I rarely watch TV. I have three young boys. If you have young children, you’ll understand those two sentences.
But my boys are with my parents now, and so after a long work day yesterday, I collapsed into my bed to chill out for a minute and I started clicking through the channels. There was a lot of nothing. Then, I saw Julia Louis-Dreyfus, whom I knew in my pre-motherhood days from Seinfeld and even from Saturday Night Live before that. It was her new show, well, new to me at least, The New Adventures of Old Christine.
I’d never seen the show and I was catching it about mid-way in. Julia’s character, Christine, was sitting in a small bedroom with a character played by Ana Ortiz, whom I recognized from the show Ugly Betty.
It’s rare to see Latina actresses on shows that don’t already revolve around Latino characters. The scene had Christine sitting on a bed while Belinda, played by Ana, ironed clothes. The two women were new friends and they were about to go out together. But Christine discovered something that made her uncomfortable: Belinda was a housekeeper, and the housekeeper of a woman that Christine is eager to impress.
Really?, I thought. Why am I surprised anymore that the rare appearance of a Latina in a non-Latin show has to have her cast as the maid? Then, I noticed the other details of this character. Yes, of course she’s wearing a blouse embroidered with bright flowers. That’s what Latinas all wear, right? Her room had a large travel poster of Portugal. Was it a souvenir from the character’s vacation there? No. It was a device to let viewers understand her brown skin. (And, am I so wrong to think the writers calculated that by making the character Portuguese they’d avoid provoking angry protestors to march on their studios?)
The plot had Belinda’s employer holding a book club gathering. None of the other actresses portraying members of the book club were brunettes and they quickly accepted the dark-haired Christine as an extra maid, not as the mother of one of their childrens’ schoolmates.
The story had Christine increasingly uncomfortable with Belinda’s requests for her to help out in serving the women. As the tension builds, the plot then had Belinda disappear from the kitchen. Then Christine goes to find her and discovers, of course, that she’s making out with the husband who employs her.
Really? Does it have to be that way? Does the rare Latina character have to be a maid? Does she have to wear an embroidered peasant blouse and hoop earrings? Does she have to be sleeping with the married man who employs her – and doing so under the nose of his wife?
When the Schwarzenegger scandal broke, I told myself, please don’t let the maid be Latina! When I read that her name was Mildred Baena, I thought, ok, she’s probably European. Then, of course, we learned her name was also Patricia Peña, and that she was from Guatemala. Que pena, Peña.
After Christine discovers the affair, she breaks off the friendship with Belinda, who accuses her of doing so because she’s a maid. No, Christine says. Belinda then says it must be because she’s Portuguese. No, she says. Then Christine tells Belinda the reason she’s breaking it off: “It’s because you’re a whore.”
Should I not be offended? Is this really OK? Should I really not feel sad that in this day and time, with our entertainment centers located in two parts of the country that are rich with Latin cultures, that mainstream writers still cast Latinas as peasants, maids and whores – usually all wrapped up in one?
If I were Portuguese, I’d swear I’d be outside marching.
© 2011 Andale Chica