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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.
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
Mari D. González
Does Univision, the largest U.S. Spanish-language TV network, understand that the largest Latino/Hispanic segment -young and bilingual- want relevance and quality in media?
The emerging young Latinos/Hispanics have been complaining about the lack of quality of programming at Spanish-language TV networks and that the English-language networks neither represents them nor includes them.
Mari D. González
According to the Pew Hispanic Research Center 11 percent of the nation’s 16 million Hispanic children are first generation or foreign-born; 52 percent are second generation or U.S.-born “sons or daughters of at least one foreign-born parent;” 37 percent are third generation or higher “meaning they’re U.S.-born children of U.S.-born parents. 1
What does this mean for Spanish-language vs. English-language media and advertising?
That none of the two are reaching the largest bulk of Latinos/Hispanics -second-generation, bilingual ones.
Who is addressing this trend best?
Spanglish music-themed programming such as MTV3s and Mund2 and Hispanic/Latino oriented magazines are targeting this emerging group; not Univision or Telemundo and definitely not CNN, FOX, Target, or Amazon who have lately alienated Latinos with racially charged programming and/or products.
By infusing Latin elements -words, phrases, music, colors- into to their English-language content and including content that is relevant to this socio-cultural group such as positive news about Latinos/Hispanics and against-the-common-negative-stereotype stories (Gonzalez, M.D., 2009) companies, marketers, and even politicians, have won and will continue to win over Latinos/Hispanics in the U.S.
Let’s begin to feature Juan Martin del Potro, number-one tennis player; Lhasa de Sela, Mexican-American signer of Spanish, French and English; Alondra de la Parra, 27 year-old classical maestra; Lorena Ochoa, number-one female golfer; or the all-American rock band from Texas, Girl in a Comma whose members are Latinos/Hispanics.
With 48 million Latinos/Hispanics in the U.S. and in states like California in the threshold of becoming more than 50 percent of their total population, and when “overall, Hispanics increased purchasing ‘deals’ by 16 percent, outpacing non-Hispanics shoppers,”2 news that Latino lives are about shooting, selling drugs, or school dropouts should be on the brink of getting too old.
1 Hispanic Magazine, 2009 October/November edition.
2 Hispanics and the New Economic Reality consumer report.
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).