Whenever I’m asked about who I am and what makes me who I am, my Hispanic identity is a big one. For the majority of my life I’ve noticed a general lack of Hispanic representation in pop culture. Additionally what little representation does exist, doesn’t portray Hispanics very realistically and tends to be negative in nature. Whether it’s the news, a movie, or a TV show, some Hispanic stereotype is often rearing its ugly head. While there may be some truth to stereotypes on the occasion, it’s hardly a reason to exaggerate, fixate or generalize them onto all Hispanic people to ever exist. There are different kinds of negative portrayals, some being more malicious in nature, like the Mexican Bandit stereotype, while others are negative in a different way. The use of funny accents and characterizations that make the character seem uneducated aren’t exactly villainous but they are still hurtful and perpetuate a false narrative. So I decided to look at how pop culture may be negatively representing Hispanics, and going step further to see how these portrayals may affect the overall perception and image of the Hispanic community.
If someone were to ask you to think of a lawyer, doctor or engineer on television, chances are whoever you thought of isn’t Hispanic. It’s not your fault one didn’t come to mind, its just that the reality is that you are more likely see a Hispanic play the role of domestic worker like a maid or some criminal drug lord. In fact Hispanics are 3 times more likely to be cast as lawbreakers than European Americans (Rivadeneyra, 394). TV shows like AMC’s Breaking Bad, are showcasing this extremely damaging stereotype of the villainous Hispanic. Hispanics, specifically males, have long been labeled as violent and associated with violence, criminal activity and gang involvement. Hollywood has exploited the ever growing stigma and narrative prompted by the Mexican Drug War and talks on immigration. In Breaking Bad, the majority of Cartel figures and drug dealers the main characters encounter in the series are Hispanic. They are all portrayed as aggressive, hostile, money hungry, self-centered villains. One of the first big cartel leaders in the series goes by the name Tuco. Tuco is very crazy and intense, often having all these outbursts of rage that result in fairly gruesome violence. A scene in the first episode of season 2 shows Tuco quickly escalating in anger at one of his own underlings and beating him to death with his bare fists. There are also many small derogatory comments and jokes made here and there throughout the show. In the pilot episode DEA agent, Hank, makes a bet with a fellow agent about the ethnicity of the suspect they’re trying to bust, “I got you twenty bucks, that says he’s a beaner” (Gillian, 2008). The mere fact that he expects a Mexican to be the one running the meth lab they’re trying to bust speaks to the pervasive image and idea that Hispanics are all drug dealer and crime bosses. Continued negative connotations like this, no matter how entertaining, are actually adding more fuel to the fire, reinforcing these damaging perceptions.
Negative representation on television doesn’t just exist on live action shows but also resides on animated series, such as Family Guy. The show has one recurring Hispanic character, a middle-aged Mexican maid by the name Consuela. While she is a recurring character she is far from being a main character. Her appearances on the show are nonsensical; she just randomly appears in episodes sporadically every season for usually one to five minute bits. In her appearances she only interacts with the main characters half the time while the other half of the time she’s just in her own clip, in some wacky setting of her own. Consuela’s characterization is very consistent with what you picture for a stereotypical Hispanic maid or housekeeper. She speaks limited English, however through the years her broken English has improved. She’s generally seen as uneducated due to her lack of understanding, and she’s seen as being aggressive and mean sometimes. She’s always saying no to things and acting stubborn. Because of this Consuela is made out to be a really bad maid. She had altercations with the main characters, the Griffin family, in which she didn’t listen to them and cleaned things when it was an inconvenience to them and stayed late because she wanted to. On one occasion during Consuela’s upkeep, she ends up stealing $1000 in play money from the Griffin’s toddler, Stewie. When questioned about it she openly says that she took the money and when asked to give it back she says, “come get b****” (MacFarlane, 2009). Instances like this depicts that Hispanic maids are untrustworthy and quite frankly are criminals. There was even an instance when the Griffins tried to fire her but she refused to leave her job, so they took extreme measures to get rid of her. Once again going into this stigma that Hispanics are stubborn and in order to get them to abide one must take violent measures. This type of behavior from Consuela makes it so she checks off all the boxes to fit into the negative stereotype of the unintelligent, untrustworthy, Hispanic maid.
As mentioned before not all negative portrayals are villainous in nature, some don’t seem harmful but can still hurtful and perpetuate a false narrative. The 2011 film, Jack & Jill, features one Hispanic character that doesn’t qualify as a background or extra character, the family’s Mexican landscaper named Felipe. Felipe’s character is characterized in a way that places him as foreign and at times perceived as inferior. Felipe speaks with a heavy accent and at times reverts to broken English. But the biggest thing about Felipe is that he’s made out to be this big jokester. Through the duration of the film Felipe makes a lot of interesting jokes. Every joke he makes is about illegal immigrants or common Mexican stereotypes. He makes comments about how good his tree impression for when immigration comes is, or talks about how his family member are all named Juan and they like to eat tacos and play soccer. Then at the end of he makes it into a joke by saying “I’m kidding,” ultimately dismissing it and laughing it off with everyone. The jokes his character makes are not particularly nasty on the surface, but they can be harmful and contribute to hurting the image of Hispanics. However for this particular film there’s an added layer of complexity that comes with Felipe making these types of jokes. If someone who is Hispanic has no problem making these kinds of comments into jokes and making no big deal about it, openly laughing; a viewer can interpret it as making those types of joke okay when it’s really not. As minor as some viewers may see it, that small stuff can still hurt an entire community and every small jokes contributes to the overall picture society has of Hispanics
All images and portrayals of anything, whether they be seen as positive or negative, can have an effect on viewers overall perceptions and beliefs on that subject or persons. But it is particularly these negative and stereotyped portrayals that can build up to be detrimental to images and perceptions of people, whether we intend for them to be or not. Stereotypes can both consciously and subconsciously affect our social judgments and beliefs, so this continuous stream of negative portrayals by Hollywood embeds these associations into the minds of its viewers. As much as we may try to disassociate from what we see in the media, it’s a big part of our society and culture. In Dong & Murillo’s study of the impacts of television viewing they explore our development of stereotypes, finding that we learn to “pick up values, ideal and behaviors from observing television programs.” At this point it’s almost seeing some sort of negative portrayal in media unavoidable, however it is not something to be taken lightly. We as the general public must begin to make changes in what we watch in order to correct and influence what is being created in media.
There have been quite a few learning moments for me this term, lots of moments and new insights from my fellow peers that made me stop and consider them more deeply. I learned a lot about media influence on our lives and the ways we may influence it back. Particularly in week 3 questions and discussions on the potential cause and effect media can have and who is to blame? Big questions such as “Does the media ‘cause’ or change our cultural attitudes or beliefs, or is it merely reinforcing existing ones? Is the media doing all of this stuff “on purpose’?” With issues things such as racial stereotyping, unrealistic life and beauty standards and violent images my knee-jerk reaction use to be to blame the media. However, a lot of media is just a reflection or reaction to all of our own ideas, beliefs, and desires. This makes our hand far from clean, we are at least in part responsible for what is created, shared, and shown to us. We as individuals and as content creators must be more considerate to ensure social responsibility.
Stemming from the learning moment in week 3, week 4 brought some ease to some of the tensions caused by the contemplations of cause and effect. In week 4 we learned to evaluate our sources and really interpret what they are, where they come from and what their purpose is. It’s easy as a consumer to take things at face value or to passively absorb information and messages presented to us without considering the whys, whos and whats. Having the tools and knowledge to evaluate your sources, can help with figuring out who’s to blame and what effects that content may be having. It’s way for us to not be mislead so easily, we can be more aware of agendas and overall more knowledgeable and informed as a society.
“Breaking Bad.” Breaking Bad, created by Vince Gilligan, AMC, FX, AMC Networks, 20 Jan. 2008-29 Sept. 2013.
Dugan, Dennis, director. Jack and Jill. Columbia Pictures, 2011.
“Family Guy.” Family Guy,created by Seth MacFarlane, Fox, 31 Jan. 1999-Present
Rivadeneyra, Rocío. “Do You See What I See?” Journal of Adolescent Research, vol. 21, no. 4, July 2006, pp. 393–414., doi:10.1177/0743558406288717.
Qingwen Dong & Arthur Phillip Murrillo. (2005). The impact of television viewing on young adults’ stereotypes towards Hispanic Americans. University of the Pacific, Dissertation/Thesis. https://scholarlycommons.pacific.edu/uop_etds/617