Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified the name of Conan O’Brien’s talk show. The show is named “Conan,” not “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien.” This version has been corrected.
CHICAGO — Here’s something that made me laugh so hard that tears leaked from my eyes.
“You knew there was trouble brewing when salsa surpassed ketchup as America’s favorite condiment,” began the blog item on the Huffington Post in early July. “Now. . .we shine the spotlight on fertile, plotting (smirking) Latinos who have made it so that in California whites are no longer the majority.”
Its tongue-in-cheek conclusion: “Latinos are engaged in a patient revolution through procreation — a dastardly, shameless and obviously very effective plan. . . . Wax your sinister handlebar mustaches, mi gente. Victory is ours. Proceed and turn your rattling car stereos up to the max. The final stage of Operation Reconquest begins today. The timing is perfect. So much attention is on bombing brown people across the world that we must strike now. Bring your rusty blades, chimichangas, and bands of small children.”
Written by “El Guapo,” the lucha libre-masked editor and writer of The Daily Refried, a bitingly funny Latino satire website, the missive lampooned two stereotypes at once.
It laughed at those leftist Mexican-Americans who really do fantasize about taking back the parts of the U.S. that had once been Mexican territory and now console themselves with gaining dominance over whites by becoming the largest ethnic minority. And it sneered at the many non-Hispanics who actually believe that all Latinos in America are a foreign-born, Spanish-speaking swarm of invaders seeking to make white people extinct via procreation.
All in jest, of course. But believe me, it’s not funny when someone goes on national TV and says things like this seemingly in all seriousness.
Enter Diego Luna, a Mexican actor probably best known for the films he’s starred in alongside fellow Mexican heartthrob, Gael García Bernal, such as “Y Tu Mamá También,” “Rudo y Cursi” and the most recent “Casa de Mi Padre,” all of which I loved dearly.
Luna is directing a soon-to-be-released movie about civil rights activist César Chávez, a task I’m wondering if he’s up to since he apparently doesn’t understand what it means to be a U.S.-born Hispanic.
He may be immensely talented, but Luna’s fantasies about Mexican supremacy and his ignorance of Hispanics’ daily struggle with stereotypes about immigration, sexuality and language didn’t do anyone any favors.
Luna went on “Conan” to promote his new futuristic movie “Elysium” and quickly verified for everyone who already felt uneasy about Hispanics that we have a lot of sex and a lot of kids, and that white Americans are pretty much shafted because, soon, we’re going to make everyone speak Spanish.
O’Brien: “In the future, they’re prophesizing in this movie that everybody speaks Spanish, ‘cause that’s sort of the way it’s going.”
Luna: “Yeah, and it’s not going to take so long. ... If you want to keep your job at this network, you’re going to have to learn Spanish.”
O’Brien: “Yes, ‘cause the country, it’s all changing over.”
Luna: “47 million people speak Spanish today and we like having sex, so multiply that for eight in 10 years, another eight in another 10 years. “
In one of the most uncomfortable live-TV moments I’ve seen in a while, actress Lisa Kudrow of “Friends” fame, who was sitting with O’Brien’s sidekick Andy Richter, interjected, “If only the rest of us liked having sex, we’d have a fighting chance.”
Satire is one thing — Latinos can take the jokes that El Guapo is always making. But it is quite another for a Mexican superstar who wants to cross over and become a U.S. celebrity to imply something so absurd and utterly misinformed.
Luna needs to get himself on the email list of the Pew Hispanic Center, and pronto. Their recent reports on language acquisition tell the tale of a community that, like all other immigrant groups before it, is embracing the English language despite the many barriers to mastery.
“A record 31 million Latinos now speak English proficiently, up from 8 million in 1980,” notes a recent PHC blog post. “Our studies show that among Latinos born in the U.S., significant majorities get their news in English, watch television shows in English, listen to music in English and even think in English.”
I dream in both English and Spanish, and in my best dreams foreign movie stars don’t reinforce stupid and inaccurate cliches about me on one of the most popular late-night shows on TV.
Follow Esther Cepeda on Twitter, @estherjcepeda.