Salsa & Sensitivity: How TV Handles Latina Grief
Spoiler Alert for Jane the Virgin, The 100, How To Get Away With Murder and Devious Maids.
We all lose things, people, and some battles we fight.
Grief can vary in intensity and range from minor distress like disappointment to traumatic losses like death but it is still a source of pain. While suffering is not exclusive to one race, there seems to be a trend in how TV has handled Latina grief, particularly in the last 5 years.
As a Black woman, my interpretation of this may differ due to my upbringing but I can see the similarities in how entertainment showcases all Women of Color grief collectively. TV hyper-accelerates our misfortune. Characters with tinted complexions are expected to shed only a few tears and be back to their “strong” selves by next episode.
For example, Lifetime’s Devious Maids had a host of Latina women that experienced several kinds of distress. Marisol’s (Ana Ortiz) son was framed for murder, her husband killed. Rosie (Dania Ramirez) got shot on her wedding day and fell into a subsequent coma. Carmen (Roslyn Sanchez) watched a dear friend take his last breath in her arms.
Different network, same situation. Newly pregnant Laurel (Karla Souza) of ABC’s How To Get Away With Murder, was forced to deal with the homicide of child’s father and boyfriend, Wes. Even NBC has been guilty of exploiting Latina pain. Chicago Fire’s Gabriela (Monica Raymund) suffered through infertility, a heartbreaking miscarriage and losing custody of her foster son Louie. But nothing compares to The 100’s treatment of Raven Reyes (Lindsay Morgan). She carried the weight of her boyfriend’s infidelity and later death, then was subjected to heinous torture where her bone marrow was forcibly harvested from her leg. It doesn’t stop there, the next season Reyes was shot in the leg, almost paralyzed and now deals with extensive nerve damage. Any of these situations warrant more than a few episodes full of trembling lip speeches. All of these performances were notable because all of these characters suffered.
All of these things hurt. So why aren’t Latinas allowed to be sad, only spicy?
The answer might lie in society’s narrow perception of Latina culture and blind eye toward the endless variations of such. I’m not sure networks have deduced that Latinas are capable of full-ranged emotions like everyone else. And it is in this misunderstanding that stereotypes like Feisty Latina or the Sexy Chica or the Latina Housekeeper take root.
TV has it wrong simply due to which screenwriters are allowed to pen narratives of Latin significance. Most often, writers (white & Black) from a completely different demographic attempt to address issues foreign to them and miss the mark. This is not the way to exercise cultural sensitivity and show authenticity suffers as a result because audiences can tell.
With showrunners and writers immersed in the culture, Netflix hit the bullseye with One Day at a Time. The 1970’s remake perfectly educated and entertained audiences about Cuban culture so that when characters showed more than one emotion, or shed a few tears, we accepted their reactions as valid. It conditioned us to empathize with these characters as we would living, breathing humans. Because contrary to what some may believe, Latinas are humans too. Both critics and fans of the show seemed to appreciate the refreshing change of pace because reception of the series has been overwhelming positive. Main character Penelope (Justina Machado), was allowed to slowly and realistically navigate her PTSD onscreen. She shined whether puffy-eyed or with tear streaked cheeks.
Surprisingly, CW’s Jane The Virgin also recently exemplified the right way. Single mom Jane (Gina Rodriguez) reeled from the sudden passing of her husband and started having panic attacks. JTV showed that she attended grief counseling and found a healthy outlet for her pain. She coped and she healed but it took time. JTV writers understood the importance of balance.
I think other Latina characters should be granted the same grace to be both sad and capable. Open wounds like loss, trauma, heartbreak take care and attention but primarily time to reconcile. And sometimes grief shouldn’t be accelerated for ratings.
Onward, I think TV should handle Latina grief with both salsa & sensitivity.