Cristela Alonzo and The Rise of Ambitious Latina Roles

When a Latina gets green-lit to write and star in her own network television show, you know that the tides of change are finally upon us!  It’s probably a bigger deal to me more than most, given that my biggest personal goal in life is to be in the exact same scenario.

ABC recently picked up a new sitcom with a Latino family at its core: “Cristela” is a comedy starring comedienne Cristela Alonzo in the title role. She plays a, wait for it… a young lady pursuing a law degree!  Say what?! ABC is finally giving Latinas a chance to break free from the maid, secretary, mistress, or non-English-speaking sexpot parts that I have grown tired of stumbling across.

Check out the trailer:

 

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See, she’s cute, smart, and ambitious!  Her family is supportive of her and her goals, and her mother is clearly the pillar of strength in the family; a refreshing change of pace to ABC’s regularly scheduled programming. Since “Ugly Betty” wrapped in 2010, the network hasn’t really shown us much love.

As exciting as it is to see more Latinas inching their way onto major network shows, I can’t help but be slightly concerned by how many of these forthcoming characters are intentionally honed in around the person’s cultural background. In clear steps towards multicultural programming, ABC’s fall schedule will also include “Blackish,” starring Anthony Anderson, and “Fresh Off The Boat,” centered around an Asian American family that moves into DC’s Chinatown.

Sure, television is an effective medium to both entertain and educate the viewing audience, but as much as I love my family and as well as I speak Spanish, there is more to me than my background (and I feel like most people I’ve talked to on the subject feel the same). I worry that shows about ‘us’ may only gain momentum among other Latinos but might struggle earning mainstream success – and we know mainstream success is key to longevity.

So what can we do to ensure mainstream success?  What can we do to make “Cristela” appeal to everyone, not just US-born Latinos? We have to watch it, share it, and talk about it. 

It’s up to us as a viewing audience to tune in every week and show support so that the opportunities can keep coming, giving us more control over the content representing us. We writers, content creators, and show runners must commit to representing Latinos accurately and fairly, steering clear of stereotypes and aiming for the same human dynamics as our mainstream counterparts.  

On that note, I’m also curious to see just how many of these characters and Latino-centric programs will embrace code-switching/bilingual dialogue, mainly because in the roles that I have come across it is generally insisted upon that the Latino characters either speak Spanglish or bounce between English and Spanish. The idea of having an English-only speaker of Latino descent is still faux pas, despite evidence that this demographic is growing at a rapid pace: Their cultural norms are still there, with or without the language.

 

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We’ll have to wait and see how “Cristela” handles the balance between these worlds, but I hope Latinos and general audiences give them a chance to find their way. Will you be tuning into “Cristela?” Share your thoughts on the new show in the comments below.

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