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How Does Popular Culture Stereotype Latinos?

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Looking around us today, major stereotypes are continuously prevalent in society. Stereotypes are people’s fixed ideas or beliefs about the characteristics of a particular group. Thanks to American popular culture, stereotypes are more widespread than ever. Popular culture has a strong role in America’s communities and even people’s lifestyles alone. Specifically, one of the many ethnic groups that have fallen victim to popular culture stereotypes would be Latinos. Popular culture has had an everlasting effect on how Americans perceive Latinos, and even how Latinos perceive themselves. The overall general public places Latinos into stereotypes and paradigms because of what popular culture presents them with, in avenues such as film and television. It is clear to see that popular culture defines what is common or normal in American society.

The bias and stereotypes of Latinos is ubiquitous throughout American popular culture, and it has effected how people perceive them to be. Within the different avenues of American popular culture, Latino stereotypes are commonly seen in films and television. The stereotypes have not only affected how people view them, but it has also created different “types” of Latinos that are deemed to exist. The different stereotypes of Latinos in film and television range from the overly sexual character, drug trafficker, to the illegal immigrant. These are examples of the negative stereotypes that compose the image of Latinos in society. Unfortunately, the negative stereotypes are what Americans believe to be true about all Latinos.

The negative stereotype of Latinos is the belief of what most of America has characterized Latinos to be, because of the negative depictions shown throughout the many channels of popular culture. The stereotypical paradigms have even affected family social interactions within many Latino households. They have also affected how Latinos handle the negative stereotypes. A study conducted by Rivadeneyra in the Journal of Adolescent Research asked Latino youth to watch clips from television shows, and to report if they felt the roles of Latinos were accurate or stereotypical. The study found that, “if one does not fit this description, then the only alternative that many young Latinos see is to accept the stereotypes perpetuated by white Americans” (Rivas & Saenz, 5). The frequent exposure of the negative stereotype portrayals affects Latino youth in such a way that can lower their sense of racial self-esteem. It also affects their sense of individuality within their culture, because popular culture groups all Latinos into one group.

Moreover, popular culture doesn’t take into consideration how many different cultures exist thought the Latino community. People neglect to remember how many different cultural groups are out there, from Puerto Ricans to Colombians. Non-Hispanics tend to assign one culture to any Latino they see, like saying they are Mexican, even though the non-Hispanics know they are not the only cultural group belonging to the Latino community. When Latinos constantly experience this stereotype, they eventually give up on correcting those who do this to them. This forces them to revert to accepting what people see them as and not who they are.

Time after time, movies have negatively characterized Latinos. Hollywood movies are a big part of popular culture. Fictional characters are mainly presented as uneducated, living lives filled with violence, and this portrays the “belief” that this is the only way to achieve the “Latin American Dream.” “The ‘Latin American Dream’ refers to the idea of Latinos reaching a higher socioeconomic status through alternative pathways” (Rivas & Saenz, 6). A prime example of this cultural appropriation would be the movie Scarface, in which it depicts the roles of Cuban-Americans who are drug dealers. Movies such as this, show the viewers that for the Latino community to gain success they must bypass laws or human morals to do so. As stated before, the negative portrayals in media causes the Latino youth to see themselves in that negative light. Furthermore, they don’t perceive themselves as having worth and value, “instead as constituents of a subordinate group within American society” (Rivas & Saenz, 7). They begin to believe the negative depictions to be true. The constant subjectivity of these negative views seems to be a justification for the youth to separate themselves from their culture.

Not only is the misrepresentation seen in movies, but it is also seen in television shows. It has been one of the front-runners in the subordination of Latinos. The popularity of television plays a major role in the depictions of Latinos. Television show creators have forced negative traits on Latino characters. Those of which include, “being uneducated, unmotivated, poverty-stricken, lazy, criminals, and as people who appear only to work jobs such as maids, janitors, or gardeners” (Rivas & Saenz, 8). Among many other minorities, Latinos have stereotypes that have maintained their position throughout television. An example of a television show that showcases Latino stereotypes would be The George Lopez Show, where there is a distinct portrayal that upholds the standards of the Latino bias.

The overpowering atmosphere of American popular culture has played a major role in the way Latino Americans are portrayed than they have been before. In the article, “Latino Portrayals in the Media,” it discusses the representation of Latinos seen in primetime media. Even though there has been greater representation of Latinos in the media, there is still a negative effect on the Latino community. For a long time, “Latinos have not only been portrayed negatively through stereotypes but hey have also been largely ignored and excluded from most American Media” (“Latino Portrayals in the Media”). A study conducted by the Annenberg School of Cultural Communicators Project, found that between 1969 to 1978 only 2.5% of mainstream television characters were Latinos. This percentage is not far off from what it reflects today and compared to other minorities, they are still notably behind. Another study by The Center for Media and Public Affairs in Washington D.C. “has shown that Latinos have been in the 2% range for the past thirty years” (“Latino Portrayals in the Media”). When Latinos are in the different forms of media, a certain type of Latino is represented. For example, someone with darker features, tanner skin, and an accent. This overlooks the diversity in the Latino community that is included under the umbrella term “Hispanic”.

There is a lack of range represented of the community in the media. A major issue that has been created by stereotypes is the lack of diversity. Popular culture has presented one cohesive community that ultimately suppresses the different cultures within the actual Latino community. Even though Latinos are considered a minority community, in reality not all Latinos are fond of each other or share similar values. Due to this, it’s difficult for this community to unite to “fight the created labels and false cultural propaganda that work against them” (“Latino Portrayals in the Media”). Although this has been a road block for many Latinos, others have seen this as a way to affirm their own history and position in the U.S. This is very important to them, because they want to make it clear that not all Latinos are immigrants. “Many are second, third generation and beyond other Americans who are wholly assimilated and have rights and rightly insist on asserting their rights” (“Latino Portrayals in the Media”). In other words, they believe it is unfair to immediately group them in to the immigrant stereotype, and that they also have rights as much as any other American does. Another rising issue created by stereotyping has affected Latinos sexuality by being labeled as being seductive or having many children because of being impoverished. This is just one of many stereotypes popular culture has created.

The stereotypes have remained defining and demeaning characteristics for more than a century and still exist today. The author Charles Ramírez Berg of “Latino Images In Film” finds that Latino images in the media contains six basic stereotypes: el bandido, the harlot, the male buffoon, the female clown, the Latin lover, and the dark lady. El bandido is stereotypically the Mexican bandit in numerous Westerns and adventure films. An example of this would be at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark, where the bandidos are the two guides that betrayed Indiana Jones. These characters are displayed as dirty and under kept, irrational and quick to resort to violence. “They’re inability to speak English or speaking English with a heavy accent is filmmaking’s way of showing their feeble intellect” (Berg, 68). Hollywood characterizes them as having little brain power. In today’s Hollywood films, el bandido is seen in two variants: the Latin American gangster or drug runner and the inner-city gang member. The female version to el bandido is the harlot, who is primarily characterized as lusty, hot-tempered, and doesn’t know what to do without a man. For example, the character of Angelica in Six Days, Seven Nights, as soon as the pilot (Harrison Ford) leaves she is lost without him. Her character is a prime example of a stereotype blend between the harlot and the female buffoon.

To continue, one of the other stereotypes is the male buffoon. These characters can be found in television shows like Pancho in “The Cisco Kid”, Sergeant Garcia in Walt Disney’s “Zorro” series, and Ricky Ricardo in “I Love Lucy.” This stereotype is said to be simpleminded, unable to master English. “What is funny about this character, what audiences are given to laugh at, are the very characteristics that separate him from Hollywood’s vision of the WASP American mainstream” (Berg, 72). This is Hollywood’s attempt of making an old stereotype relevant again by turning the character into a comic. The female clown is the equivalent of the Latino male buffoon and “exemplifies a common devices that the Hollywood narrative employs to neutralize the screen Latina’s sexuality” (Berg, 73). Charles Ramírez Berg argues that this is a necessary role because the hero must have a reason to reject the Latina for the Anglo woman, to which maintains the WASP status quo. Films show how Hollywood narratives often imply that Anglos should only be with those of their ethnicity.

Another stereotype found in films and television is the “Latin lover.” This character is deemed to have the qualities of a sexuality that makes them capable of “making a sensuous but dangerous brand of love” (Berg, 76). The Latin lover has continuously been seen played by a number of Latin actors like Antonio Banderas in films like Never Talk to Strangers. Like how Latina women have been subjected to the “sexpot” stereotype Latino men have often been sexualized in the media as the Latin lover. The last stereotype the author mentioned was the dark lady. This stereotype is said to be the female Latin lover, where she is virginal, inscrutable, and aristocratic.

According the author, there is a way to check for stereotypes called the “stereotype communication test.” This is practiced by substituting the role being analyzed with another ethnicity, and if the role can be played well enough then there’s most likely no stereotyping occurring. On the other hand, if no other ethnicity can play the role just as well then it probably involves stereotypical traits of the cultural group. There have been films made that went against stereotypes, whose characters are portrayed appropriately even though filmmaking relies on stereotypes. Furthermore, there has been a growing number of Latino filmmaker who continue to break through the stereotyping paradigm of filmmaking.

Alongside film and television reflecting a negative portrayal of Latinos, the media’s pervasive stereotypes of Latinos also prevail. In the manuscript “The Negative Effects of Mass Media Stereotypes of Latinos and Immigrants,” the authors Tyler Reny and Sylvia Manzano express how public opinion reflects the media’s stereotypes of Latinos and immigrants. They believe that these stereotypes make it hard to believe that America is supposed to be an inclusive, multiracial democracy or so called “the melting pot.” “We find convincing evidence that non-Latinos attribute both negative and positive stereotypes to Latinos and immigrants, and that news and entertainment media can shape public opinion about Latinos and immigrants in a variety of ways” (Reny & Manzano, 195). It is very common to see media coverage of Latino immigrants that is in a negative light, full of stereotypes, and highly dramatized. Withering public support, loud opposition, and negative stereotypes firmly contribute to popular discourse.

Coverage of Latinos and immigrants focuses almost mainly on the negative events like undocumented immigrants and lacks important content. The authors believe that since Americans are usually not fully knowledgeable about issues concerning Latinos or immigrants, they formulate their opinions based on what popular culture presents them with. “Given that Americans are poorly informed about issues of immigration, media can play a large role in constructing the metaphors by which Americans come to understand demographic change, immigration, and Latinos” (Reny & Manzano, 197). The study conducted by the authors involved asking respondents to think about films and television show and to recall the roles they often seen played by Latinos. The top three answers were criminal or gang member, gardener, and maid. The more familiar the respondents were with Latinos, the less likely they were to believe the stereotypes in the media. “Looking first at media and positive stereotypes, respondents who were exposed to positive primes were more likely to agree that positive stereotypes applied to Latinos than those who were exposed to negative primes” (Reny & Manzano, 206). News channels has one of the strongest effects in shaping attitudes about Latinos and immigrants. For instance, people who watch and trust more conservative media are more likely to agree with negative stereotypes than those who watch and trust liberal media. People will usually cater to outlets that uphold their beliefs to look for information that supports them. Thus, this is why the media has such a strong hold on priming the way people perceive others in society.

The negative depictions shown throughout the different outlets of popular culture has led America to believe these stereotypes of Latinos. Popular culture grasps stereotypes by the neck and forces society to believe them to be true. Latinos are just one of the many minorities that have been affected by stereotypes. Latinos are not the only victims of stereotyping; these groups are not to be forgotten: LGBTQ, Native Americans, African Americans, Asians and Asian Americans, the working class, the poor, immigrants, women, and so on. Human thinking is heavily reliant on the images popular culture presents. These images and metaphors are the mental building blocks with which humans make sense of their social world.

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