It took till Season Six, Episode Eight for Mad Men to finally acknowledge the existence of Latinos in New York City... only we were criminals: After Peggy's ex-boyfriend Abe was jumped on the Upper West Side, a policeman asked, "Were they colored or Puerto Rican?" Now that we're nearly halfway through Season Seven -- we've hardly seen another Latino since -- unless you count Peggy's upstairs tenant Julio and his family. And I can't help but wonder when...or if...the show will finally fully represent the 1960s New York City they otherwise so masterfully portray, by introducing its forgotten ethnicity into the mix: Puerto Ricans.
As a Mad Men fan since the very first show, I've loved watching its timeline unfold (I was between Gene and Bobby's ages, then). But the one thing I've been waiting for, for seven seasons, has yet to appear: A fully (or even partially) realized Latino character, or barring that -- at least the acknowledgement that we existed -- apart from an offhand criminal reference or pesky tenant. (Full disclosure: I'm of Puerto Rican heritage). Yet even though the events of that oh-so-fascinating decade are about to crash-bang-culminate and send all reeling into the oh-so-different 1970s... I still have hope.
Throughout Mad Men's run we've seen gay characters, (art director Sal Romano) several African Americans, (my favorites: Carla and Dawn) plus a number of Jewish characters. But by 1969 there were over 600,000 Puerto Ricans in New York City (according to the 1960 census). For a so-called minority group, that made Puerto Ricans pretty much "it." Since there were comparatively few Mexican/Central/South American/Cuban Latinos here at that time and the great Dominican migration was just beginning -- in the 1960s, if you were a "Latin in Manhattan," you were most likely to be Puerto Rican.
I totally get that in 1969 there might not have been a Puerto Rican Don Draper, Pete Campbell, Peggy Olsen... or even a Dawn Chambers. But how can there not even be ONE elevator operator, cab driver, shoe salesman, Con Ed worker, store cashier, construction worker, school lunch lady, file clerk, or even (gasp) domestic of Puerto Rican heritage portrayed on the show? Full disclosure: My relatives held many of the above jobs during the Mad Men generation and most of those jobs were guess where? In Manhattan! Can't we please at least get to see one Puerto Rican (or any other Latino character for that matter) portrayed as an actual New York City human being?
I mean, seriously, to see a Puerto Rican of achievement in 1969, all any Mad Men character would need do was turn on the TV: MVP, Golden Glove and National League All-Star Roberto Clemente continued tearing up baseball, Herman Badillo (unsuccessfully) made a bid for mayor, reporters Pablo Guzman and Geraldo Rivera were active in The Young Lords party, Rita Moreno and Chita Rivera starred in Popi and Sweet Charity, and Puerto Rican/Cuban author Piri Thomas was being acclaimed for his ground- and heart-breaking memoir Down These Mean Streets.
Perhaps we of Puerto Rican/Latino heritage will see ourselves more accurately portrayed in the context of the times. The real "meat" of the 1960s is about to be grilled: as 1969 draws to a close, we'll go from the Manson murders to the moon landing, from Woodstock to Altamont, to the Mets winning the World Series, to the reveal of the My Lai Massacre -- and it'll be interesting to see if and how we will be woven into the fabric of Mad Men society -- if at all. If the past is a clue, maybe I should be careful what I ask for. Only I would ask for this: Not all Puerto Ricans -- or any other Latinos were brought up in a ghetto then -- and even if we were -- "some of us were looking at the stars."
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