What do we know about Colombia?
Trusting and relying on the media is really not an option, especially if we are trying to understand another culture and its customs. Unfortunately, so many of us depend on media outlets to form opinions and perceptions for anything we are unfamiliar with, such as the case of Latino people and their ways of living. On this blog I would like to discuss my findings about Hispanics, particularly Colombian women, who are often portrayed as sex symbols, drug traffickers and housekeepers in movies and TV shows. These misleading stereotypes are represented by characters like Sofia Vergara on comedy sitcom Modern Family, Catalina Sandino in the movie Maria Full Of Grace, and last but not least Jennifer Lopez in Maid in Manhattan. This research has been an interesting journey and I am hoping that we can all learn and reflect on our perceptions of people based on what we see, what we know and our personal experiences.
As I described in my analysis worksheet, after watching my first episode of Modern Family and hearing main character Gloria Delgado (played by Sofia Vergara) talk on the show, I thought to myself, is this the way I sound? Is this how I dress? So many ideas came to mind and then, surprisingly a few months later as I was speaking to a male co-worker, and shared with him that I was from Colombia, he immediately referenced Modern Family and asked me if all women looked like that in Colombia?. Seriously? The TV show Modern Family makes some good and bad representations of the Colombian culture and I can see how it is mixed together to bring viewers comedy and entertainment. The reality is that Colombian women are hard workers, passionate and like to dress in ways that make themselves feel beautiful. However, they are also humble, love their families and will protect their children no matter what. I can also see how this show uses a mix of multi-cultures and races to bring more viewers in instead of just one group of people and they have proved every season that people relate to the story-line and they would like to see more. However, some people seem to disagree. For example, columnist Veronica Arreola who wrote an article for British Newspaper The Guardian about Sofia Vergara posing on a rotating pedestal at her 2014 Emmy Awards appearance. Arreola stated “It’s really not unreasonable to think that a ‘celebration’ speech about diversity on TV would feature positive depictions of diversity, rather than a Latina woman being spun around like a piece of meat on a vertical spit while a white man blathers on about expanded roles for minorities in Hollywood”. Furthermore, Arreola explains that these kind of stereotypes are damaging the hard work of other Latinos and it outshines the significant part they play in American society, such as the case of Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court Sonia Sotomayor or American politician Lucy Flores and many others. This clearly shows that stereotypes are disappointing and not everyone wants to fit in a particular one, after all people just want to be recognized for who they are and what they do and not be categorized into a silly group.
After watching Maria Full of Grace I felt deep sadness for people who go through this painful and scary process of bringing drugs to the United States. The movie brings viewers positive and negative feelings about Colombia and its people. Some may see it as a woman who needs to provide a better life for her unborn child while others may see it as an act of selfishness for risking her and the baby’s lives just to be able to have a chance for a better future. This is one of the few movies that portrays the truth about drug mules or drug traffickers and how dangerous it can be to become one. This was a movie that delivered a strong and meaningful message about a big social problem in third world countries like Colombia.
This image taken from The Huffington Post was controversial and insulting for our nation. It shows two of our star soccer players sniffing what is supposed to be a referee’s white boundary spray line (which is typically just shaving cream) as if it’s cocaine, which stereotypes Colombia as synonymous with drugs. This offensive picture was posted by UNICEF Netherlands Ambassador Nicolette Van Dam on her twitter account “with the caption ‘Colombians muurtje’ — which translates as “Colombian Wall” (The Huffington Post). This example goes to show how much these stereotypes can hurt a country and its culture. For example, what are parents to tell their seven-year old child after he asks what his favorite soccer players are doing in that image? How do you explain the fact that a UNICEF ambassador is posting these hurtful messages against a nation and its people? Stereotypes are insensitive and they can damage a culture’s reputation deeply and fast.
Another stereotype from my research analysis was how Latino women are portrayed as housekeepers in Hollywood. Such as the case in the movie Maid in Manhattan, where a cleaning maid is played by a Latina. The character Marisa Ventura, played by actress Jennifer Lopez, is a low-income earner, a single mom and has no formal education. These types of misconceptions are commonly showcased on a variety of movies and TV shows to represent the role of many immigrants in the working class American culture. This representation of Hispanics grossly showcases the culture despite so many talented ones out there working hard, getting educated and succeeding at so many other things different to housekeeping. While on the other hand the political figure in the movie, Chris Marshall, played by Ralph Fiennes, is Caucasian, educated, has potential, is wealthy, humble and falls in love with an immigrant housekeeper. Even though today American culture is a melting pot of ideas, cultures, food and customs, it is still being represented in a negative way by the media to newer generations. The producer clearly had an idea in mind and communicated it to the viewers in the most stereotypical way possible. The movie shows the reality of some immigrants in United States but poorly transforms it in a tasteless manner. Movies like Maid in Manhattan are stereotypical and don’t represent the Hispanic population in America and they should instead incorporate a mix of roles for Latina women to fulfil a deeper reality and a more diverse audience.
Pop culture is not solely the one to be responsible for the stereotypes surrounding our society, we are all guilty of stereotyping people and we all need to differentiate within entertainment and reality. In fact, as I kept digging deeper into different online media reviews, I noticed that little by little we seem to slowly be shown in a progressive and positive manner. For example, the 2002 movie Real Women Have Curves (played by America Ferrera) portrays an intelligent and hardworking Mexican-American teenager who is trying to find a place in the world by following her dreams without forgetting her family’s roots. This type of media representation creates a positive environment for the audience and I am hoping that one day it translates into more shows and movies portraying diversity as it should, a melting pot of cultures with unique and interesting qualities. There is so much to be seen and to be experienced in this world and the media should not be our one and only resource for gathering information, for getting to know people, cultures and their customs. As a Colombian woman living outside of my country, I believe we all deserve the chance to explore other places and to get to know people for who they really are. With this being said, I ask you to visit another country, to learn something new and to open your eyes and explore reality through your eyes and not through blogs, online sources or the next hit TV show. This is an invitation for you to create your own pictures, your own media, but this time, it will only be based on your own life and personal experiences not the ones created and manipulated by pop culture.
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