NBC has announced its fall 2013 line-up and it includes a show featuring a Latino family!
The show–called “Welcome to the Family”–stars young up-and-comer Joseph Haro (who’s had roles on “Glee” and “Awkward”) and Ricardo Chavira (of “Desperate Housewives”). Normally, I would be praising this as a step forward, especially for a network that hasn’t done much to represent non-white characters since Bill Cosby. But then I saw this preview for the show:
This show is a prolonged and recycled version of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” with one huge twist–it confirms rather than seeks to dispel some of the prominent and racist stereotypes Latinos face in the US.
Latinos are the second largest ethnic/racial group in the US, second only to what the Census labels “non-Hispanic whites.” Television does not reflect this basic reality. I don’t think anybody would disagree that this is a major problem–not only for entertainment but for our collective need to forge a healthy, multiracial society. The images we encounter in the media are part of that evolving recipe.
NBC has had a hard time presenting a more diversified face reflective of the present and future. When they have it’s usually been in small ways that also come with fulfilling a larger stereotype. For example, I would cringe every time I saw a Latino gangbanger on “Law and Order,” a show that also featured (for a time) a very human Latino character (Reynaldo “Rey” Curtis) played by Benjamin Bratt.
Show’s like “Friends” or “ER”–both which took place in cities with large Latino populations–only rarely ever featured brown faces as part of their worlds. When they did, it was cause for celebration. I can remember how excited I was when ER nurse Chuny Marquez (played by Laura Cerón) had her own story arc in the top-rated NBC drama.
NBC should be the best poised for a real integration of Latinos. They are the worst network by ratings, putting them in a position of very little to lose by taking a chance. They also own Univision, the major Spanish-language network of the US. With projects like NBC Latino they have shown a desire to not only tap into the Latino consumer market, but to do so by providing them products that meet our particular needs and experiences.
“Welcome to the Family” is not that show. It is a show that portrays the integration values of the 1960s with the un-interrogated race awareness of the 21st century. In our present day context–when racialized fears helped frame massive deportations, structural poverty and under-education, and social marginalization–it feels like a bigger set-back than any advance.