Hispanics still underrepresented in television

Helena Rodriguez

When it comes to Hispanics and network television, I don’t want to see another Pancho Villa. How about a Hispanic Bob Villa?
Too many times, Hispanics, Latinos, Chicanos, whatever we call ourselves, are portrayed as drug lords or maids. We’ve seen progress this year and a perfect example is ABC’s George Lopez show, but with the release of U.S. Census figures last week declaring Hispanics are now the largest U.S. minority, we still seem invisible.
While the Census report was no surprise, it creates a greater awareness and makes me wonder how this will affect American life. There are an estimated 38.8 million U.S. Hispanics who account for 13.5 percent of the population.
Last week’s report was followed by three other significant events this week: on Monday, the Supreme Court decided to preserve affirmative action, supporting the theory that classrooms should represent the general population. Also on Monday, Gov. Bill Richardson met with Mexican President Vicente Fox to discuss immigration safety, human rights issues and trade. Richardson spent part of his youth in Mexico City and his mother is Mexican. President Bush almost reached an immigration accord with Mexico in 2001; then came Sept. 11.
Finally, a study released Tuesday by the University of California in Los Angeles shows Hispanic TV characters received only 3 percent of screen time on the six major networks in the fall of 2002.
Not only are Hispanics misrepresented and under represented, but our buying power is only recently being recognized — and that’s not good when it comes to beer companies. I’ll talk more about that later; first the telly talk.
Lopez has succeeded where others, including Emmy-winning actor Edward James Olmos, have failed, because his Wednesday night show isn’t preachy. Lopez laughs at himself, while maintaining cultural pride. Granted, the show is a watered-down version of his stand-up comedy, but Lopez does take risks.
I was serious about a Hispanic Bob Villa. I enjoy watching HGTV — Home and Garden Television — and it’s one of the more diverse networks, with many Hispanic or Asian American hosts.
Spanish language TV is not the answer. Hispanics need to be seen on network TV, too. Besides, I’m hoping a People for Better TV or similar group tackles Spanish networks, which I consider degrading to women and often inappropriate for children. Surf through these Spanish channels, even on a Saturday morning, and you’ll see eye-popping images. Women are almost always scantily clad while many men TV hosts are overweight and older.
There are Spanish TV versions of Judge Judy, talk and reality shows, which I detest, and popular soap operas, or novelas. But how about more do-it-yourself shows? A Spanish “American Justice?” Or better yet, a Hispanic history channel?
Spanish-language TV is getting a lot of national advertising now, but it bothers me that beer companies seem to show a particularly high interest, especially during the Hispanic holidays, Cinco de Mayo and Diez y Seis de Septiembre. Medical studies show Hispanics have above-average alcoholism and death rates from liver cirrhosis.
How about TV sponsors who not only want to make a fast buck off our growing Hispanic market, but who have a vested interest in our future?
Helena Rodriguez is the lifestyles coordinator for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. She can be contacted at helena_rodriguez@link.freedom.com