "Interaction and participation for young Hispanic and Caucasian girls' and boys' learning of media content", Media Psychology, 2007, vol. 9.2, p.431-445.

17 See: American Family. About the series, uploaded in 2004, consulted on October 28 2013. URL: HYPERLINK "http://www.pbs.org/americanfamily/series.html"http://www.pbs.org/americanfamily/series.html

18 See Eva Longoria in the interview “Eva Longoria defends ‘Devious Maids’”: http://deviousmaidstv.tumblr.com/tagged/Eva-Longoria, uploaded on August 19 2013, consulted on October 28, 2013.

19 The quotations from Alisa Valdes and Inez Gonzalez can be heard here: “'Devious Maids' s criticism. Lifetime series continues to draw cultural backlash for Latina stereotypes”, [online video], uploaded on June 26 2013, consulted on October 28 2013. URL: http://live.huffingtonpost.com/r/segment/devious-maids-misrepresents-latinas/51c9f8332b8c2a41f6000146

20 Beller and Leerssen, Imagology, p.343.

21 Valdes, Alisa, “'Devious Maids' s criticism”, min.19.

22 George Gerbner quoted in Morgan, Michael and Shanahan, James, "The state of cultivation", Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 2010, vol. 54(2), p. 341.

23 See the reports on the website of the National Hispanic Media Council. URL: http://www.nhmc.org/tv-network-report-cards/, consulted on October 28 2013.

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Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Heidi Denzel de Tirado, « Media Monitoring and Ethnicity: Representing Latino Families on American Television (2000-2013)  », Nuevo Mundo Mundos Nuevos [En ligne], Images, mémoires et sons, mis en ligne le 16 décembre 2013, consulté le 17 septembre 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/nuevomundo/66165 ; DOI : 10.4000/nuevomundo.66165

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Auteur

Heidi Denzel de Tirado

Georgia State Universityhdenzel@gsu.edu

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Nuevo mundo mundos nuevos est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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