10 Things Mainstream Television Networks Should Know About Bicultural Latino Viewers
A few days ago, there was an article in the NYTimes that discussed Network TV’s struggle to appeal to Hispanics. It cited failed shows such as “Rob” which critics say was too heavy on the stereotypes. It pointed to “minor successes” such as the George Lopez show and Ugly Betty, both on ABC (and now both on syndication). While I do think that there is more to what the article states about ratings (There are two main Spanish-language channels- Univision and Telemundo… while there are several competing for viewership in English- ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX… that is not even counting Cable channels!), I think the article is right in stating:
The issue, many viewers and critics argue, is that there still hasn’t been the Hispanic equivalent of “The Cosby Show,” meaning a show that deals with Latino culture in a way that doesn’t offend viewers with crude stereotypes.
I do believe however, that networks need to make a distinction between the young, bicultural and bilingual audience it wants to capture, and the segment of the 50 million viewers who will just prefer to keep watching telenovelas en Español, because that distinction is important. (There is a segment of the Latino population that will just never switch from their preference to watch TV in Spanish.)
There isn’t a show that is appealing to young, bicultural and bilingual audiences (like me) that celebrate Latino culture. The article got me thinking… what is it that I, as a girl born, raised and educated in NYC to Ecuadorian immigrant parents, want to see on TV? What shows do I know that my Latino friends and family watch? Do my friends only watch TV in Spanish? (Not really) What do we wish we could see on TV?
I wonder if TV executives have reached out to the people they are trying to appeal to. Have they used focused groups and surveys to get opinions? If they haven’t yet… they should soon! Until they do, I have come up with ten points worth paying attention to… so networks… listen up!
My Wish list for a Hispanic American TV show:
#1. We don’t only want to be depicted as maids or gardeners. A lot of us were born here, went to school, got an education and have successful careers. We want to be shown in diverse professions. (kudos to Shonda Rhimes for including a successful, Hispanic and Lesbian doctor on Grey’s Anatomy!)
#2. We speak English, but many of us love mixing it up. We use Spanglish, and Spanish sometimes as well. (don’t be afraid to have characters mix it up at times, this happens in real life!) This doesn’t mean I am not fluent in English it just means that I have two words for everything instead of one! WIN!
#3. We have extended families—we love extended families. We love our “madrinas” and “padrinos” (godparents). They are part of our family. Include some of those.
#4. “Hispanic” or “Latino” doesn’t just mean one country—but rather, many countries! Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Honduras, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Mexico, El Salvador, etc. … you get the picture. (Part of the reason I love Sofia Vergara’s character on Modern Family is because she is from Colombia, different from other shows.)
#5. Food is a big part of our culture!
#6. So is music. (and pretty much anything is an excuse to have a party.)
#7. We want to see the situations we deal with growing up in two cultures (including but not limited to):
The All-American Sleepover (most Hispanic parents don’t get this concept, why sleep at someone else’s house? Someone you don’t know?)
Dating (“what the hell is dating? You’re too young. I don’t like that boy.”)
Colleges (the whole process- a lot of first generation parents don’t understand the admissions process, the costs, the financial aid… these are real issues. Many times kids have to learn to navigate this on their own.)
Nursing homes (is it OK to send parents to a nursing home? This seems to be taboo in our culture.)
Double standards (“Your brother can because he’s a boy.. .you’re a girl, girls don’t do that” Talk about old-school!)
The birds and the bees (Does this conversation happen?)
High school rituals parents don’t understand – “Prom? What is prom? In my country parents go to the graduation party with their kids. It is all about family.”)
#8. Transmitting our culture is important to us, traditions such as Noche Buena or Dia de los Reyes are important. (but we want to celebrate American traditions too- we love Thanksgiving (we just have to have some arroz on the side). We want our kids to celebrate American traditions some of us might not have had as kids (chances are we didn’t have the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy).
#9. Blending different cultures: Latinos like to mix it up: we are marrying all different types of people: There are Latino-Asian families, Latino-African-American families, Latino-Italian families, etc. etc! Speaking from experience, marrying into different cultures bring along some interesting culture clashes! (As if we didn’t have enough to worry about!)
#10. Contrary to what the article says, I do believe we are watching prime time shows such as Grey’s Anatomy, Mike & Molly, Two and a Half Men, Fringe, CSI, Law and Order. I think we just wish that there was more Hispanic representation on TV. A perfect example is “The View.” This is a show that I love—my one criticism is that there isn’t a Hispanic voice on the show. You would think a Hispanic host would have been added by now! I don’t want to watch morning news or a show like “The View” in Spanish, on a Spanish channel. I want to watch the shows I like in English, but I just would like to see someone with similar perspective and background as me. (I hope you’re reading this Barbara Walters!)
Finally, we are people. We just navigate the world in two languages, with delicious foods, with great music and big families. At the end of the day, we want what everyone else wants: we want to get ahead, have a good job, have families, own a home, provide a good future for our children, we want to give them everything we can, because our parents gave us everything they had and raised us the best they could with sometimes little resources.
Did I miss anything? Is there anything you would like to see on tv about your cultura? Please leave your comments below, or share them on Twitter by tweeting to @dianalimongi.
Diana Limongi-Gabriele is an Ecuadorian-American New Yorker. Her love for all things multicultural started when she studied abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France … so much so that she brought a French hubby back with her! She is mommy to Enzo, a French/Hispanic/European/
This post originally appeared on LadydeeLG’s Tumbler blog.