Six years ago, I had a deal with Lifetime Television to develop my bestselling novel, The Dirty Girls Social Club, as a TV series. It soon became clear that the relationship wasn’t going to work, when two executives insisted that my pilot outline “wasn’t Latin enough,” because it told of middle class, educated American women who happened to be Latina.
“This reads as if it were about me and my friends,” complained one executive in disgust.
I didn’t know how to respond, so I asked her what she’d prefer.
“Why don’t we make the girls debating whether or not to date men in prison? I know that’s what Latinas talk about, just like it’s what black women talk about.”
Right. Because all middle class, college-educated professional women talk about dating prisoners.
In her dreams.
I got out of that deal because of this idiocy, and never looked back.
It is not wrong to be a maid, or even a Latina maid, but there is something very wrong with an American entertainment industry that continually tells Latinas that this is all they are or can ever be.
My grandmother was a maid in Cuba; my biological grandfather was her employer. My father, never claimed by his bio-dad, was a janitor when he first began working in the United States, as a teen immigrant. My father went on to get his PhD, sort of a real-life Good Will Hunting, and became a leading sociologist. He raised me to believe in myself and my voice; I went to Columbia, and I’m a bestselling author Tom Wolfe called one of the most important social critics of our time.
We don’t see stories about people like me or my dad. Indeed, network executives say to my face that I don’t exist. That’s the problem.
Ten years ago, Mexican American actress Lupe Ontiveros lamented to the New York Times that she had been cast as a maid 150 times in her career. The astounding number of times this one (outstanding) Latina actress has been cast as a maid destroys Longoria’s defense of Devious Maids as “Latina maids deserving to have their stories told, too.” According to academic research on Latino roles in mainstream US film and TV, the maid is pretty much the only Latina story being told, other than seductress, whore, dying immigrant and gang member.
There is more to stereotyping of Latinas than laziness or lack of information.
– Alisa Valdes, “The problem with “Devious Maids” goes far beyond Hollywood” via NBCLatino, June 7, 2013
- Trayvon’s Dad: ‘My Kid Was Perfect to Me’ (The Root)
My kid was perfect to me. As a father, it hurts to see how Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, has tried to twist the truth. And I can’t defend my son, who has been killed. It’s demoralizing. How do you blame the victim?What they don’t understand is that Zimmerman didn’t only murder my son — he destroyed an entire branch of my family tree. I looked forward to the possibility of having grandkids from Trayvon. And that’s something that can never happen now. But as far as the attacks on Trayvon’s character, it certainly isn’t true, and therefore doesn’t affect me personally. I just hope it doesn’t work with the jury and the public.O’Mara has tried to focus attention on whether or not Trayvon had smoked marijuana in the past. First, that’s irrelevant to the facts of the case. I recently read a government report that showed 36 percent of American high school seniors had tried marijuana in the past year. And white kids do it more often than blacks or Hispanics. Is that a reason to shoot a kid? Would Zimmerman have shot a white kid in that neighborhood?
- Opinion: The problem with “Devious Maids” goes far beyond Hollywood (NBC Latino)
It is not wrong to be a maid, or even a Latina maid, but there is something very wrong with an American entertainment industry that continually tells Latinas that this is all they are or can ever be.My grandmother was a maid in Cuba; my biological grandfather was her employer. My father, never claimed by his bio-dad, was a janitor when he first began working in the United States, as a teen immigrant. My father went on to get his PhD, sort of a real-life Good Will Hunting, and became a leading sociologist. He raised me to believe in myself and my voice; I went to Columbia, and I’m a bestselling author Tom Wolfe called one of the most important social critics of our time.We don’t see stories about people like me or my dad. Indeed, network executives say to my face that I don’t exist. That’s the problem.
- The Dangerous, Infectious Logic of National Security (Colorlines)
It is comforting to believe these things have nothing to do with one another, to insist that the administration’s shocking spying program is a distinct issue from the trends we’ve witnessed in communities of color for years. But the logic used to defend secretly collecting the communications data of people not accused of any crime is the same logic used to defend NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program and Homeland Security’s deportation apparatus. The logic of “national security” was developed and honed by law enforcement practices inside communities of color. It is one of the more striking examples of a basic truth: racial injustice is cancerous; it eats the national body from the inside out.
By Latoya Peterson
I generally skip the celebrity interviews in Lucky. I was planning to do the same with Eva Longoria’s, but I happened to catch the term “Federalist Papers” on a skim of “Happily Eva After” and decided to double back. And I’m glad I did:
She’s more effusive when talking about the minutiae of education reform in the Latino community or how hard it is to pass a citizenship test. (Longoria had her assistant, a U.S. native, take the test. She failed.) “They’re not easy questions. When was the Constitution ratified?” Longoria asks the room.
“1786!” shouts out the photographer.
“No!” says Longoria. “1787.”
She’s been studying the Constitution as well, both for herself, but also as a way for her, as a Democrat, to comprehend the Right. “I think it’s important that people who are politically active understand the other side as well,” she says. “I just read the Ronald Reagan biography. When you’re fighting for social justice, one of my biggest pet peeves is speaking out of ignorance.”
Longoria tells me she’s been interested in politics since she was 17, when a high school teacher in her hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas, made her class volunteer for a Presidential campaign. It was 1992; she picked Clinton. Right now, as part of Obama’s reelection campaign, she’s been spending a lot of time in the swing states, talking with women and Latino voters.
Celebrities, especially female celebrities, struggle to be seen as full human beings. So it’s laudable that interviewer Starlee Kine made sure to touch on Longoria’s new projects (For Greater Glory with Andy Garcia is a standout), her production credits (she’s got a dating show in the works and is the executive producer of that Devious Maids show), her start in political activism, why she’s reading 50 Shades of Grey, and her sense of style. Now if only we could get a little more rigor in questions about her projects…
By Arturo R. García
After Work It and Rob!, it’s fair to wonder if ABC’s upcoming show Devious Maids will continue the bad trend in depictions of Latin@s on network television. Nobody can say for sure, of course, until the show airs, but there are signs that are both encouraging … and not.
The core ensemble seems promising: Dania Ramírez (Heroes), Judy Reyes (Scrubs), Ana Ortiz (Ugly Betty) and Roselyn Sanchez (Without A Trace) are set to star, and Eva Longoria will serve as a co-producer with Desperate Housewives showrunner Marc Cherry; she’s also the executive producer for a fictionalized version of A Class Apart, a documentary chronicling Hernandez v. Texas, the 1954 Supreme Court case that expanded civil rights to Mexican-Americans.
I think most of the Latino community is proud that there’s a show employing four dynamic Latinas… and they’re the leads on a show. They’re not the guest stars, they’re not the co-star, they’re not sub characters. They are the leads of the show, and they are playing maids, which is a realistic reflection of our society today in America. When we get any sort of backlash like that–”Oh, they’re just playing the stereotypical maids”–my immediate response is, “So you’re telling me those stories aren’t worth telling. That those people are lesser than. That their stories aren’t worth exploring. That they have no complexity in their life because they’re a maid? And that’s what angers me. And especially within the Latino community, with people who have had their lives touched by nannys, housekeepers, gardeners, valet, whatever occupation we have occupied as Latinos. It’s a reality, so why not tell their story and their point of view?
That all sounds well and good, but there’s a few flaws in Longoria’s argument. As Lorenza Muñoz at Mamiverse points out, that includes Cherry’s involvement:
… considering it’s coming from the creator of “Desperate Housewives,” a soap opera rife with naughty characters and murderous plot twists, “Devious Maids” will likely just serve up fun romps rather than introspection.
“If the title is “Devious Maids,” then you have to go in as an audience realizing that it will be a very specific type of show and not one that is designed to enhance or uplift the Latino community,” said Ligiah Villalobos, a television and film writer, whose Hallmark Hall of Fame movie “Firelight” will air in April. “Most soap operas are not there to enlighten, they are there to entertain.”
Moreover, Longoria’s statement dodges one of the principal concerns regarding the Latina-as-maid stereotype: it’s not that domestic workers’ stories aren’t worth telling; it’s the fact that Latina actresses keep getting slotted in those roles. (It should be noted that Longoria didn’t offer much insight upon this on CNN’s Latino In America a few years back, either.)
Jezebel’s Dodai Stewart brought this to light in mentioning the case of veteran actress Lupe Ontiveros:
Ontiveros — who has a bachelor’s degree in social work and has played a maid 300 times on screen — also said: “I long to play a judge. I long to play a lesbian woman. I long to play a councilman, someone with some chutzpah.”
The problem is, very rarely are these kind of parts open to women with Latina backgrounds. Even Jennifer Lopez played a maid. And think of Teresa Yenque, who has been on seven different episodes of Law & Order: SVU, and played “Cleaning Lady,” “Housekeeper,” and “Housekeeper/Nanny.”
Finally, there’s the issue of Maids’ source material; the series is based on Ellas son … la alegría del hogar,(The Disorderly Maids Of The Neighborhood in English), a 2009 Mexican telenovela that lives up to Villalobos’ description, as the scenes below with Danny Perea (she’s the younger woman with long hair) show us:
A look at a trailer for alegría strains Longoria’s sentiment further:
For the non-Spanish speakers, here’s the skinny: our heroines work in the same neighborhood, navigating their personal and professional lives, until somebody disappears, a mysterious case of money appears, and it falls upon the ladies to crack the case. Oh, and there’s also a Nazi and a mute groundskeeper played by Alegría’s executive producer, Eugenio Derbez, most recently seen on Rob!
That sounds a bit like Desperate Housewives, doesn’t it? And while one can hope that Longoria will help Maids show us more nuanced portrayals of domestic workers and hire a diverse group of writers and directors, it’s also too early for her to be declaring this adaptation a source of pride.