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Cross-Culturally Made In Manhattan

By Mari D. González

I have recently started watching Telemundo’s “Una Maid en Manhattan”  soap opera during my gym visits. For all the bad rap it got by Latina activists when it first came out, its plot, content, and characters are not as bad as I expected.


Manhattan (Photo credit: griangrafanna)

First, the main character, a maid, Marisa Lujan, is not the stereotypical uneducated and unsophisticated type represented in Latin American dramas where Power Distance by social class is more important than ethnicity.

Second, the maid is not being class ethnified or classed down because of her ethnicity, that is, where a Latina must be from a lower social class than her white middle class boss. Marisa Lujan’s supervisor is a Latino, her middle class peers are Latinos, and the father of her suitor, a U.S. Senator, is also a Latino. In other words, this is a less stereotypical scenario of Latinos in the U.S. The characters are not “caged” in the historically negative label where Latinas are cast as maids or servants of whites in Hollywood movies. “Una Maid en Manhattan” characters have been freed from that category.

Third, the “Una Maid en Manhattan” cast includes Hispanic/Latino diversity, namely black, blonde, and in-between. Although I am still waiting to see a more indigenous, dark face a la Mario Lopez in male roles, Marisa Lujan doesn’t fit the typical protagonist role of Mexican and Venezuelan telenovelas whose producers tend to prefer actresses who are blonde, European-looking, and heavily made-up by el bisturi , or a surgical instrument.

Lastly, Marisa Lujan is not half-dressed as are Univision’s telenovela actresses–and even most of their newscasters. The half-dressed image is more representative of white-American network executives’ obsession with the “hot-as-a-pepper” stereotype they have formed than with real Latina women in the U.S. and abroad. In fact, in general Latin American countries have warmer weather but only a small proportion of the population live by the beach and actually dress that informally.

Edited by Connie Cobb

Vidas Cruzadas Soap Opera

By Mari D. González

What makes an e-novela appealing to acculturated Latinos(as)?

I watched the first five “capítulos” (chapters) of  “Vidas Cruzadas” (Crossed Lives) the first webnovela -an online limited-run soap opera featured on Univision.com. I noticed this Internet “novela” had some characteristics that set it apart from the traditional ones shown on major U.S. Spanish-language TV -Univision and Telemundo or Spanish-language TV from Latin America.

An “acculturated” e-novela

1. It is online.
2. It is bilingual. It has English subtitles.
3. It is filmed in the U.S. Yet, it feels Latina.
4. The main characters are bilingual.
5. Modern plot, not the usual Cinderella-like who is saved by the rich guy.

Vidas Cruzadas’ main female character Mariana is an U.S. second-generation professional and independent Latina whose parents emigrated from Latin America. They represent the traditional and working-class family who has achieved the American dream by giving her daughter the education they did not have. It has very good reviews by viewers as expressed on the novela’s forum. They consistently remark that it is a great production, yet that it’s too short. The webnovela it’s from 5 -8 minutes long shown three times a week with one commercial at the beginning and other embedded in the novela. For instance Mariana helps her mom dye her hair. She shows L’Oreal’s hair color package and tells her mom that she has used it before and is happy about the results. There is also a link on Univision.com on L’Oreal including information in English.

Cultural Relevance and Research

Research points out three main cultural values when targeting online U.S. Latinos/Hispanics: 1) preference for bilingual content; 2) familismo; and 3) the use of celebrities as spokespersons. I will focus on the first one and will discuss the other two later.

Bilingual Content Preferred by a Bilingual Audience

The majority of online Latinos/Hispanics prefer English content. Yet, bilingual U.S.-born or second generation, and 1.5-generation who immigrated as children, prefer English websites that include Spanish because those sites speak to their cultural identity and make them feel included (Lee Vann (2006). In fact, researchers (Singh, Baack, Kundu, & Hurtado, 2008) argue that “Language in this case… Spanish, tends to be the most visible manifestation of U.S. Hispanic identity” (p.2). According to Williamson (2006), Latinos/Hispanics appreciate “quality Spanish-language content online…. [It resonates with their] cultural pride and a feeling of community” (p. 17).