Genuine Imitation

When Senator Ted Cruz won the Iowa caucuses, many media outlets noted that he became the first Hispanic to win a caucus, anywhere. But that milestone quickly became subsumed in a discussion of whether Cruz was really and truly Hispanic. Perhaps he was one of those LINOs (Latino in name only), or as I heard growing up, a coconut (brown on the outside and white on the inside).

 

[ File # csp6110028, License # 1325460 ] Licensed through http://www.canstockphoto.com in accordance with the End User License Agreement (http://www.canstockphoto.com/legal.php) (c) Can Stock Photo Inc. / margo555

Personally, I accept both Cruz and Marco Rubio as Latino. But clearly, neither is illustrative of the Hispanic experience.

For example, picture Rubio playing up his family’s immigration experience to a crowd of Latinos in Texas. “Yes, my family came from Cuba, which means we were granted special status and didn’t have to worry about ICE raids like all of you. Now who wants me to kiss one of their niños?”

Or imagine Cruz talking about his privileged past to a crowd in East LA. That’s about as likely as him playing up the fact that he was born in Canada (which is apparently still a shocker to many Republicans), or denying the scientific consensus that he has a creepy face.

But it’s much more than their backgrounds, of course. As president, neither would tackle issues crucial to the Latino community. Rubio has flip-flopped so many times on immigration that it’s impossible to know what he believes. Perhaps more refreshingly, Cruz is upfront about his right-wing insanity, so we know he really couldn’t care less about affordable health care or better schools or other touchy-feely concepts that Latinos inexplicably want addressed.

As such, I would never vote for either of these guys, and stats show that most Latinos agree with me and, furthermore, aren’t too wild about the GOP in general.

But like it or not, they are both Hispanic. In any case, I’m not one to pass judgment on their Latino bona fides.

I’m fairly light-skinned for a Latino. I’ve never been to my family’s homeland (El Salvador). And my Spanish is lousy (ok, maybe a little better than Cruz’s). So does all that make me a fake Hispanic?

I hope not, because in that case, I would have to change the name of this website.

 


Family Far and Wide

So I was at the ophthalmologist’s office, getting my yearly exam to make sure glaucoma hasn’t kicked in, or that my retina hasn’t detached (again).

In any case, the nurse looked at my chart and said, “Hey, we have the same last name.”

Now, the only people I’ve ever met with my last name are cousins or aunts or some other semi-immediate family member. So this was a little surprising.

The nurse made me go through my family history, and we discovered that we have the same great-grandfather (!). Yes, I too am impressed that I was able to remember the name of my great-grandfather. Try it sometime — it isn’t easy.

According to my subsequent Google research, the nurse and I are second cousins. She was California-born, which makes sense in that the largest population of Salvadorians (outsider of El Salvador, of course) is right here in Los Angeles. And she assumed, naturally, that I was also a SoCal native.

“No,” I said. “I’m from Wisconsin.”

Consider her mind blown.

Yes, the nurse was impressed that our family name had made it all the way to the American Midwest. But then she added that some of her cousins (my third cousins?) moved to Melbourne a decade ago.

“I talked to them on FaceTime a few weeks ago,” the nurse said. “They have these El Salvadorian kids who have thick Australian accents.”

Well… crikey.

nw-gal-aus-20140125214254582223-620x414

 

Later, I told my mom about running into my second cousin, the nurse. Mi madre really wasn’t that surprised.

“Your great-grandparents had eighteen children,” my mom said.

“I’m guessing they were very Catholic,” I said.

“Yes, so you were bound to run into a cousin someday.”

OK, that’s true. But I still thought it was kind of cool.

 


The Urge to Merge

I know what you’re thinking.

“Hey, Hispanic Fanatic, wouldn’t this country be better off if huge corporations called more of the shots?”

Yes, I’m nothing if not a shill for the benefits of global conglomerates having even more control over our society. I mean, when has big business ever screwed us over?

Puppet master

 

 

While you ponder that most rhetorical of questions, I will draw your attention to a recent study that looked at media company mergers.

Researchers at Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race analyzed media company mergers after 2008, but they focused on the Comcast-NBCUniversal deal because it was the largest and well documented.

Now, remember that one of the many arguments that media groups make when merging is that their new tentacled beast of an organization will increase racial and ethnic diversity. These new companies will also make the internet free, cure cancer, and teach your dog to speak, but I digress.

So how did the Comcast-NBCUniversal merger do?

Well, the researchers found that “despite a pledge to increase Latino representation in programming, there was no significant increase in diversity behind the camera.”

The percentage of Latino directors went up a meager 0.8% after the merger. But the percentage of Hispanic producers, executive producers, and writers all actually decreased.

Yikes — that ain’t so good.

To be fair, the study also found that the percentage of Hispanic actors onscreen increased from 6.6% before the merger to 7.3% afterward. That’s good news, right? Well, even that mild improvement comes with a caveat, as deeper analysis shows that this increase “was accompanied by a significant rise in Latino stereotypes on NBCUniversal. Latinos who appeared as maids, janitors, [and] inmates” nearly tripled from 2008 to 2014.

Basically, more shows were hiring more Hispanics to appear as servants and thugs.

Yay for progress!

By the way, before the merger, Comcast and NBCUniversal had no Latino executives. But today, 4 out of 130 senior executives are Latino, accounting for 3.1% of upper management. However, only one (yes, one Latino executive in the whole company) holds a position outside of Telemundo.

Now, one can look at this study and link it to the current uproar that Hispanics, African Americans, and Asian Americans are a combined 0-for-40 when it comes to recent Oscar nominations for acting.

When we do that, we must come to the conclusion that, as the researchers so diplomatically put it, “The agreements and promises made before the merger [aren’t] really panning out.”

But I’m sure things will be different when the next big media merger happens. Next time, all their promises will magically come true.

Yup.

 

 


A Latino Millennial Walks into a Bar…

 

We Latinos are known for many positive characteristics, such as our strong family bonds, fierce work ethic, and inherent sexiness (really, it’s a thing).

However, we don’t have the reputation of being particularly funny people. As I’ve written before, Hispanic equivalents to Jon Stewart or Chris Rock or Tina Fey are tough to name.

But maybe that has less to do with culture than with access.

Historically, there has been no hub for Latino comedy. To fill that niche, Broadway Video Enterprises (founded by SNL creator Lorne Michaels) recently launched Más Mejor, a new online comedy studio powered by Latino voices.

The site will feature content by Hispanic comedians and/or about Latino themes. Among the big names involved are SNL alumni Fred Armisen and Horatio Sanz, who joined together to contribute one of Más Mejor’s most popular videos so far. Other early hits include a takedown of Mexico City’s tourism campaign and a jab at every Latino’s favorite presidential candidate, Donald Trump. Future content will include topical sketches, cultural and political satire, and original web videos.

One of the site’s partners is Batanga Media, which will distribute premium content to its 70 million monthly users.

Rafael Urbina, CEO of Batanga, agrees that few Latino comedians have broken through to the mainstream. But he sees that as less of an issue — and even less of a goal — going forward.

“Crossing over into the mainstream is great,” Urbina says. “But Más Major isn’t so much about breaking through to the traditional media. It’s more about engaging with the audience directly.”

Urbina points out that Latinos in general, and young Hispanics in particular, are voracious consumers of online media. For example, Hispanics watch 62 percent more digital video than non-Hispanics.

To a Latino Millennial, therefore, it doesn’t matter if a comedian has his own Comedy Central show or was featured in a Judd Apatow movie. All that matters is whether the guy makes them laugh when they click on a video downloaded to their phones.

© Copyright 2013 CorbisCorporation

“We can reach exactly who we want to reach, and not have to water down the content in hopes of reaching a mass audience,” Urbina says. “If we do that well, we will create our own mass audience. A new mainstream.”

It’s an ambitious goal, and one that goes beyond proving that Hispanics can be funny. If Más Mejor is successful, it could indicate a new model not just for Latino audiences, but for an increasingly digital world.

Urbina adds, however, that one element will always be essential when it comes to great comedy.

“Authenticity is a key pillar,” he says. “Young Latinos love comedy, and if people are authentic and talented, we now have a way for them to build a dedicated following.”

 


A Permanent Upside-Down Frown

Most of the people in my family are fairly cheerful people. My mom, in particular, is the most upbeat and optimistic person I’ve ever met.

It’s a little odd, in that nobody in my family is a millionaire, and we’ve all had our fair share of traumas. And yet, here we are, apparently happier than your average stressed-out American.

stresed worker

And a recent study found that Latin America is arguably the happiest place on Earth. Yes, even with all the region’s socioeconomic problems, residents of Latin America don’t sweat the small stuff.

Why is this?

Well, I’ve written before about the Latino tendency to be positive, even in the face of grim news and dreary statistics. But I recently came across a scientific theory for this relentless smiling.

Now, it’s old news that research “suggests an association between mental wellbeing and a mutation of the gene that influences the reuptake of serotonin, which is believed to be linked to human mood.”

Basically, much of our happiness, or lack thereof, may be traced to our genetic makeup.

Scientists have found that the Scandinavian population is most likely to have this gene. This may be one reason why Denmark, Finland, and other counties in that region perennially rank as the happiest nations on Earth.

Of course, a progressive government that ensures a high standard of living for their citizens may have something to do with that perpetual singsong attitude. But let’s not dwell on that because it’s, you know, socialism.

In any case, additional research has found that like the Scandinavians, Latin Americans are “more likely to contain a specific allele involved in sensory pleasure and pain reduction.”

As such, Latin Americas and Scandinavians are more likely to be chipper than, say, the Chinese or the Iraqis (of course, there are very real non-genetic reasons for their respective unhappiness too).

Is it possible, then, that as more Hispanics intermarry and intermingle and inter-you-know-what, they will spread their happiness genes among more and more Americans?

Hey, there’s only one way to find out.

 


Write, Wrote, Written

It wasn’t until 1990 that the Pulitzer Prize for fiction first went to a Latino (Oscar Hijuelos). But today, Hispanic writers routinely have awards and book deals thrown at them from passing cars.

OK, that’s not quite true. Latino writers, like all ethnic-minority writers, continue to have problems breaking through and finding a large audience for their works.

The founders of the YouNiversity Project, Jonathan Marcantoni and Chris Campanioni, are well aware of this. Both are award-winning writers busy nurturing their own careers, yet they’ve taken the initiative to launch a program to educate promising authors on the unique challenges of 21st-century publishing.

The program helps writers establish a social media presence, build an online platform, and engage their communities. YouNiversity also helps writers learn the craft of editing and improve their writing. Marcantoni says that Hispanic writers face a unique challenge when it comes to tackling these concepts.

“A key issue for Latino writers is that they are grouped under this umbrella of ‘Latino stories,’ which not only homogenizes the kinds of stories that are expected of them — namely, identity and immigration narratives — it also homogenizes the writer’s particular culture,” Marcantoni says. “The YouNiversity project offers Latino writers a chance to get out from that umbrella, embrace their unique experience, perspective, and interests, and build an audience through that prism rather than adjusting their voice to fit the status quo.”

So how does YouNiversity help Latino writers accomplish this goal? Well, the program accepts promising artists who understand an essential, often overwhelming truth: modern publishing is global publishing.

globe

“Your work has the potential to reach people on the other side of the world instantaneously,” Marcantoni says. “So how do you effectively do that? For starters, you need to know who you are as a writer. This is why YouNiversity doesn’t accept brand-new writers. We need people who already know what their brand is, or have an idea of what that brand is. Once you know what you write about and why, you can figure out who your audience is.”

Campanioni adds that the ideal candidates for YouNiversity are “women and men who are critical thinkers and want to contribute to the cultural dialogue with their art and how they represent themselves in the culture.”

The most recent version of YouNiversity accepted two writers — Nami Thompson and Vivian M. Chabrier — who received hands-on training in author branding on several different platforms. Thompson and Chabrier learned about the creative uses of the cover letter and pitch, how to interview with publishing professionals, how to organize author events, and how to create multimedia artist statements, such as projects on YouTube or Vimeo.

“We want our students to learn the practical aspects of life as a writer, not just how to construct plot and dialogue in their stories, but what to do with a story once it’s drafted and revised, and how to start a dialogue with other writers and editors to find the right market for their work,” Campanioni says. “I like to think that YouNiversity is situated at the intersection of literature and technology and publishing, and this is where we meet our students and where they meet us.”

The program is not limited solely to Latino writers, but Marcantoni says that YouNiversity can help Hispanic writers in a number of ways, such as showing them how to create their own paths beyond the “Latino” label.

“What truly makes writers distinct is the richness and fullness of their command over their art,” Marcantoni says. “That confidence makes for marketing that grows out of the artistry, rather than compromising the art to fit an ad campaign.”

Or as Campanioni puts it, “The more alternatives there are to an overpriced, overvalued factory-stamped MFA, the better off our future writers will be. Regardless of what route they choose, at least they will have options.”

 


A Day Long Remembered

Tomorrow is my birthday. This means all of you have run out of time to get me a gift this year.

But don’t feel bad. I plan take the day off and finally go see the new Star Wars.

And yes, I will now mention that I’ll be happy to see Oscar Isaac join Jimmy Smits as one of the few Latinos to exist in a galaxy filled with countless Jawas, Gamorreans, and Wampas.

oscarisaacs

Of course, this latest chapter of the epic has drawn attention for being more multicultural and female-positive (a development that has caused way too many people to freak the fuck out).

Really, when it comes to light saber duels, Jedi mind tricks, and hot princesses in gold bikinis, can’t we all just get along?


Even Better in 2016

For my last post of the year, I thought I would regale you with an amusing anecdote that happened to my mom.

She was standing in line at the post office, talking to my grandmother. As I may have mentioned, my grandmother is pushing 100, so it’s unlikely that she will learn English at this point. Therefore, my mom was speaking to her in Spanish.

Of course, that’s just asking for it.

A blustery man standing behind my mom yelled, “This is America. We speak English.”

Really, he said that.

My mom turned around and said, “Yes, this is America. And that means I can speak whatever I want.”

amerflag88

The man gasped and struggled for a rejoinder. Either he didn’t think my mom spoke English (and was stunned that she had understood him), or he just didn’t believe anyone would have the nerve to question his simplistic assertion to his face. Or maybe my mom’s statement — with its firm basis in legal, cultural, and historical fact — just flummoxed him.

Regardless, my mom let him have it for another minute or two, using such terms as “freedom” and “civil rights” and “pride.” And he just kept jabbering for a proper rebuttal.

With the dressing down complete, my mom turned back to my grandmother. Before she could resume their conversation, however, the man’s companion — presumably his wife — tapped my mom on the shoulder.

“Good for you,” the man’s wife said. “I keep telling him to shut up and keep his stupid opinions to himself. Now maybe he’ll listen.”

And the man said nothing.

So that’s your anecdote. OK, maybe it’s not as amusing as I implied. But it is funny. Parts of it, anyway.

Happy New Year.

 


Sexual Tension

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a big fan of PostSecret. However, my interest isn’t based on the admirable quality of PostSecret’s mission, which is that by revealing hidden fears and dark thoughts, we bond and embrace our common humanity.

No, I just like scrolling though the site to see how many freaks are out there (and there tons of them).

In any case, last week’s PostSecret included the following:

them

This explains a lot.

First, we’ll ignore the fact that the card includes the slur “illegals.” Although I must point out that when revealing your sexual fantasies in a public forum, you should employ proper terms (e.g., “the undocumented”).

We’ll also overlook that the card writer specifies “illegal Latinos,” which implies that he or she doesn’t hate “illegal” Brits or Nigerians or Koreans. Nope, it’s just the Latinos, thank you very much.

The essence of the card is that the writer is simultaneously attracted to, and repulsed by, undocumented Latinos. Yes, it all makes sense now.

All those right-wing blowhards who scream about “illegals” taking over America? All those Minutemen at the border with rifles aimed at Mexico? All those suburban dads who spew racist epitaphs at Hispanics?

Yeah, they really just want to fuck us.

It’s sort of a more vulgar, sociopolitical version of a Hollywood romantic comedy in which the heroine and hero despise one another for 80 minutes before falling into each other’s arms at the end. Yes, someday the whole immigration debate will look as quaint as a repeated viewing of When Harry Met Sally.

So the next time some Fox News commentator rails against “illegals” or uses the term “brown invasion,” just nod and smile, knowing full well that this is his or her awkward attempt at flirting.

They just can’t help it.

 

 


Closer Than You Think

The cataclysm in Syria has people all over the world concerned about the plight of refugees fleeing for their lives.

Actually, here in America, we’re just a little less concerned, in that a majority of us don’t want to let any refugees — even little kids — into our country because we’re afraid that they’re Isis or Al Qaeda or whoever wants to kill us now.

But for many other Americans, these ghastly images have provoked prayers, donations, and the occasional Google search phrase “How do I adopt a Syrian war orphan?” (Answer: you probably can’t).

This outpouring of support is admirable, but it is also a bit mystifying, in that we have a refugee crisis right outside our door.

I’m referring, of course, to the thousands of women and children fleeing Central America because of that region’s horrific violence. Strangely enough, many Americans don’t view this as a refugee crisis. One reason for this is because, as my friend Hector Luis Alamo wrote in Latino Rebels, “the U.S. government has refused to label them refugees, opting instead to refer to them as ‘migrants,’ a word which implies they’re little more than tourists.”

As Alamo points out, this simple linguistic trick has the effect of convincing many Americans that when it comes to terrified Central American refugees, “under those tattered, dusty clothes lies a lazy loafer or a scheming evildoer.”

In essence, many Americans have taken their hatred of the undocumented and affixed it to this latest disaster. As such, we don’t see that Central Americans have much in common with Syrians. Nor do we believe that they are both humanitarian disasters.

We will, however, have the same response, which is to shut the gates and pull up the drawbridge.

lockeddoor

Hey, at least we’re consistent.

 

 


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