What makes a story uniquely “Hispanic”?

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Neither “Dirty Girls” nor “Devious Maids” – I’d say its the Latino drive to overcome (instinto de superación).


I have been following the debate on whether Hollywood is perpetuating the stereotypes represented by Eva Longoria’s “Devious Maids” (Hispanics are servants, uneducated or criminals) and blocking the true Latino stories as in Alisa Valdes’ “Dirty Girls Social Club” (Hispanics are also powerful, rich and educated).


So I decided to buy the “Dirty Girls” book after watching their Kickstarter trailer to see whether I’d want to support them, since debunking stereotypes is an important part of my Hispanic strategy consulting work. I’m almost halfway through the book and so far, I do not see it portraying fully empowered Latinas either. Yes, the characters are successful women and none are maids, but they are being crushed under the weight of major life issues such as alcoholism, domestic violence, materialism, relationships and identity. Those challenges are not unique to Hispanics, but what may be different is how Latinos overcome them – that is what I’m hoping to read more about in the second half of the book.


Now, Eva Longoria defends “Devious Maids” by saying that it is based on a successful telenovela from Latin America. The thing is that novelas, although stereotypical, do show the Latino drive to overcome. In them there is usually an underdog hero/heroine in an “impossible” situation that is eventually able to overcome the obstacles and villains in his/her way to success. And there are cultural assumptions behind the dynamics of the story. For example, since Latin America is highly stratified by socioeconomic class, it makes sense for a poor maid to be the underdog “impossibly” in love with her rich employer. That is also why you never see such maid overcoming by “fighting for her rights” – that is a core value of U.S. culture. More often than not, the maid succeeds after it is discovered that she belonged to a rich family all along.


Uniquely U.S. Hispanic stories have nothing to do with us being maids or professionals – they are more about things such as: finding solutions to life issues by going to another country; deciding which values to keep, rediscover, discard or use at a convenient time; and the personal growth experienced from being exposed to other societal norms, ways of thinking and resources. Those are the types of stories about Latinos that I’d like to watch.






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