I nearly choked on my Chardonnay. Colombian comedian Sofía Vergara rotating on a pedestal like an overstuffed lechón asado while a smirking power that bespoke about how great they were at diversity. At the point that the head of the Television Academy pronounced with much glee: “Television has and always will be about storytelling,” and Vergara lovingly patted her backside, well, that’s when I threw the goblet at the plasma screen.
Maybe Vergara would have done better to come out with a fruit basket on her head —an abundance of mangoes, piñas and coconuts— on her head, singing Chica Chica Boom Chic a la Carmen Miranda.
Be done with the farce. I have to say here that I have really never cared for her as an actress, with her over the top accent and oversaturated cleavage. Every time I hear her scream “Jay, Jay,” my toes curl and I lunge myself at the television to turn it off. She is just not my cup of tea. Having said that, I do not begrudge her a success that has probably been hard fought and littered with compromises. Watching the rotating bit, I could only think of Dolores del Rio in Bird of Paradise.
And somewhere I felt embarrassed for Vergara and all of us Latina women. Except Vergara is laughing all the way to the bank. Even if she has to make a pact with the Mad Tribesman.
The New York Post labeled the immediate backlash on social media as: “The Most Absurd Feminist Outrage at Vergara’s Pedestal Gag.” While Vergara herself reacted: “It’s absolutely the opposite of sexism. It means that somebody can be hot and also funny and make fun of herself. I think it is ridiculous that somebody started this —I know who she was— who has no sense of humor and should lighten up a bit.” I imagine somewhere in the shadows there is a no longer “hot” Latina Baby Jane Hudson, envious as she stuffs her face with Doritos in a tattered ball gown, tweeting up a storm. Correcto, Sofía.
The problem, as I see it, is not Vergara herself. She is just a product of what sells. Even though we hoped that we had travelled further down the road and left Charo at a one-way road stop, this could not be furthest from the truth. The crux of the matter is how Latinas are perceived in the media as a whole, that which in some Anglo writers mind made putting a “hot Latina” on a turntable funny and not offensive at all.
The issue here is that Vergara’s turn (pardon the pun) arrives at the heels of too many examples of tin ear. Let’s take The New York Times, for example, and its failed “picking crops” headline. This for a story about Latino farmers: Latinos move up, from picking crops to running the farm. Substitute the word crops for cotton and you get the drift. NYT had to eat a steaming plate of crow served by social media. They were forced to change the headline to read:” More Latinos on Farms Move From the Field to the Office.” The Times seems to have a particular perception issue when it comes to the Latino community. In another fine moment, a story in The Upshot titled: “It’s Not Too Late For Republicans to Win Latino Votes.” Fair enough story, except the caption showed dancing Colombians in colorful traditional garb smiling happily at nothing. Sure, we all go to the voting booth dressed like that. And lest we forget that according to the NYT, more Hispanics want to be White.
It is not only the Grey Lady that has no clue. The Washington Post also has a bit of bother with us Latinos. In a recent story about the rise in popularity of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro in the Beltway, the headline was: “We’ll need more fajitas.” If it were a Puerto Rican, I guess they would need more tostones or a touch of mofongo. Once the slap of Social Media hit, the “apology” was one best disguised as “whatever.” The Post’s Al Kamen was “dismayed” (get the Victorian smelling salts) that a “brilliant and supremely reliable colleague had a bad day.” Bad day? As Oscar Wilde would say: “There is no sin except stupidity.”
The thing is when you have Rick “Rambo” Perry militarizing the border; Tamara Scott, the National Committee Woman for the Republican Convention stating that Central American children at the border are “trained warriors” that will “actually rise against us Americans” and that ISIS is teaming up with Mexican cartels and coming through the border, we understand that perception is 100 percent of valor.
Maybe stereotyping Hispanic women as “hot” and objectifying them on a conveyer belt is not that bad. Maybe the intent was a tongue and cheek wave at the inherent sexism of the media and Vergara was hoping you would laugh with her and not at her. Yeah. I know what Faye Dunaway would say:
“Don’t fuck with me fellas. This ain’t my first time at the rodeo.”
Susanne Ramirez de Arellano is the former News Director for Univision Puerto Rico and a writer and journalist living in New York City. She has a blog in El Nuevo Día called Susanne en la Ciudad. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow Susanne on Twitter @DurgaOne.