Let me start by stating the obvious: 2017 has been a trying time for the American Latino community ― and we’re only a few months in.
Divisive political rhetoric and threats of deportation have left many Latino families defending the way they look, their culture, and heritage. In fact, nearly half of American Latinos have “serious concerns” about their place in the United States, and feel the state of the Latino population in the U.S. is worsening.
This is simultaneously happening, ironically, while all economic numbers show that the Latino community contributes overwhelmingly to American growth and prosperity. According to Nielsen, “Hispanics controlled $1.3 trillion in buying power, an amount larger than the GDP of Australia or Spain (Selig Center for Economic Growth), up 167 percent since the turn of the century. The increase is more than twice the 76 percent growth in non-Hispanic buying power during the same period. The Selig Center’s projections show U.S. Hispanic buying power continuing this trend, reaching $1.7 trillion by 2020.”
How has this group of law-abiding people who provide economic growth beyond their numbers and is extraordinarily family-oriented and hardworking become the villain of the American story?
Wow! But Media and Hollywood leaders in general are socially empathetic, liberal, they care for human rights and media leaders are themselves the first to argue for the positive benefit Latinos bring to American society! They actually depend on Latinos for the most important, vital and dear things closest to their hearts: their kids (nannies), their house (housekeepers and gardeners), their food (cooks, chefs), their cars (valet parking, dealerships, etc.)... and over the course of the election and in recent months, Hollywood has come out as fierce advocates for progressive causes and inclusion.
Unfortunately, and perhaps even without being aware of, media leadership has developed an industry where Latinos are less than 2 percent of lead characters and are mostly depicted as criminals, impostors, sex-objects and threats to society. And we wonder why 30 percent of the American public is convinced that ‘Mexicans are rapists and criminals’ and that they should be thrown out of the country? Unfortunately, Media is the one and only source of information many American voters have about Latinos. Media is the place where many Americans are exposed to new cultures and their perceptions are shaped. If the portrayals are inaccurate, it’s no wonder they find it easy to blame Latinos for all the country’s problems.
It’s now time for Media and Hollywood to be fully aware they are culture creators, to support calls for Latino diversity. It’s time for the entertainment industry to share stories of Latinos that reflect the Latino reality, our diverse experiences, and the benefits that Latinos bring to American society: Jose Hernandez, the astronaut, Dorene Dominguez the business owner, Linda Alvarado the co-owner of the Colorado Rockies, Patrick Salazar the highly decorated soldier, etc. etc. etc. Accurately and actively portraying Latino stories, and including positive Latino leads, writers, directors, crew, staff.
If not, destructive and false stereotypes will continue dividing our country... and Hollywood’s bottom line will continue to suffer (diversity brings profitability); Latinos will continue to move onto digital and all new platforms such as Mitú, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Fusion, etc. looking for a portrayal of their community that fit their reality.
We know Hollywood’s heart is in the right place, but now it’s time for their work product to match their morals. Latinos will have their wallets ready once they do.
ANA VALDEZ is Executive Director of the Latino Donor Collaborative (LDC), a non-profit organization dedicated to reshaping the perception of Latinos in America.