Why We Need More Latinos on Mainstream TV

Dora the Explorerby Galina Espinoza

Just as the latest red carpet awards season is fading, Comcast announced what film director Robert Rodriguez called “an important moment for the Latino community.” It is launching two new channels expressly for Latinos.

At first look, the news is cause for
celebration. After all, the underrepresentation of Latinos in American
movies and on mainstream TV networks has been astonishing. While
Latinos make up 16% of the U.S.
population and number 50 million strong, only three Latinos star in
the top 10 prime-time television network shows: Jennifer Lopez on American Idol, Christina Aguilera on Voice and Cote de Pablo on NCIS.
And while Mexican actor Démian Bichir did earn an Oscar nomination for
best actor, of the nine movies nominated for best picture, none starred
a Latino or told a Latino story.

So, yes,
Comcast’s plans are encouraging. That’s especially true because both
new channels will be aimed at English-speaking Latinos — who, contrary
to all the talk about undocumented Hispanics, are the ones driving
population growth, with 25% of kids being born in the U.S. of Hispanic
descent.

But the answer to reaching the
Latino audience is not to segregate us. It’s to integrate us. That can
mean everything from including Latinos when casting to giving
English-language programming a sensibility Latinos relate to. ABC’s new
hit Revenge, for example, plays out like a modern-day telenovela and has attracted a huge Hispanic fan base.

Or, to put it another way: Dora the Explorer,
featuring a bilingual Latina heroine, didn’t become a billion dollar
brand by airing on some special Nickelodeon channel aimed solely at
Latino children. Instead, she became an adored role model for virtually
every American preschooler, Latino or not. How? By being authentic in
her Latino roots while also having universal qualities (spunkiness,
kindness) recognized by, and inspiring to, all kids.

Now
that the U.S. Latino market ranks as the 12th largest economy in the
world, no entertainment outlet can thrive without Hispanics.

Unfortunately,
Comcast’s decision to create two separate channels for Latinos —
instead of pushing for greater representation on existing channels —
means that it fails miserably at treating us like valuable consumers.
So while we should applaud the Comcast news as an important first step
that better reflects America today, we should remember it is only a
step, one of many Hollywood still needs to take.

Galina Espinoza is the former co-president and editorial director of Latina Media Ventures.