The Persecuted Pilgrims: America’s Oppression of the Latin Community

Ace Campaign with Sofia Vergara - Press Conference

The United States has been embroiled in a prolonged hate/love/hate relationship with the Latina/o community, especially the Mexican community. Although the nation has happily embraced a great portion of Latin cuisines and some of its diverse cultures, there remains an almost palpable sense of animosity towards Mexican and Latina/os by the Anglo-American population. Early depictions of Mexicans on television and in movies would paint a largely negative image of the entire Latin and even the Hispanic community. Prior to the advent of Hollywood archetypes and as early as the late 1800s, depictions of the slovenly immigrant wearing a sarape and reposing underneath a cactus with a sombrero over his face for shade became the unwarranted spokesperson for all Spanish-speaking immigrants. The image still remains, though now it is not widely accepted as truth. Modern representations differ greatly for Latina/os, but at a price: low visibility in the media.

Post-Hollywood images of Latina/o people have changed to be a little more accepting, but that might only be due to the sparse amount of representation. This is not for the lack of entertainers or talent from the Latin community, but rather the lack of Hollywood casting agents willing to hire them for leading roles. A popular image of Latina/os that comes to mind today are basically any photo of Sofia Vergara — a beautiful and alluring Colombian actress who embodies Hollywood’s archetype of the feisty Latina temptress. But even this image is a very narrow and one-dimensional trope that is meant to represent Spanish-speaking women only.

The reason why an image of Latina/os in the media is hard to conjure up is due to two pervasive realities: one, the Latin community is rife and brimming with more diversity in culture, dialects, beliefs, races, heritage, and nationalities than any singular image is capable of representing; and two, Hollywood is replacing their Latina/o talent with Anglo-Americans/Europeans — even for specifically Latina/o roles. One arena that Latina/os have not been excluded from, however, is in broadcasted segments dedicated solely to one controversial topic: immigration.

“Latinos comprise just 1 percent of news stories. When they do appear on camera, it’s not as an anchor in a suit with coiffed hair but on the background video feed as a criminal or in relation to illegal immigration,” says Weston Phippen in an article for The Atlantic. The media’s refusal to cast Latina/o actors in Latina/o roles is a blatant insult to the Latina/o community. To invite them only to speak about immigration issues is blatant disregard for them as anything more than an expert on immigration. Why is this so bad? If one takes their representing a voice for the Latina/o community at face value, then of course there is no other candidate for whom to adequately speak on behalf of Latina/o population on the topic. The problem lies in the fact that audiences will continue to associate real images of Latina/os in America with the topic of immigration itself. That means, Americans who hold the sentiment of all immigrants being “illegal” will likely equate any Latin-looking person with that very sentiment — hence the imperative need for more diverse and visible Latina/o representations in Hollywood.

-Dotty Liao

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