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As more and more TV shows and movies are released, the lack of Hispanic representation grows increasingly clear — a reflection of the diminishing Spanish community at schools and in the general public.

While stuck at home, we have all had some extra time to watch movies and shows. Being Latina, I have noticed that almost none of the TV shows I watch depict characters being Hispanic, and when they are, they are significantly underrepresented. In hit TV shows like New Girl, The Vampire Diaries, and Gossip Girl, they all fail to properly demonstrate a character of Hispanic descent.  

According to a report published by the Pew Research Center, as of 2019, there are 61 million Hispanic people in the U.S. The representation in the TV shows I watch, however, are not indicative of this population percentage.  

With Latinos accounting for about 52% of all U.S. population growth between 2010 and 2019, the community should be depicted much more often in mainstream film and television. An increase in representation in the film industry would be beneficial for boosting on-screen diversity and raising awareness and acceptance. 

Coming from a Hispanic background, seeing more Spanish-speaking people on TV makes me feel less alone and more optimistic. It reminds audiences that anyone can be successful, no matter where they come from.  

As for shows that do have Hispanic characters, there is a constant pattern of misrepresentation — they are played by non-Hispanic actors, they can’t speak Spanish well, or they’re put in stereotypical scenarios/have stereotypical traits.

Characters are often portrayed as loud and obnoxious or struggling with immigration. One Day at a Time, for example, is a show revolving around a Cuban American family struggling with real-world issues and modern struggles. While this show is better than most in terms of realistic family structures, they are characterized as loud and exaggerated — attributes given to them simply because they are Cuban. The family also struggles with immigration throughout the series.

Some people have never interacted with those of different races so having a show where we see a proper Hispanic lead could help them understand that we cannot be generalized and that not every Hispanic is crazy and loud. Hispanics come from different places and it’s incredibly ignorant to be categorizing them all into one specific stereotype. 

Stereotypical Hispanic characteristics that are often shown on screen have traits like being ill-tempered, always wearing tight clothing, and/or showing cleavage. Other examples include showing how we only work as maids, have very thick accents, and are all from Mexico. As a result, we are constantly sexualized or objectified — seen as sex figures or as servants.

People see this and believe it, but it is not the truth. We deserve to be taken seriously. In shows like Modern Family, the character Gloria (Sofia Vergara) is depicted as the stereotypical Hispanic and shows all of these characteristics in her character.  

Having parents who are Colombian and Ecuadorian illuminates a lot of stereotypes that my family and I have to endure. As someone who is part Colombian, I am used to people often associating my culture with drugs and “Pablo Escobar.” It’s always made me very uncomfortable and no matter how hard my family and I try to keep our heads up, I always worry about what someone might say next.   

Going back to the sexualization of Hispanics, another stereotype that really hits me hard is when people assume I must have a big bust or butt because I’m of Colombian descent. Categorizing and comparing me to other Colombians is very hurtful and can be very toxic for people who struggle with insecurities.  

Not all representation is negative, however. Movies such as Instructions Not Included by Eugenio Derbez are a good example of how to show how real we are to a wider audience. 

Instead of ignorantly referencing immigration, the 2013 movie shows Hispanics battling and fighting to get somewhere in America. This has been depicted poorly in the past but the movie does a realistic job of showing how difficult it can be for immigrant families to find jobs and maintain a family at the same time. The film is real, raw and shows how normal we are.  

Showing that Hispanics can make it here in the United States and make our immigrant family proud is what makes it all worth it to the Hispanic community.

“At a time where Latinos in our country are facing intense concerns over their safety, we urgently need to see the Latino community authentically and accurately represented throughout entertainment”

Professor Smith from USC Annenberg in a study about Latino representation in entertainment media

Professor Smith at USC Annenberg was conducting research in which he studied “the prevalence of Latino characters on-screen across 1,200 top-grossing films from 2007 to 2018, as well as the presence of Latinos working behind the camera as directors, producers, and casting directors.”  

After observing the data, he noticed that there are very few films and shows that fully represent Hispanics and when they do, they do not do so well compared to other top grossing movies and shows. 

To make matters worse, representation is also limited to particular ethnicities. Having TV shows that only show actors of one ethnicity can be harmful to people, making others less proud of their background and identity. It makes kids and adults wish they were like the actors, forcing unrealistic comparisons and setting unattainable beauty standards.

We see actors from one race, having white features such as light eyes and blonde hair. Seeing actors depicted like this in every show can be harmful to people and make them believe that the only way they will get to be in Hollywood is by looking white. 

We need to see things that do not lower our self-esteem but make us proud of where we come from and be able to fantasize that we can truly become one of the main characters in a show or TV, no matter how you identify.  

On-screen representation isn’t the only way in which we are overlooked, however. 

After getting accepted to Temple, I googled the percentage of Hispanics within the student body and was shocked to discover only 7.08% of the school was Hispanic or Latino. 

Upon coming to campus, though, this statistic wasn’t very hard to believe. I worried that I’d struggle to meet like-minded people or people from similar backgrounds to me. 

Within three months, I noticed a huge underrepresentation of Hispanics and Latino here at Temple. Being a journalism major and wanting to be part of the industry, I assumed there was a chapter for the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), but I was quickly disappointed to find out this wasn’t the case. 

In the study “Broken Mirrors II: How Many Latino Students Are at Public Colleges and Universities? Not As Many As There Should Be,” researchers found that when compared with states’ proportions of Latino residents, Latino students are underrepresented at both community and technical colleges and four-year institutions in most states.

Having representation for Hispanics and Latinos should be discussed more often and not only worth talking about for the month of Hispanic heritage. Students  should have a place where they don’t feel alone and can make connections with other students. 

The lack of representation on-screen and in-person is an indication that the Hispanic community is predominantly overlooked. If we expect to see change within the near future, we must depend on ourselves to ensure our voices are heard and listened to.

Nathaly is a college student at Temple University in her second year. She is currently majoring in journalism and minoring in dance.
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