Latina’s Tribute to Hollywood Maids Hurts More than ‘Helps’

By Arturo R. García

It’s common practice for a blog to time a post in conjunction with a notable movie release. But a post on Latina Magazine’s blog might have been too on the nose for its’ own good.

Late last week, this post by Lee Hernandez featured “10 Latinas Who Have Played ‘The Help,’” a tie-in, of course, with the recent release of the film of the same name.

“Latinas have a long history of playing ‘the help’ in movies and on television,” Hernandez wrote in the introduction. “Here are 10 of our favorite Latina ‘help’ roles of all-time!” Among the actresses mentioned in the ensuing slideshow: Jennifer Lopez in Maid In Manhattan; Adriana Barraza, who was nominated for an Oscar and Golden Globe for her work in Babel; and Lupe Ontiveros, who, Hernandez mentions, “estimates that she has played a maid between 150 and 300 times in her career.”

The problem is, Ontiveros’ experience has been radically different than Barraza’s: as she told Soledad O’Brien on CNN’s Latino In America about playing “the help” for most of her career:

It’s disturbing, let me tell you. After 30-someodd years over and over and over again. I’m an educated person. I speak five languages. I am very capable of a lot more than they think I am.

Reached for comment Monday, Hernandez said in an e-mail:

Maids are some of the hardest-working people in this country, and the actresses we spotlight do a wonderful job of capturing the strength and dignity of the job. While we look forward to the day when there are more of us portraying doctors and lawyers and political leaders, there will never come a day when we ignore an entire group of Latinas who are trying to support their families—or the actresses who do a brilliant job of portraying them.

While Hernandez’s sentiment comes from a good place, including Ontiveros with the likes of Consuela from Family Guy – who’s not even voiced by a Latina – undermines it. The way the Hollywood Shuffle has operated for Ontiveros and other Latino actors for decades wasn’t lost on Latina Fatale:

How many lead roles have Latinas played? How often do hit movies feature Latinas in strong roles, as opposed to roles such as maids, gangsters, and other stereotypical roles? I can bet that Latinas play maid roles more often than not, because other roles are not offered to them.

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  • Keith

    I think you are lying about who you claim to be. Primarily since you didn’t even take the time to make an actual case against the detractors of “the help”.

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  • http://www.biculturalmom.com Chantilly Patiño

    Well said!  This is disgraceful, and the fact that Hernandez tries to defend these selections is laughable!  One supposed “Latina actress” isn’t a Latina at all!  Disgusted by the whole thing and it’s just one more sign that this book and film “The Help” is promoting the wrong ideas about race and oppression!

  • Morenaclara


    I’m tired of Latina Magazine being such a joke.
    I tried to support it but it keeps  printing crap like this.  Rarely does one see a Latina as Girl next door, the nerdy girl, or
    the savvy business woman.  It’s just
    maid and that’s it. 

  • FlickAppeal

    Damn, I forgot that even  J. Lo who defined the modern day Superstar/Businesswoman played a maid. Sad.

    • Mickey

       Salma Hayek also played a maid once on a television show called “Dream On” years ago. I’ve always liked Salma and thought of her as one of the Latina actresses that could make changes in Hollyweird along with J. Lo.

  • Anonymous

    The problem isn’t so much that so many Latinas play maids. It is the way we present maids period. One can make a film/TV show where maids have agency and are not a stereotype. After all Latinas – especially immigrants are overrepresented in such fields and they deserve to have their stories told. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Javan-Nelums/696759111 Javan Nelums

    You know I grew up with a mix of Black and Hispanic. I would love to see a Latina woman playing an Authority Figure in movies like a President or a Leader of a group (not a resistance of a dictatorship) but some one strong and someone that even a male can look up to. 

    • http://www.biculturalmom.com Chantilly Patiño

      Hecks yeah!  I’d love to see this too…and a strength that goes deeper than the whole “sex-pot” or “exotic” stereotype.