by Racialicious guest contributor David Zhou
The introduction this season of new characters of color has become increasingly of interest in the discussion about race on Heroes. In this Monday’s episode, we have learned more about the Honduran siblings trying to immigrate illegally into the States. As strikingly, we see in this episode for the first time a family of hurricane survivors in New Orleans. All of these characters continue to carry the burdens of expectation and typecasting in their roles. Here is just a taste of this week’s racial undertones.
Siblings Alejandro and Maya are still trying to escape the apparent lawlessness of Central America-slash-Mexico, as portrayed oh-so-accurately with palm trees, sand, and run-down neighborhoods. Throughout much of the hour, the siblings drive up to the border in a very standout, product-placed Nissan Rogue, intended to be visually discordant against the backdrop of the depicted third-world. As they drive, they meet a stranger (the baddest villain of last season, but that’s not important here). Maya translates as Alejandro warns her in Spanish.
When we talk about stereotypes on television, all accusations can be legitimate if there are no other characters to defy the claims portrayed. Here, Maya and Alejandro are the only Hispanic characters on the show, (the one last season suffered a bad heroin addiction and was killed off) and, hence, qualities embedded in their characters can become statements about entire groups of people. So in this episode, some things were clear: Maya’s constant references to God and miracles, presumably as a Catholic and their constant struggle to illegally cross the border into the States… well, what does that say about Hispanics?
There were many questionable parts to this episode other than this ride through Mexico. We see for the first time this week a family in post-Katrina New Orleans, relatives with whom a mixed-race child named Micah from last season is staying. As the child adapts to his evidently strange, new cultural surroundings, he has to put up with a hostile boy who splashes water on his face and mocks him for his different, “whiter” accent. Along with the du-rag-wearing criminal that attempts to rob a store at the end of the episode, it’s hard to miss the obvious stereotypes of confrontational black males.
The situations introduced by this new household raises larger themes and concerns about the city of New Orleans – depicted as a place of poverty, failed healing, and broken dreams. Monica, the daughter of the family, has apparently stepped up as the breadwinner of the household, or as the mean boy puts it, “in charge because someone died and made [her] that way.” Her struggles with career advancement and hope are raised as a focus. As she sings “I Will Survive” in the store where she works, she is discouraged by a white friend and co-worker before ultimately being turned down for promotion by, conveniently, a black manager. Monica says, “It’s not right. One storm comes rolling through here and blows away my whole life: my mother, my college education, my dreams.” For wanting what she does, Monica is consoled by her friend, who says, “Given the situation, I’d say you’re pretty normal.” (Eerie resemblance to Bill O’Reilly’s comment about Sylvia’s, maybe.) Micah puts the cherry on top of the theme of hope, saying “I just wish I could fix your dreams for you,” a reference to his superpower – fixing electronics. Many kudos to the politicization of a science-fiction show (I think of Battlestar Galactica again) with a worthy issue like Katrina, but in the end is the televised activism of Katrina by white media producers truly necessary? (They do really happen not to be people of color.)
But not all things this episode were utterly wrong and disturbing. Concerning Monica’s friendship with her white colleague, I’m relieved that it is portrayed as genuine and long-lasting, for we’ve been shown something different lately by the media through Jena about the stenches of divisive racism in the South. (Not that it doesn’t exist, but it should at least make us happy to see something different.) Also, we continue to enjoy the sexualization of Hiro’s father Kaito, who is yet again hinted as having had a prolonged sexual history with a female supporting character. It’s nice to see on Heroes a statement so explicit against the emasculation of Asian males.
There were many troublesome details in this episodes of Heroes, and I hope I’ve done them all fair justice. Now I just want to ask readers: what is up with the song that Mohinder was singing? I thought the yogic mantra that played at times in the first season was cool, but… well, here I turn it over to Elton for next week.