What Casting A Latina On SNL Means For The Rest Of Us

We are a people who, unfortunately, have gotten used to voicing our frustrations only to fall on deaf ears.
10/02/2016 01:51 pm ET Updated Oct 03, 2016

Half asleep on the couch, I found myself jumping (or rolling) to the edge of my seat as the opening credits to Saturday Night Live’s first episode of the season began. After what seemed like ages, the announcer finally got to the featured players where, suddenly, in a flash of font and face, I saw her. A part of me believed the announcement of Melissa Villaseñor weeks ago was a dream, but as I rubbed my eyes to make sure I wasn’t imagining the name of a real life Latina finally cast in a show I had been obsessed with since age 10 (whether I understood the jokes at the time is debatable) and her name actually pronounced correctly, I realized this was no dream.

As one would expect, as a Latina comedian myself, I was thrilled to finally be represented on a TV show that has had a long history of lacking diversity and even longer history of not casting Latinas in particular (never, to be exact). Alongside my peers, I was also in complete shock. You see, we, as a community, could not have seen this coming. We are a people who unfortunately have gotten used to voicing our frustrations only to fall on deaf ears. It was only a couple years ago that the social movement #StillNoLatinas launched after Cecily Strong’s offensive portrayal of a Latina on the show. So for SNL to actually listen was just short of a revolution for us.

What I didn’t expect was for that happiness and pride for my fellow Latina to quickly dissipate into raw anxiety and a strong sense of urgency. This was a door opened. This was change. This was personal. This was a fire officially lit and now what in the hell was I going to do about it?

Along with the rest of the news outlets, I wanted to know who she was. I only recently saw Villaseñor’s impeccable impressions on Mas Mejor’s Youtube channel. After recovering from spewing coffee out of my mouth in laughter while watching her immaculately impersonate JLo, I immediately thought, Damn, I really need to up my game. This was the same feeling that overtook my entire being when I read the SNL announcement, except this time it was paralyzing. It was as if reality slapped me in the face and yelled at me in the same tone my mother would whenever she caught me out being a callejera (aka woman of the street, which I wasn’t FYI) screaming, “What are you even doing out there?!” Compared to Villaseñor, not much.

Yes, it is true that being a featured player on SNL is no guarantee of anything and SNL definitely isn’t the only path to determine a comedian’s success, but it sure as hell doesn’t hurt. What this casting meant for the rest of us, not only Latinas but Latinx comedians as a whole, was that we all needed to up our game.

Personally, I see myself as an actor/comedian who happens to be Latina, but most of the time, it is easier to be categorized as Latina comedian. I am perfectly content with this, as I have found that any content I produce that resonates with a Latinx audience tends to get the highest viewership. This in turn has opened several doors for me: I am a part of one of the largest Latino digital video content network’s called Mitu, and I freelance produce and act in Youtube videos for Flama, AKA Univision’s English language digital funny zone.

These have only been recent wins for me in a sea of struggle. From being told “You’re Spanish isn’t good enough” to “We already have a Latina on the show” combined with a ton of “No’s,” my acting journey from Chicago to New York and now Los Angles has been less than ideal. It is difficult to stand out when others feel the need to compartmentalize your identity and are not quite sure what to do with you. Fortunately, I have been able to learn and take with me important lessons after each door has shut in my not-quite-brown-but-olive-tan face. The most important lesson being: to be myself.

But after the SNL announcement I realized that being myself is not enough. Our collective hustle needs to be stronger than our non-Latinx counterparts for the simple fact that more work and education needs to be done in order for the mainstream to understand the culture that drives our content. We have incredibly unique perspectives of the world, and the way we move about it shapes not only our lives but also those who come into contact with them. I say collective because we are inherently community driven, and every success is a product of many. We can’t do this alone. The more we share our wants, needs, desires, and struggles, the better off we will be because someone is always listening.

I learned how important listening and sharing my perspective really was when I first became a content creator. I discovered people were actually listening and watching me after my first ever Youtube upload “Shit White Girls Say To Latinas” hit the 1MM view mark. Ever since then, I realized I had a voice and I needed to keep talking because there are young Latinas out there who don’t feel they can. I need to be better because I want Latina women to have a voice and believe that they have the right to just BE. I need to be better because there is power in numbers (Dominizuelan, Comedy High, Jenny Lorenzo, Joanna Hausmann I’m looking at you). I need to better because comedy is my passion; it is my first love and will never leave my being.

The addition of Melissa Villaseñor to Saturday Night Live is a symbol of recognition for all of us and with only seeing her in one episode it is a milestone for Latinas everywhere (no pressure). But what we also need to remember is that she is not the only Latina funny woman. Now is the time to step up and push ourselves even more than ever: to be fearless, smart, creative and most importantly, our authentic and unapologetically funny selves. Even though she is Latina, she is not every Latina. The more opportunities we are given to shine, the more chances we get to showcase our complex, unique, and variable spectrum of comedy. I realize that this will probably be categorized as the most unfunny piece of content I’ve ever created and is counter-intuitive to everything I just wrote that I needed and wanted to be, but sometimes getting real with yourself means getting serious about your funny.

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