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Before ‘Jane The Virgin’ There Was ‘¿Que Pasa USA?’


There aren’t a lot of TV sitcoms where the family is Latino but that’s changing. You have ‘Jane The Virgin’ and ‘One Day At A Time’ and even ‘Modern Family’. You also had the ‘George Lopez Show’ but the less said about that the better. That show set us all back 500 years. The problem is that if there are Latinos and Latino families on TV, the white American writers just don’t understand how our family dynamics work. There was a show once that dealt with the struggles of a newly emigrated family having to deal with acculturation, Latino family life, and the whole Spanglish thing. It was also hilarious. The show was called, “¿Que Pasa USA?”

“¿Que Pasa USA?” followed the lives of the Peñas, a Cuban-American family living in Miami in the 70’s. It started out when PBS was looking to produce a sitcom. I guess they got tired of making boring English period dramas that are only watched by old ladies with too many cats. They wanted to do something funny, but that also dealt with issues and whatnot. The main conflict of the show was not the whole Castro thing, though the bearded one is often mentioned. The show mainly portrayed the struggles that immigrants face being in a new country. One of the main problems was learning a new language. The show was the first, (only?), show that was totally bi-lingual. The grandparents only spoke Spanish and were hostile to learning English. This is because they thought they were going back to Cuba in the near future, as soon as Castro died, (HA!). The parents spoke English with a heavy accent but switched and mixed the two languages. Their kids, however, primarily spoke English and only spoke Spanish to their grandparents. This is a dynamic many of us can relate to. What I just described was exactly how things were in my house growing up.

The show ran for three years, from 1977-1980 and was nominated for an Emmy. It was praised by critics for its realistic portrayal of the life of a recent immigrant family. Steven Bauer, who played the son, would go on to success as Manny, Tony Montana’s buddy in “Scarface“. He’s also played a drug dealer in other movies as well, a role too often offered to Latino actors, (a dude’s got to eat). Still, the show was truly groundbreaking, and I think that it is about time that this bi-lingual format was tried again. One of the reasons the show only lasted three seasons was because American TV audiences didn’t know what to make of a bi-lingual show. Today, there are like 8 gajillion more Latinos here in the U.S. than there were back then, so a bi-lingual show would probably do really well. Ju’ know what’a sayings? Right now Stephen Bauer reprized his role on the stage in Miami with ‘¿Que Pasa USA? Now’ where a whole new generation is getting to know the family. I think it’s time for a reboot.

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