Published on Monday, December 1, 2003 by Universal Press Syndicate
Anything But Brown
by Patrisia Gonzales and Roberto Rodriguez
Anything but brown. That's not the name of a book, but an assessment of the Hollywood entertainment industry.
Prior to the "George Lopez" show, we had this theory: The entertainment industry so despises Mexicans that you'll rarely, if ever, see one on television or in the movies. You will not see a Mexican on the screen unless in an undignified, subservient and heavily accented or criminal role ... or unless they are not Mexican or are de-Mexicanized or de-Indianized. Or unless they're chasing after a white/Caucasian hero/heroine.
And as Panamanian singer/actor Ruben Blades notes, this applies to peoples from Central and South America and the Caribbean also, whom the media also lump in as Mexican.
Let's start with Rudolph Valentino -- the original Latin lover of the 1920s. Well, he was actually Italian, thus Latin, though nothing to do with the Census category of "Latinos/Hispanics."
Let's examine this list: Antonio Banderas, Rita Hayworth, Martin Sheen (and sons), Julio Iglesias (and son), Alfred Molina, Penelope Cruz. They are considered or confused for Hispanic/Latino, but they trace their roots to Spain/Europe. And in Hollywood, executives see no difference between a Spaniard and a Mexican -- that's why Banderas can play every Mexican hero (badly), from Zorro to Pancho Villa. Just an observation: It is highly unlikely that Mexicans would ever tolerate him playing the continent's ultimate indigenous personage, Emiliano Zapata, though that will probably not deter Hollywood from casting him as subComandante Marcos. At least Rigoberta Menchu's role is safe (we think).
How about: Constance Marie, Roxann Biggs-Dawson, Marc Anthony, Raquel Welch, Ricky Martin, Benjamin Bratt, Vanna White and, from an earlier era, Gilbert Roland, Anthony Quinn, Vikki Carr and Freddie Prinze (and son).
Most were/are not only great stars, but also great humanitarians and social activists. The question simply begs to be asked: Would they have ascended in the industry with Spanish surnames? (Some are their actual names.) In an interview years ago, Biggs-Dawson (of "Star Trek" fame) admitted she changed her name; otherwise, she would be unemployable. Sad, but most likely true. Take Horatio Sanz of "Saturday Night Live," for instance. In its entire career-making history, he is the lone Hispanic/Latino. Yet there has not been one Garcia, Hernandez or Lopez. Any native comedians? "SNL" is not even the worst culprit. How about CNN?
Jennifer Lopez and mega-baseball star Alex Rodriguez are not quite in the same category, though they go by the more palatable monikers J-Lo and A-Rod, respectively.
Salma Hayek has a non-Spanish surname, though it is anything but Anglo. In an era when everything Arabic is demonized (like the sound of the name "Hayek"), she is a remarkable exception and a great Mexican actress also.
Here's another list: Daisy Fuentes, Christina Aguilera, Cameron Diaz and Shakira. They all are legally blonde. But don't get us started on Spanish-language media, as they employ more blondes per capita than their English-language counterparts. (One can surmise that this is due to blatant racism and/or an extreme inferiority complex by media executives.)
Who are: Paul Muni, Marisa Tomei, Al Pacino, Robbie Benson and Sigourney Weaver? In the tradition of Hollywood, all have badly played Mexicans or Hispanics/Latinos. Also, this comports with the tired dictum that only mainstream "American" mega-stars can make a movie, yet how famous was Leonardo DiCaprio before "Titanic"? Incidentally, virtually all movies with this formula have flopped.
And how about: Dinky (Taco Bell's recently retired talking Chihuahua), Speedy Gonzales and (from an earlier generation) the Frito Bandito? They are perhaps the most recognizable Mexicans on television.
How many other Mexican or Hispanic/Latino stars are left that aren't on the above lists? Not many. Percentage-wise, today, there are fewer Mexican or Hispanic/Latino actors on television than there were in the "I Love Lucy" (Ricky buffoon Ricardo) generation (3 percent). Keeping in mind that there are now 40 million people from this demographic, this percentage represents a dramatic decrease.
The message is that there's something wrong with Mexicans. Or as Chicano studies professor Mary Beltran at the University of Wisconsin-Madison recently noted, the entertainment industry's beauty norms continue to marginalize Mexican Americans, particularly if they reflect their indigenous ancestry.
With the advent of the "George Lopez" show, perhaps the media is now turning the corner. But truthfully, as noted author Dr. Julianne Malveaux intimated recently, to get people to respect all people as human beings, perhaps it's time once again to tap into consumer power or economic boycotts. Forty years of waiting with a sombrero in hand certainly hasn't worked.
Gonzales is the author of 'The Mud People: Chronicles, Testimonios & Rembrances' ($19.95, Chusma House, ISBN: 1-891823-05-1). For ordering info, go to: www.chusmahouse.com or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rodriguez is the author of 'Justice: A Question of Race' - Bilingual Review Press . He is also the author of the E-books 'The X in La Raza' and 'Codex Tamuanchan: On Becoming Human' ("http://www.mexica.net/literat/roberto/"). Both are coeditors of 'Cantos Al Sexto Sol' - Wings Press.
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