REFLECTION…on finding the Latino Waldo.

I was finishing my analysis on diversity and television for an upcoming conference and I was surprised by how many police/detective drama shows are on CBS.  There are 10 police, 2 law, no medical, and 3 variety one-hour shows this Fall.  Seriously, do we really want to see bad guys chased around, shot at, arrested, tried and convicted only?  Not counting 2 new half-hour comedy shows from its total of 6, and 2 returning news-related programs, only 2 of those police/detective shows, “Hawaii 5-0” and “Blue Bloods”, are new.  The remaining 8 have several seasons in the bag.  What was of particular interest to me was learning that of the 10 cop/detective CBS shows, 7 take place in cities with a large Latino population (Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Miami and New York), yet only 3 supporting characters are Latino.  In fact, of the 15 one-hour dramatic and variety shows on  CBS this Fall, there are a total of 4 Latinos cast in co-starring roles…just 4.  For heaven’s sake, even “Survivor”, which is currently in Nicaragua, doesn’t have any.

I know I sound like a broken record, but surely you can understand how frustrating it is to sit there and play “Where’s Waldo” when there really isn’t a “Latino Waldo” to find.  Yes the season is just starting and I’m sure there will be plenty of Latinos being handcuffed, rolled away on a medical gurney, running from the law, or just standing on the streets minding their own business while tv cameras film the next episode.  But seriously, can Latinos have at least 1 show on network tv starring a Latin@ actor (other than NBC’s OUTLAW — which by the way, Jimmy Smits is the only one) that doesn’t necessarily have actors playing stereotypical roles? Is that too much to ask?

REFLECTION…the things we do for recognition.

I have tried, desperately, to like NBC’s legal drama, OUTLAW, starring Jimmy Smits. In it, Smits plays a former Supreme Court Justice who through some epiphany decides to leave his seat on the Court to fight for the ‘little guy’ as a regular attorney.  Each week, OUTLAW will probably take us through cases and social issues that make headlines, similar to what the venerated LAW & ORDER franchise has done for almost 2 decades.

Unfortunately, OUTLAW will attempt to make things interesting by making Smits character a gambling addict who is constantly being hunted down by people he owes money to.  Already, OUTLAW’s first two episodes have addressed the death penalty and a controversial law targeting undocumented immigrants. I suspect that future cases will involve gay marriage, the dissemination of classified military secrets via the world wide web, and perhaps the defense of a soldier charged with murdering innocent civilians.  That the storyline of this show can be predictable is not what troubles me.  What does trouble me is that OUTLAW has become the ONLY show starring a Latino character.  And if history is any indication, OUTLAW will probably be one of the next shows to get canceled.

As an artist and activist, I am constantly wondering why it’s so hard for TV networks and cable broadcasters to produce a Latino-themed, Latino-cast show.  Most shows that do become a reality are more often than not treated as if they only serve a specific, niche market.  But Latinos are not a niche market; we’re a growing consumer power who are tired of being under represented on the little screen.  Yes, our Native American and Asian sisters and brothers suffer a worse fate; but the least the networks can do is to allow their annual slate of programming to properly reflect the US population.

I am not a member of the Nielsen’s group, so I do not get a little magic box that I can cheat and say I watch OUTLAW just to make sure it stays in the air.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Jimmy Smits and I’m sure the show will grow on me.  But right now, I have no options.  My only real choice besides this show is MODERN FAMILY (which co-stars Sofia Bergara and Rico Rodriguez) or Don Francisco on Univision.  Sure there are other shows with Latino actors playing important roles or secondary stereotypical ones; but as a consumer and avid television aficionado, I demand more choices.  In the meantime, since I don’t have to report to anyone what shows I’m watching, I will continue to watch and support OUTLAW on whenever I have time so that I won’t miss out on important scenes in the many Latino telenovelas I’m forced to watch instead.

UCLA commercial lacks diversity: Oversight or Intentional

A few months ago, I saw a commercial on television during a UCLA football game promoting UCLA — my alma mater — and it made me think about my experience and the changes I have witnessed first hand over the 16 years I was a part of that institution. (Click here to see the commercial) Since graduating from high school, UCLA has been my second home. It is at the Westwood campus that I spent most of my adult life. In those 16 years of study (I received both my bachelor and master of fine arts degrees), diversity at UCLA has slowly begun to diminish. Since the passage of Proposition 209 — a law that banned affirmative action practices in education and employment — the number Latino, African American, and Native American applicants and admits has diminished in numbers. The increase in tuition stemming from the California budgety crisis has done little to alleviate the problem of enrollment.

In 2009, of the 12,098 students admitted into UCLA, 1,675 were Latino (14.6%), 407 African American (3.5%) and only 55 students claimed to be Native American (.5%). Those numbers pale in comparison to the combined 74.8% of admitted White and Asian students. According to UCLA, 10,654 Latinos, 2,753 African Americans an 317 Native Americans applied to the Westwood Campus, compared to the combined 35,563 White and Asian applicants.

And so, with only 15.7% of Latinos, 14.7% of African Americans, and 17.3% of Native Americans that applied who were admitted (26.7% of Asians and 21.3% of Whites were accepted), and with the number of applicants continuing to dwindle, why has UCLA gone out and produced a video that showcases just 3 faculty of color, and all of them in the humanities? What message is the university trying to send to the general public, especially parents of students of color? Our faculty is as diverse as our student body? Of the estimated 1,682 ladder faculty at UCLA, only 151 or 8.9% of them are minority. Surely there must have been more faculty of color to showcase, especially in the sciences. Was there not one faculty member in Math, Biology, Chemistry, Medicine, Physics or Psychology that they could have interviewed? And how about women? Were all 49 of them too busy with work to sit down and have a brief conversation about the UCLA experience? Or could it be that maybe, just maybe, none of the faculty of color wanted to participate because they really had nothing positive to say about UCLA, especially because of the direction that it’s headed?

What I saw that day was a commercial that cared more about reflecting one image of the university instead of balancing between what is truly there and the hope of what UCLA could be, thus encouraging more students to apply so that a larger pool of candidates could help bring the number of admits up. I don’t know what the future for UCLA holds. I’m not even sure if it will ever recoup the numbers it had when I was admitted a while back. One thing I do know is that if UCLA is ever going to regain its title as one of the most diverse public universities in the nation, then a greater recruitment effort must be made to ensure that its student population and faculty do not start to look the same. Should that day arrive, I suspect that many of us who have proudly called ourselves Bruins will experience some form of shame, not just because the school lost its luster, but because it was losing it when we were students and did nothing to stop it from happening.

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