Defining America’s Latino Experiences

Posted by Kait Bolongaro & filed under Identity, Pop Culture.

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American TV network giant HBO has recently released The Latino List, a film that explores being Latino in the United States. Director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’ follow up to The Black List; The Latino List follows a similar interview style. The documentary features interviews of 16 prominent Latinos and, according to narrator and interviewer Maria Hinojosa, the film is an “ongoing exploration of who we are, where we come from, and what it means to be Latino in the [US] today.”

The 16 Latinos and Latinas profiled include Ugly Betty‘s America Ferrera, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, NASA astronaut Jose Moreno Hernandez and Yoruba beliefs scholar and activist Dr. Marta Moreno Vega. Greenfield-Sanders is able to create a personal connection between the audience and the subject by using simple and straightforward staging. The interviewee looks straight into the frame, thus they look into the eyes of the viewer, creating the illusion of a one-on-one conversation.

My two favourite interviews are with America Ferrera and Dr. Marta Moreno Vega. Ferrera, of Honduran descent, talks about growing up in California watching quintessential American shows such as Full House and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and how she was never aware of her ethnic difference “until someone made an effort to point it out.” She also shares her experience as a Latina auditioning for movie roles and having to deliver lines even if she was aware the casting agents weren’t going to call her back.

Dr. Moreno Vega, an expert on Yoruba spiritual belief systems, discusses her decision to renounce Catholicism because she felt she could no longer worship a white God. “I was born Catholic,” she explains, “and my parents claimed to be Catholic, and I understood that if the God and Goddess that I was looking at did not look like me, my mother, my grandmother, my uncle, my father, my children would never feel sacred and we’d never have the power to achieve what we needed to achieve.”

While I enjoyed learning more about the lives of these prominent figures, I think there are two major flaws with this documentary. First, while there are many Latino national origins represented, the majority of the 16 are white Hispanics, who are of no different European descent than other non-Latino Americans. This is not surprising, as it is mostly light skinned Latinos who rise to prominence in politics or film. Second, there is not a wide enough spectrum of professions. A high percentage of those interviewed belong to the entertainment industry, and does not provides an accurate perspective of being Latino in the US.

However, The Latino List is an important film. Latinos are the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States, and they are facing ever increasing racist immigration laws in states such as Alabama and Arizona. As a group, they can no longer be ignored by the mainstream American consciousness and it’s about time their contributions to society are recognized.

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