SAN FRANCISCO — If there’s one thing cholas are great at, it’s eyeliner. I’m talking next-level symmetrical drawing on your eye here.
So I was a bit confused when Selena Gomez’s Saturday Night Live chola, Sofia, complains of her eyeliner poking her in the eye in the first few lines of the skit “A Peek at Pico.” There’s no way. Cholas poke other people with their eyeliner—they don’t get poked!
And the “jokes” didn’t get better from there. After the eyeliner bit, the skit proceeded to eek laughs out of Gomez and Melissa Villaseñor as Vanessa’s faux East L.A. (County) accents.
As someone with family from there, I get it. We all do the accent sometimes—usually for jokes but occasionally with it slipping into how we pronounce words. There is something funny about it.
Still, I couldn’t help but feel like the white, Anglo audience in the SNL studio and at home wasn’t laughing with us, but rather at us.
And that idea was largely colored by Gomez and Villaseñor’s cholas being exceptionally stupid. Their vocabulary doesn’t go much beyond “sah.” They don’t understand the basics of their public-access hosting gig. They don’t know what a library is. And that just makes no sense.
I mean, who do the SNL writers think goes to libraries? Public services are for everyone! And the LA County Library has won awards for its inclusive outreach!
Cholas are not dumb blonds. That’s not even the stereotype. They may be thought of as angry, promiscuous, or even violent—but not dumb. And not bad at eyeliner. Those are things that perhaps Anglo folks think about all Mexicans: that we’re all dumb, clumsy, and interchangeable. Which is why it was so frustrating to see Gomez and the first Latina SNL cast member yuck it up in this particular skit.
Who was it for? I’ve seen lots of posts on the socials from Latinx people defending it. And I get it. It’s cool to see your hometown get a shout-out on the national stage, especially when where you’re from is typically erased. And it’s fun to see your teenage styles revisited, particularly when they don’t exactly make the covers of the grocery-story glossies. Plus it starred two Latinas and appears to have been led by Latinx writers.
But mere acknowledgment that our communities exist should not be enough to make us happy. Respect is just the minimum, and this skit didn’t even clear that bar.
The folks behind SNL know better. We’ve had a renaissance of L.A. County Chicano TV lately, reclaiming the chola type.
In Vida, Chelsea Rendon’s Mari rocks blue lipstick and thick eyeliner and is a fierce advocate for her community. She’s the only character who sees the threat of gentrification for what it is and appears able to do anything substantive to stop it.
Cholas just aren’t dumb. They are, or can be, hilarious. But you have to not only know and respect the culture, but also be willing to package it for its members to really find something interesting or funny to say about it.
Instead, SNL’s “A Peek at Pico” skit offered up Gomez and Villaseñor’s Sofía and Vanessa as strange creatures to gawk at—which wouldn’t be a big deal if Chicanas, chola or not, were regularly portrayed in media.
Look, I’m rooting for both Gomez and Villaseñor. It’s tough to be one of the rare Latinas on-screen in Hollywood, and I don’t expect any one person to be able to represent us all.
But if the only time you see us, we’re reduced down to some white-centric stereotype, it’s a problem. It does our community dirty and, most egregiously for Saturday Night Live, it’s not even funny.
A writer and activist, Cristina Escobar is the co-founder of latinamedia.co, uplifting Latina and gender non-conforming Latinx perspectives in media. She’s a member of the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association and writes at the intersection of race, gender, and pop culture. Twitter: @cescobarandrade