On June 3rd Actor/Director Eva Longoria interviewed Dolores Huerta a heroic Latina about the importance of film on the lives of Latinos.
Dolores made it clear that we need to have more stories about the lives of Latinos so that young children can get a positive image of themselves and people around them.
I had been invited by Actor Mariana Da Silva who snuck me into this amazing event.
There I sat in one of the plush seats of the Geffen Theatre at the Academy in Los Angeles listening to two amazing Latinas talk about the importance of positive images in the Latino community. Yes, we do not have enough Latinos in movies, commercials, documentaries, comedy shows, or as media personalities. While our numbers have increased our presence in the above platforms is not keeping up with our growth as a percentage of the population.
Growing up, my father would listen early in the morning ─and sometimes late at night─ to a radio station from Mexico. There were at that time no local Spanish language radio stations. And on some Sundays my dad would take me to the local theatre matinee to see movies imported from Mexico. I saw heroes with horses, guns, and mariachis and on some occasions a comedy with the famous Cantinflas.
By the 60’s in Colorado we had some budding Chicano/Latino newspapers and I founded “Ahora”, a rural newspaper focused on farmworker issues. And there were finally some Spanish language radio stations with good music and even more wonderful radio voices.
Soon there were television networks that produced novelas, news in Spanish and a platform for Latinos businesses. And yet in the white media we were pretty much absent.
Eventually some Latino faces and voices were added to the line ups of some networks.
Growing up we were taught in school with an early book for children that showed white children called Sally and Dick, their dog ‘Spot’, and the darned cat called ‘Puff’. They lived in a house with a green yard, and a white picket fence. This image of an American family was not our reality.
As I went through the education system, I found few pictures of people of color and never the real history of slavery, the killing of American Indians, and the mistreatment of Asians and Latinos. All progress and goodness were given to the white settlers. Which we would later learn were invaders.
In the movies we had white actors playing Mexican revolutionaries and Indian chiefs and on occasion Blacks and Asians. Perhaps we can change some of this if we, the people of color, can play in movies and play white historical figures. I want to be George Washington in a movie. If this were to happen, I know that some white people would line up to protest my portrayal because I would be a Brown George.
In the 60’s, there were Black operated theaters that showed films featuring Black actors, producers, and directors. Many of these films were never shown in main line theatres. And Mexican theatres began showing more movies, mostly made in Mexico. I am sure that other Latino ethnic groups had similar experiences.
While it was hard to get our music broadcasted and played, now it has begun to change. But much more needs to be done.
Every major news channel needs to have their news anchors lined up to look like the people of our country.
Our youth need to see people who look like them, talk like them on the big and small screens and in all the platforms where art exists, including books.
If we fail to do this, we will fail to provide our communities the voices, images and accomplishments that would help our youth to reach their highest level of achievements.