News Column

San Antonio Express-News Jeanne Jakle column

August 7, 2013

YellowBrix

Aug. 07--TV still has a long way to go when it comes to realistically reflecting America's Latino population.

However, some strides are being made. Several new fall and spring shows star Latino actors as key characters: Natalie Morales in ABC's "Trophy Wife," Ramon Rodriguez in Fox's "Gang Related" and Kevin Hernandez in Fox's "Surviving Jack," to name a few.

More important than the number, however, is the quality of the roles. San Antonio's Ricardo Chavira of "Desperate Housewives" fame, for instance, said he's thrilled to be part of a new family comedy that actually feels real and isn't full of Latino stereotypes.

"We don't all have crucifixes hanging on every wall," Chavira said in an interview. "One is cool, but we don't need 10."

In NBC's "Welcome to the Family," Chavira plays Miguel Hernandez, a devoted husband and dad struggling to make a living running a boxing gym. Miguel is excited that his son Junior not only has graduated at the top of his class but will attend a prestigious college.

Then a wrench is thrown into the Hernandez family plans: Junior's girlfriend is pregnant and the two decide to get married. This also means "marrying" Junior's future in-laws, played by Mike O'Malley and Mary McCormack, whose backgrounds and approaches to life are dramatically different.

"We deal with all kinds of issues," Chavira said, "but they're mostly universal -- marriage, pregnancy, socioeconomics, relationships -- the cultural thing is just a texture of the story.

"My last name is Hernandez and the fact that my family is Latino is apparent visually," he added. "So why do I have to walk out of my house holding a pinata? Our writer (Mike Sikowitz, "Friends," "Rules of Engagement") gets it."

Justina Machado ("Six Feet Under"), who plays Chavira's wife in the comedy, agreed that audiences are too smart to buy such simplistic representations.

"I'm Puerto Rican," Machado said. "I didn't grow up with tortillas. We don't all eat spicy food. People have to take notice. We're here and we're not different."

At a recent press session for "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" -- Fox's new workplace comedy set at a New York police station, which was inspired by "Barney Miller" -- one TV critic remarked that it was a rarity to see not one, but two, Latinas sitting on the dais as part of a show's core cast.

He referred to Stephanie Beatriz and Melissa Fumero, who play smart, tough detectives and hold their own humor-wise with co-stars Andy Samberg and Andre Braugher.

"It's awesome!" said Beatriz, who grew up just outside of Houston and is best known for her guest shot as Sofia Vergara's sis on "Modern Family." "It never happens that you look over and there's another Latina actress on the same show with you, and we're not doing accents. Nobody's doing anything spicy."

Later, Beatriz recalled that when she was growing up "you didn't see much of us on TV." She expressed optimism, however, that the landscape "is definitely changing. I can see it -- slowly but surely."

Too slowly, perhaps?

"I've been out here now 13 to 14 years and this is the best written Latino family I've ever read," Chavira said of NBC's "Family."

"We've been trying to do it for a while with limited success. TV has a tendency to hit us over the head with stereotype after stereotype," he added. "The Latino community in the United States is going to be the biggest demographic in three years to five years. TV would be stupid not to tap into that."

Jeanne Jakle's column appears Wednesdays and Sundays in mySA, and she blogs at Jakle's Jacuzzi on mySA.com. Email her at jjakle@express-news.net.

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