Latinas in the media

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Photos courtesy Getty Images
Latina Celebrities

Story by Kara VanLandingham

No matter what you think, the Hispanic population is growing in America.

The Hispanic or Latino population consists of about 50 million, or 1 in 6 Americans, according to the latest U.S. Census. Roughly half of those are women. That means that 1 in 12 Americans is a Hispanic female. However, only 1.8 percent of women in the media are Hispanic.

Do these statistics mean there are more famous Latina women in the media spotlight that reflect the influx in diversity? Are these women portrayed accurately?

According to “Women in the Mainstream Media,” a project of the National Council of Women’s Organizations,  women of color are both underrepresented and misrepresented.

Ariana Vigil, a professor of Hispanic Studies at UNL said Latina women are frequently stereotyped. “Have you ever noticed the way in which their bodies are talked about? “Vigil said. “More so than others, Latina women are over identified with being sexy, their ‘curves’ are always mentioned.”

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UNL professor Ariana Vigil studies the way Latinas are portrayed in American culture

Vigil said, “If the media portrays all or most Latina women in only a one-dimensional way – spicy, curvy, fiery, etc. then we get a warped view of Latina women that does not account for the full range of experiences and identities.”

Vigil said when audiences get  used to seeing women in a certain light it can lead to this kind of stereotyping, “And it’s ultimately dehumanizing,” said Vigil.

Demi Lovato, Jennifer Lopez, Penelope Cruz and America Ferrera (from the hit TV show “Ugly Betty,” are recognized Hispanic names among most who frequent our TVs or ever go to movies.

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Lovato, Lovez and Ferrera identify with their Hispanic backgrounds.

Some Latina actresses have even concealed their Hispanic ethnicity.

The classic film vixen Rita Hayworth was in actuality born as Margarita Carmen Cansino. Donald R. Hayworth wrote in his article, “Ancestry of Rita Hayworth” that her background was hidden, her name changed to pass for a Caucasian so she could get mainstream roles in Hollywood.

Diaz and Hayworth are not usually connected to their Latina background. Jessica Alba prefers to be called an American.

Jessica Alba doesn’t call herself Hispanic, she refers to herself as “American.” She claimed in a 2005 Univision interview, “I’ve never felt connected to one particular race or heritage, nor did I feel accepted by any.

Some in the Hispanic community say Alba should be proud of her background, not embarrassed. One anonymous critic on a blog actually said that, “she needed help and to research background and get familiar with it.” Alba’s reply to her critics?  “If you break it down, I’m less Latina than Cameron Diaz, whose father is Cuban. But people don’t call her Latina because she is blonde.”

Cameron Diaz is Forbes magazine’s “Richest Hispanic actress.” Professor Vigil said, “No one usually thinks of her as Latina though, because she has blonde hair and blue eyes.”

Jamie Pehl, who wrote an essay entitled “Latinos in the U.S. Media,” said, “The representations of Latinos in the U.S. media are degrading, insensitive, racist and very, very inaccurate.”

Pehl said because of this skewed representation, stereotypes are created and expected. Then audiences want these stereotypes to be “fed.” The vicious cycle continues.

“We are much more likely to see Latino characters portrayed as poor, uneducated, lazy and violent,” said Pehl. “Many Hispanics are also seen as having poor language skills. No other minority group is represented so frequently or fervently in such a negative and careless manner,” Pehl said.

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Not everyone is convinced Latina stereotypes are permanent or have a negative effect.

Cavitt fifth grader Michelle Rodriguez (not to be confused with the actress) doesn’t let negative stereotypes of Latinas bother her.

“Now we have younger girls on shows like Demi Lovato and America Ferrera and I don’t hear much about them that is negative,” said Rodriguez.   She continued, “You see a lot more celebrities that are up and coming that have dark hair and look Hispanic and it’s a good thing, people want to be like them.”

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