Last week I participated on a panel discussion during the New York International Latino Film Festival titled "Through Her eyes: A Latina's Perspective in Media". The other panelists and I -Olga Merediz, American Broadway, TV, and film actress; Olga Segura, Actress; Dr. Clara E. Rodríguez, Professor of Sociology at Fordham University; and moderator Galina Espinoza, Co-President and Editorial Director of Latina Magazine, - debated whether the portrayal of Hispanic women had improved or regressed in the last decade and whether roles like Sofia Vergara's in Modern Family hurt or help us.
In thinking through the conversation the days that followed, I wondered if "Through Her Eyes: A Latina's Perspective in Media" was defining or hinting for "Media" to mean: U.S. Anglo mainstream media or U.S. Latino (both Spanish and English language) mainstream media, both or some abstract concept of the perception of Latinos out there?
I say this because generally when conversations about this topic are presented in a forum they usually gravitate towards the under and misrepresentation of Latinos in the U.S. Anglo mainstream market. In the case of this panel, that's how the conversation evolved. Have things changed for Latinas and Latinos in media?
I've witnessed many positive changes in the way Latinos are portrayed. But still, these changes have been limited at best, especially since many Latino artists do not feel they see enough Latino characters that reflect our very complex and wonderful diversity.
It is true that there are many influential Latinos who are part of the mainstream landscape. There are numerous Latinos projects occupying center stage like never before. But, the call for validation from the mainstream platform is legitimate because it is important that our diaspora be recognized, period. We are indeed a force. And we should have an even stronger and realistic representation out there.
While we've made significant strides in the last decade with the success of America Ferrara, Selena Gomez, Salma Hayek, Eva Longoria, George Lopez, Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, Zoe Saldana, Carlos Santana, Shakira, to name a few. These Latino artists are indeed part of a national and /or global discussion. But these successes are few and far between when compared to the overall mainstream media market. It is still very fair to say that our collective successes have been limited at best and that mainstream is not doing enough to represent us fairly.
While will still continue to see biased and stereotypical portrayals of Latinos in mainstream media, we seem to forget that there is an important, needed and dominant mainstream Latino media platform, dedicated to covering us, that many times feeds and informs the very stereotypes so many of us dislike.
So I find it ironic that we ourselves are falling short of exemplifying what we're criticizing.
Spanish media has far less outlets across the board- television, magazines, newspapers, radio - and these platforms are either focusing almost exclusively on the mega crossover stars of the moment or are repeatedly delivering a extremely limited perspective of our stories, our artists, our broad history, our complexity, our beauty, our strength, our dignity and our value.
There are exceptions, of course, and indeed there are great reporters and journalists in all of our outlets. But regrettably, the bulk of what is being presented in media platforms does not represent the plethora of established figures in culture, projects and emerging artists doing exemplary work across the nation.
This very limited perspective that we ourselves are putting out there is what I've come to describe as "dis-connect". We remain in a sort of limbo of extremes and unaware when it comes to how we portray ourselves in our own media. We are either seen as super-stars or as immigrant criminals - and what's worse, no one seems to mind, and this is very dangerous.
If we don't offer anything different we can't expect everyone else to miraculously understand us and know how to represent us.
We have the power and the intelligence to feed and inform our own Latino diaspora with a more compassionate and empowering vision of ourselves that could redirect the national conversation and shift the generally accepted misconceptions of who we are as Latinos.
As a Latina in media, I wish I could see more daring editorial coverage and programming from "our" media platforms. At this point, we have a responsibility to take an active role in reversing this dis-connect.
There are incredible actors, artist, community leaders, educators, musicians, thinkers, writers from all walks of life all around us and they can serve as inspiration for a different type of conversation and representation.