I applaud Rep. Joaquin Castro’s recnt call for Hollywood to showcase more Latino stories, and was pleasantly surprised by his acknowledgement of the diversity in Latino stories. Hollywood is absolutely a redlined industry where Latino stories are often ignored and infrequently told. However, when reading his August opinon piece, I was struck with a thought that has stayed with me for weeks—what exactly are the “Latino stories” that should be told?
“Latino” is a U.S.-American neologism. It is an identity that doesn’t exist outside of Anglo-America. To put it bluntly, no one is Latino until they come to the United States (or Canada). Indeed, most “Latinos” prefer to self-identify with their nation of origin or their tribal affiliation. The idea of a shared Pan-Latin American identity and destiny is not new, but in the context of U.S. racism and racial categories, this broad category is often imposed upon people from Latin America, not chosen freely.
Latin America is a huge region. With almost 650 million people, not including the diaspora in Anglo-America. Stories from and for Latinidade are far more diverse than I believe most U.S.-Americans realize when contemplating issues regarding “Latino” diversity. In addition to stories about Chicano and Mexican-Americans living in the Southwest, Puerto Ricans in Spanish Harlem, Dominicans in the Heights, or Cubans in South Florida, we also deserve stories about the rest of the continent, and the Dsaspora that flows from it.
From Afro-Brazilian sugarcane sharecroppers organizing for land in Northeast Brazil and the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, to death squads in Central America and biopics about Tupac Katari and Oscar Romero, or a series about the Black Jacobins of Haiti, when calling for more “Latino representation,” we must be explicit in demanding that the whole continent and its broad diaspora be shown in all their majesty.
I also wonder if Rep. Castro’s call for Latino representation was meant to be inclusive of white Latinos, a group that forms a real yet overrepresented part of Latin America’s history and identity. For centuries, European settlers and their descendents have dominated the stories and identities of Latin America. Yes, they too have stories, but are stories of white-skinned colonizers and citizens in Latin America part of what we mean when we call for “more Latino representation in Hollywood?” If anything, Peninsular phenotypes are overrepresented in depictions of all things Latin American related on the silver screen. From recent examples like Santa Muerte in ”Penny Dreadful” to older examples such as Carmen Miranda, Iberians are frequently presented as representative of Latino “phenotype” despite their ancestry being thoroughly European.
To be sure, Rep. Castro intended for the broad swath of Latin America to be included in his original op-ed, but by not explicitly naming and describing the types of Latino diversity that are underrepresented in the public consciousness, he contributed to Anglo-Americans’ shallow understanding of Latin America. When discussing Latino representation in film and television, we must also be explicit in calling for English-language productions of Latino stories, and refuse the linguistic boxes that Hollywood producers place “Latino” content into.
It is very fashionable in some circles to reject a broad Pan-American identity for Latinidade. I do not think it can be said enough that the diversity and breadth of our continent goes unnoticed and unremarked upon, particularly in U.S.-American and Canadian circles. Ultimately, however, our shared history foreshadows a shared future.
Rep. Castro has admirably called for more Latino representation in Hollywood, but what types of Latinos will be represented in this more diverse film industry? Will we simply reinforce Anglo-American’s notions of what and who is or isn’t “Latino” or will this broadening include a representative range of stories from the continent of open veins?
Speed Rogers is a queer Brazilian-American medical student and medical anthropologist from Minnesota. Speed is interested in illness, suffering, and the intersection of religion, medicine, theology, and politics in Latin America. You can follow him on twitter @jspeedrogers.
FYI: There are more Puerto Ricans in the Bronx than “Spanish Harlem.” The Bronx is the Puerto Rican “Mecca.”