They found all sorts of problems with the sketch that sparked the protest: it paraded a litany of stereotypes, and Strong, the actress who played Marisol, is not Latina.
“Ebony and ivory are the only two races on “Saturday Night Live” on NBC. How about putting Latinas on your show, Lorne Michaels, please,” they sang.
And actress Lorena Diaz responded to the sketch with her video, “Ms. Latina Stereotype explains Hollywood.”
But perhaps the most glaring issue in the sketch was the other characters’ condescension toward Marisol, who wasn’t just loud and spoke in a thick Venezuelan accent, but a ditz to boot.
Marisol is the mail-order girlfriend — “He was so persistent, and so I yet him bring me to USA!” — of Bruce, a men’s rights activist, and completely clueless about what that means.
“Marisol, do you know what Planned Parenthood is?” Lena Dunham’s characters asks. Dunham, creator of HBO’s “Girls,” was the host that week.
“Jes!” Marisol responds in heavily accented English. “What is it?”
Presumably, the sketch’s redemption lies in the fact that Marisol sees the light, and decides to dump Bruce for a “macho guy” after Dunham tells her Bruce and his men’s rights group have shut down an organization that “helps women.” They purposely neglect to inform Marisol, with a wink to the audience, that Planned Parenthood is the nation’s largest provider of abortion services, based on the assumption that Marisol would then side with Bruce.
What results echoes the narrative that feminism is the dominion of white American women that needs to be explained and gifted to women of other cultures, an attitude that can be traced back to the 1963 publication of “The Feminine Mystique.” Freidan’s 1963 bestselling polemic is credited with kickstarting the first wave of American feminism, though it excluded many working class women and women of color. “Mystique” was aimed at middle and upper class white women suffering through the quiet desperation of suburban housewifery, much like “Mad Men” character Betty Draper.
But there is a strong history of feminism in Latina culture, chronicled by writers such as Cherríe Moraga, Gloria E. Anzaldúa, and Ana Castillo and activists like Dolores Huerta (Rosario Dawson plays Huerta in the new biopic, “Cesar Chavez,” which opens Friday). Just as many black women who felt alienated by the mainstream feminist movement turned instead to womanism, a term coined by writer Alice Walker, Chicana feminism, or Xicanisma, refers to the intersecting issues that affect Latinas.
But activists aren’t just protesting a thick accent: Dominant stereotypes that Latinas are fiery Jezebels looking for “macho men” can overshadow real problems that Latina women face. A recent PBS Frontline documentary, “Rape in the Fields,” highlighted a crisis among poor Latina migrant women who are raped, and then forced to keep quiet about it if they want to keep working. When you cast women as constantly sexually available, the underlying implication is that they can’t be raped.
Still, for some entertainers playing on stereotypes can pay off: Emmy-nominated actress Sofia Vergara was the highest-paid primetime television actress for two straight years. In 2013, she actually made more, thanks to outside endorsements, than TV’s highest-paid actor, Ashton Kutcher. She’s been criticized for her outsize portrayal of her “Modern Family” character, Gloria Delgado-Pritchett, a Colombian immigrant who’s roughly the same age as her stepdaughter, Claire.
“I don’t know why people think stereotypes are so terrible,” Vergara told The Wrap. “I am Gloria, my mother is Gloria, my aunts are Gloria. I mean, it’s not like I’m putting on a fake bra with big prosthetics, you know. It might be a stereotype, but I think the character is fantastic. She’s colorful, she’s honest, she’s out there, she cares about people. She’s loud, but I am loud. She’s crazy, but I am crazy. It’s not a problem.”