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Discussions with Damaris

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  • Damaris Chanza

Seven Hispanic Stereotypes in Media

Subtle or not, Hispanic stereotypes run rampant in every form of business, but they are not as prevalent as in movies and tv shows.

Hispanic actors in media are constantly disguised as white or ambiguously foreign characters. It can be rare to find Hispanic actors playing Hispanic characters. Unfortunately, even if you find one of these rare characters, they’re almost always written stereotypically.

There are only three ways to identify a Hispanic actor playing a Hispanic character – the character speaks Spanish, the character’s background is blatantly stated, or the character plays into a Hispanic stereotype. If none of these identifiers are found, it is very likely that the Hispanic actor is passing for white/black or is ambiguously foreign. For instance, Miles Morales is Hispanic, but he would be considered black without a quick scene where his mother speaks Spanish. Mariana Adams Foster would pass for white without the inclusion of her backstory.

Hispanic stereotypes are oversimplifications of our culture and behavior. Things like our music, food, language, and idiosyncrasies are displayed in a way that teeters the line between respectful and disrespectful. Here is a list of some of the Hispanic stereotypes I find to be most prevalent in media.

Gang Banger

Hispanic characters are overwhelmingly from underprivileged neighborhoods. Succinctly put, they’re almost always poor. In this environment, Hispanic people are either gang members or are perceived as gang members. As a Hispanic who grew up in a bad neighborhood, I know firsthand that people are religiously reminded of all the avenues they can take to avoid gang-related activities, but that part is seldom included.

Cesar Diaz from On My Block and Bruno from Prada to Nada are great examples of this stereotype.

Obsessed Catholic

Hispanic characters are almost always overtly religious; specifically, they’re catholic. However, this is a narrow view of how religion is integrated into our culture. Yes, older generation Hispanics are very religious, and maybe most are catholic, but not all. There are Jehovah’s Witnesses and Pentecostals and Christians, and more. On the other hand, many Hispanics have strayed away from religion as agnostic or atheists. Practicing religious beliefs is a large spectrum that should be portrayed in media.

Alba Villanueva from Jane the Virgin is an excellent example of this stereotype.

Latin Lover

Hispanic people, as a whole, are gorgeous. However, we have so many attributes that are much more interesting. The media oversexualizes Hispanic men and women turning them into caricatures. This stereotype is degrading and dehumanizing, whether for comedic effect or the need for a passionate relationship.

Practically anything Sophia Vergara is in, and Maximo from How to be a Latin Lover are excellent examples of this stereotype.

Illegal Immigrant

Immigration is a massive political subject affecting millions of people, including Hispanics. There are barely any movies or shows with Hispanic characters that do not have an immigration storyline. Many Hispanic families are affected by immigration, and highlighting their stories is essential to publicize the issue. However, only showing Hispanics as immigrants perpetuates that all Hispanics are immigrants, which is not true and can be a harmful message to spread.

Casimiro Morales from Gentefied and Lydia Riera from One Day at a Time are great examples of this stereotype.

Service Work

Because Hispanic characters are disproportionally presented as poor, they often work service jobs. They’re the maids, housekeepers, gardeners, roofers, construction workers, and nurses. These are all respectable jobs that provide great satisfaction, but there are many other jobs. Part of the power of representation in media is seeing something to aspire to that maybe you didn’t realize possible for someone like you. Showing Hispanics as business people, entrepreneurs, entertainers, artists, and careers that I have never thought of will inspire Hispanics everywhere.

Any show or movie with a working Hispanic can fit this stereotype.

Spanish Speaker

Speaking Spanish is one of the identifiers of a Hispanic character, but they are always fluent. Spanish fluency ranges from none to perfect, even within one family generation. Some people grew up speaking Spanish, then immigrated and lost some of their fluency in their attempt to learn a new language. Others grew up around families who spoke fluently but went to school or predominantly spoke English. Some Hispanics have managed to forget their native tongue entirely. Just as our accents vary, our relationship with the Spanish language also does.

Very few characters don’t present as fluent Spanish speakers and are usually the butt of the joke when they are.

Mexican Origins

Hispanics originate from South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. There are 21 Hispanic countries, but Hispanic characters are almost exclusively from Mexico. Other popular countries that get representation are the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Although there may be some similarities, Hispanic culture and the Spanish language can vary from country to country, yet they don’t get nearly the representation they deserve.

This is such a significant stereotype that an example isn’t necessary.

Movies and television are making strides in Hispanic representation, yet there is so much more they could do to make a real difference. Making an effort to rectify these stereotypes would be a great place to start.

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