Last week, Disney released the trailer for Primos, a new animated series from Mexican-American creator and executive producer Natasha Kline about her experiences growing up and having all of her cousins come to stay for the summer…
And then the Latinx internet blew up.
“As soon as the Primos promotional video got shown, LATAM as a whole was laughing and making jokes about it. At some point, some people just started to point out how it’s always the same kind of cliche stuff and how it keeps perpetuating the stereotypes,” a Mexican marketer and consultant, who asked to be identified by their Twitter handle @OnlyRayan, —and whose tweet about Primos last week went viral— told Latino Rebels via DM. “We are just tired of the portrayal of a LATAM that no longer exists or never existed in the first place.”
The backlash got so intense that Disney pulled most of the Primos promotion and turned the comments off on what remains, including the now-infamous trailer on YouTube.
But the show also had its defenders, like The Book of Life and Mayan and the Three creator Jorge R. Gutierrez, actor-writer Henry Alexander Kelly, and Jenny Lorenzo, one of the co-founders of Pero Like on BuzzFeed who has her own career in animation.
The three share a home base in the United States, while, as Lorenzo told Latino Rebels, “Most of the critiques, both constructive and just downright hateful, are coming from people in Latin America, not from Latino people in the U.S.”—a phenomenal this U.S.-born and based reporter also noted.
The problem may be about how Disney marketed Primos and not the show itself.
“I think these kinds of stories have merit on their own,” said @OnlyRayan. “The problem is that there’s a need in the States to clump together all Latin Americans into a single classification along with the Americans who have heritage from there.”
Lorenzo has first-hand experience walking that line. She recounted one of her early experiences at Pero Like, creating a little video about “Latino people in the fall,” which pictured her and another woman drinking their Cuban cafecitos before panning to white folks and their pumpkin spice lattes.
“There were a bunch of Latinos saying, ‘That’s not how we are. That’s not what we drink,’” Lorenza recalled. “We took the video down. And when I rephrased it as ‘Miami People in the Fall Be Like,’ the reaction was completely different.”
The specificity matters, which explains why the marketing of Primos to Latin Americans as “Latino “struck a nerve.
OK gringos, in case you don't know whats wrong:
-"Oye primos" is phrased incorrectly
-Cuquita is vulva in spanish
-The music ain't mexican
-Full houses don't exist anymore
-The city name is like naming a USA town "9/11 Hills"
-The names 💀
-Why does it look like Breaking Bad https://t.co/8Ad30SB3Gp
— Atheist Bunny (@leeleenari) June 15, 2023
But when understood as a show set in California about a main character born in the States, a lot of the criticism of Primos evaporates.
For example, the name of Primos’ fictional L.A. neighborhood is “Terremoto Heights” (terremoto meaning “earthquake,” for the monolingual English readers out there). While some on Twitter equated that choice with calling somewhere in the U.S. “911 City” —because of all the earthquake deaths in Mexico— in reality, it’s more like calling a neighborhood in Los Angeles, a city famous for its tremors, “Earthquake Heights.”
No one in the States would take offense.
A lot of native Spanish speakers also took offense to the main character saying “oye primos” instead of the more grammatically correct “oigan primos.” But, as Lorenzo pointed out, “Across the board, Latinos in the US, we say ‘oye’ as a way to say ‘hey.’ They did it also in the recent Spider-Verse because Miles Morales is an Afro-Latino.”
It may clash in Latin American ears, but that’s how many U.S. Latinos talk.
I have never said "oigan" a day in my entire life but I have and do say "oye" for singular and plural groups because everyone in my family that used oye never cared about grammar lol
— Kate Sánchez @ #AnimeExpo (@OhMyMithrandir) June 18, 2023
When discussing the issue of “full houses,” Lorenzo spied classism.
“I come from a low middle-class, working-class family. What I’ve noticed a lot, even in the US amongst our own community, is that there seems to be this weird, deep shame and embarrassment about poor, working-class storylines. And as a result, they’re labeled as ‘stereotypical,’” she said before asking, “Why? Why is that? Why is that a stereotype? Because that’s my upbringing. Why is that a negative? Why do we have to be ashamed about that?”
This list of Primos’ supposed sins goes on, but when contextualized in the specific Mexican American experience, they more or less disappear.
One that perhaps sticks, however, is the use of sepia tone. Long decried as a way of depicting the otherness of Latin America and other places in the Global South, the grungy haze of Primos seems to be asking us to see Terremoto Heights as different, dirty.
Now, is that just the smog Los Angeles is also notorious for? Maybe. But since so many white films and shows take place in a bright and sunny Los Angeles, why does a Latino one have to be shrouded in haze?
I reached out to Disney multiple times and got no response, so we’ll have to wait to ask Primos creator Kline for her reasoning. Here’s hoping it’s an attempt to expose environmental racism.
It can be part of the coloring style but at least they should make it look LESS than the stereotypical yellowish used in hollywood for anything latino related.
Note: I compared SVTFOE's and PRIMOS' coloring to check and yep, PRIMOS got the sepia filter kind of palette. pic.twitter.com/H2NTzC4tJm
— berry 🌻🌿 * ｡ (@berrytas) June 15, 2023
Now, no show or creator is perfect, and Kline certainly does not deserve the death threats she’s been receiving since the trailer for Primos aired. I could write a whole article about bad online actors who swarm women for the sin of using their own voices, but let us ignore them for a while—while pushing Disney to provide Kline and the team with whatever support they need.
The root of the problem here is scarcity—something Lorenzo and @OnlyRayan can agree on.
“In clumping together all the cultures, the identity and words lose their meaning,” said @OnlyRayan. “Big corporations see the culture as nothing else but a means to make more money.”
Lorenzo remembers pitching an animated show of her own, based on her experience as a Cuban immigrant in Miami, and getting rejected. “I thought, ‘Okay, they’re gonna give me notes, they’re going to tell me why they didn’t pick it’, thinking there was a flaw in my actual pitch. It was because they had another Latino show.”
“Why do white people get to have all these different layers and all kinds of personalities and scenarios and things and Latinos, we can just have like the one story here and there?” she asked.
It’s a good question, the answer to which lies primarily in the halls of power. But one thing our community can do is stop attacking our own. As was the case in the particularly odd out-growth of the Primos discourse: Latin Americans gatekeeping the term Latino.
Jaja que onda con la serie esa de Oye Primos, pero bueno, gringos queriendo hacerse los inclusivos, cuando terminan siendo mas racistas y xenófobos de lo que eran xD #shutupgringo2023 pic.twitter.com/nIbDKyIhhO
— MoreMac (@MoreMac271) June 17, 2023
I generally hear folks saying they didn’t become “Latino” or “Latina” until coming to the U.S.—presumably they were Mexican, Chilean, or Brazilian before then. But here was something different: a strong-throated claim to the term Latino from Latin America, declaring that those of us born in the U.S. need to find a different label.
Clearly, the terms we have to describe our communities are not adequate—hence, why we’re always fighting about Latino vs. Latinx vs. Hispanic.
But arguments that pit Latin Americans against the diaspora ignore the real problems and let the power structure off the hook. And that’s where we should focus our rage.
Not on each other.
Cristina Escobar is the entertainment reporter for Latino Rebels. She is also 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