Wednesday, October 05, 2005
Latinos of the Future?
Being of mixed ancestry (my father was Mexican-American, my mother was Irish-American) predisposes me to be sensitive to representations of race. Obviously the main-stream media rarely reflects my day-to-day life. This is something we all expect.
Still, sci-fi’s consistent exclusion of Latinos stings a bit too much. When I started this blog entry, I intended it to be a critique of sci-fi representations of Latinos. It turns out that I couldn’t even think of enough Latinos in mainstream sci-fi to fill the blog. Don't worry, though, I think highly enough of my opinion to fill plenty of space.
It baffles me that sci-fi so conspicuously excludes Latinos. According to these predications of the future, do we, as a people, simply stop existing? Did all of the Latinos in these alternate universes board a massive spaceship and leave earth behind?
It should come as no surprise that I am a huge nerd. Star Trek, Star Wars, comics, and really bad movies are all guilty, guilty, guilty pleasures in my world. Couldn’t they toss in a single Sanchez or Gonzalez into these things?
Yes, I know there are a few. Over the past two decades the mainstream media keeps “discovering” that Latinos actually account for a large percentage of the U.S. population. During these moments, we see a few blips of representations. Those images, however, are most often hasty creations that rarely last.
Marvel, for instance, created the comic character “Firebird” during one of these moments of Latino “celebration.” What was her story? Why was she named after a badly built car?
Well, Bonita Juarez grew up in New Mexico (this, I like). One day, a comet hit Juarez while she was wondering in the desert. I can’t say that I spent much time mindlessly roaming through New Mexico’s desert in my twenty years there. Apparently this is how Juarez enjoyed spending her free time, ultimately leading to her super powers.
If Marvel really wanted to be political, they would have made her poisoned from all the federal government’s nuclear testing in New Mexico’s deserts. This might have at least explained her unfortunate fire-engine red face. Regardless, with newly imbued comet-powers, she joined an X-Men knock-off group called the “Texas Rangers.”
I don’t like to moan, but why would someone living in New Mexico join the “Texas Rangers?” Not to mention that the real-life Texas Rangers brutally harassed and murdered thousands of Mexican Americans along the border in the past century. Wouldn't a Latina superhero, therefore, bristle at joining a group called the “Texas Rangers?” Seemingly Juarez was willing to let bygones be bygones.
Juarez, like every other minority superhero character ever-ever, worked as a social worker by day. Superman got to be a reporter. Wonder Woman got to be in the navy and, later, the UN. Batman lived off of his wealth. Minority comic characters, though, are always tied to the ghetto and are always playing the "good role" of social worker.
What’s that you say? “GayProf,” you cry out, “I never even heard of Firebird.” Don’t fret, you aren’t alone. Only the most die-hard comic fans would ever know her story. Indeed, I didn’t know she existed until I was bemoaning the lack of Latino superheroes during my childhood. A hyper-comic-collector friend of mine offered Firebird as a (the only?) 1980s option. The problem is, though, she never seemed to do anything beyond existing. Just try to find a comic featuring Firebird. Go on -- I dare you. Firebird pledged her life to helping the people of the Southwest and then promptly disappeared from comic-book racks across the nation.
How about television, you ask? Star Trek, despite its claims of a rosy, multi-culture future, rarely included Latino characters. Only Star Trek Voyager offered a few Latino actors as constant figures. Yet, as they gave with one hand, they took away with the other.
When I whine about the lack of Latinos in Star Trek (and I whine about this often), many of my friends instantly name Chakotay. While it is true that Robert Beltrain is a real-life Mexican-American actor, Chakotay (the character) was Native American (not Latino). We won’t even delve into the fact that the show couldn’t seem to name Chakotay’s origins (at different times hinting he was Pueblo, Cherokee, Apache, and/or Navajo). For the purposes of the U.S. Census, though, Chakotay would not technically qualify as “Latino.”
Then there was B’Elanna Torres. Gee, no racial problems with this character. Her mother was Klingon, her father was human/Latino. So, we still don’t get a character that is just Latino. Her Latino father, moreover, abandoned B’Elanna when she was a child. As a result, we are told, B'Elanna and her mother had to subsist using space food stamps. Torres grew up hating every aspect of her human/Latino heritage. What a great message for the kids! Didn’t Daniel Patrick Moynihan use B’Elanna as one of his cases in his racist report “The Intergalactic Latino Family: The Case for National Action?” Thank you, Star Trek. You are a true friend of the Latino people.
So, I call on you, dear readers. Are there positive images of Latinos in sci-fi out there? Am I just missing them? I will take anything -- comics, films, tv (No, Jimmy Smits playing Bail Organa does not count. I hate to be picky, but in the Star-Wars universe, Organa was Alderaanion, not Latino). I will give bonus points if you can also name positive images of gay Latinos in mainstream media. Triple points to the person who can name images of gay Latinos in sci-fi.