by Lucas Molandes
I grew up in small, predominantly white town, long before the Internet was a twinkle in the eyes of masturbators everywhere. None of my friends were of Latin descent, so most of my identity was formed by the pop culture of the time. If you remember the 80’s, this wasn’t really the heyday for anything substantial: Jheri curl, Deloreans and shoulder pads. Oh my! Outside of family reunions, it was slim pickings looking for role models to give me an understanding of what it meant to be ‘brown’. Sure, Fernando Valenzuela and Cesar Chavez made the local news, but I was horrible at sports and I wasn’t old enough to organize labor strikes. Whenever they did have a Latino on children’s television, he/she was usually there to teach a bunch of 3rd graders how to be a street vendor. That being said, here are a just few Latino pop-culture stereotypes I rebelled against during my formative years.
I never liked this guy. Mostly because anytime the DJ played Rico Suave at a party, my “friends” would come up to me and ask me take my shirt off and dance. It was the cultural equivalent of the the fat kid in the Goonies doing the Truffle Shuffle. Don’t worry. I never did it. I feel like the DJ who played that song thought he was doing me a favor – kind of how you might feel when you put a few sticks in a box to make your turtle feel more at home. Thanks man. It could have been worse, Carmen Miranda could have made a comeback. Luckily, my mom had a Jose Feliciano album laying around I was able to hear music that didn’t make me want to slather my body in baby oil and cringe.
Aesop knew that if you wanted to teach people a lesson, you had to build the story around animals. Luckily Taco Bell was able to teach America that not all Mexicans are scary, some of them are dogs. I’ve actually worked with the guy who voiced this character, and while I can’t say anything but nice things about him, this dog did for Mexicans what Cujo did for St. Bernards.
Nothing like getting a tooth pick tossed in your face by a high school senior. “You got a problem with that, Chico,” they’d say to me. For some reason, having a bad guy “Cuban” on national television didn’t make the gringos warm up to me. Of course, if those older kids had run into Scott “Razor Ramon” Hall, in an alley, the would have browned up their knickers fast, but luckily for them, they had me to work out their small town issues with. All was not lost, a few years later Eddie Guerrero came along and infused much needed heart into sport entertainment. I liked Eddie because he was a human. He didn’t try to fit into what you thought he should be. Instead, he brought people into his world. This was a great step forward from the company who brought us such cultural role models as The Bushwhackers, The Iron Sheik, and Kamala.
Right? When you live in a small town, Warner Brothers cartoons are the bread and butter of people who dropped out of high school to breed show pigs for a living. For a lot of non-ethnic people in my town, Speedy Gonzales was their frame of reference for my brown skin. It’s never a good situation when someone tells me I should go out for track because – according to the cartoon – I’d be perfect for it. Luckily, Warner Brothers introduced Slowpoke Rodriguez to the show, and from then on people no longer assumed I could run fast. They assumed I was a heavy drinker. That didn’t come until later.
Dora the Explorer. Same age range, and you might learn something.
Lucas Molandes is a stand-up comedian that has made appearances at the prestigious Montreal Just for Laughs Festival, Comedy Central’s “Live at Gotham,” and CNN”s “Not Just Another Cable News Show.”