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Will J.Lo and Wilmer Use Tr3s To Undo Damage?

The Hollywood Reporter announced that Jennifer Lopez and Wilmer Valderrama are bringing their brand of ethnicity to the Miami-based  MTV Tr3s network later this year. Their shows – Amigas, Inc. (Lopez)  and The Ricardo Laguna Project (Valderrama) – are aimed squarely at that same old demographic we always hear about, and I’m paraphrasing Valderrama here: those of us who need need reminding of “the reason why we move away from our countries and come to America to embark in the search of the American dream.” If we are to take that statement at face value, based on what we’ve mostly learned from watching la J. Lo and Wilmer, the main reason Latinos are in this country is to fill the generic ethnicity requirements of movie and television studios.

Both celebrities are ethnic, to be sure, but they are ethnic in the same way that Mario Lopez or Freddy Prinze Jr. is ethnic. That is to say, they are safe ethnic stock that can be thrown in whenever advertising needs to appeal to whatever demographic. Growing up, I identified less with J.Lo because of any cultural role she played and more with the fact that I was a young man with an explosive libido. I never embraced her ethnicity because she never embraced it either. Sure, she played Selena, but that was 15 years ago, and she followed that up with Anaconda and The Cell and Gigli. That would be like if Sidney Poitier followed up Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner with Paul Blart Mall Cop.

What about Wilmer “Eduardo Fresco” Valderrama’s contributions to the Latino representation? For years, my friends would make no hesitations when calling me “Fez” (which stands for foreign exchange student), a playfully subservient nickname that basically meant “our token brown friend.” Luckily this nickname was eventually replaced by the laterally demeaning “Pedro” when Napoleon Dynamite came out a few years later. I know Wilmer can’t control how people direct their ignorance, but there is a whole generation of Latinos who experienced the effects of stereotypes he helped propagate. Maybe Wilmer should atone for this before selling the idea of the American Dream to a new generation of Latinos – otherwise his new show feels less about embracing Latino culture and more about selfishly redeeming part of his own career on the backs of Latinos. That might sound cynical, but these shows are airing on channel owned by Viacom, which hasn’t shied away from embracing mostly negative social stereotypes, The Jersey Shore and Teen Mom for example.

Both of these stars have made a career out of playing up to certain biases and haven’t embraced many “brave” cultural roles, which begs the question: is this a byproduct of how Hollywood works with Latinos or is this their own doing? Every actor has a few roles under their belt they’re probably not too proud of, but does that mean we should chide them before they have a chance to build a larger narrative for their character choices? Most recently, Amaury Nolasco of Work It brought the protesting wrath of the Latino community down upon him when he infamously said, “I’m Puerto Rican, I’d be great at selling drugs.” The question of whether or not Amaury could have eventually built the character into something respectable will never be answered, yet what choice did he ultimately have when throwing his ethnicity under the bus in the few episodes that aired? Will we see something similar this fall when J.Lo and Wilmer have their chance to represent the Latino world? Or will they fully embrace the identity of a culture that has helped make them into the stars they are today?

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