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.


Helen the Felon said...

I think you've made a hugely valid point. The only gay Latinos in mainstream media who come to mind are Bert & Ernie.

GayProf said...

True, but Bert is so Ernie’s bitch. Ernie doesn’t care about anybody but himself – he just takes, takes, takes. And who has to clean up all of Ernie’s messes? Yeah, that’s right, poor suffering Bert....

Shauntae AuPair said...

I don't mean to get all undergrad on your ass, but a quick google search pointed me towards blurb on visible minority superhero folk.

GayProf said...

Thanks for the link! These images, though, still seem as dubious as Firebird.

D. said...

And here's the thing about Star Trek - in any of the 4 series - that really ticked me off is that it never featured a gay character at all. (Wesley Crusher doesn't count). Not Latino, not white, not black; not one of any ethnicity. Somehow I think if we'd made it all the way to the 23rd and 24th centuries and know all these different alien races that having an openly gay crewmember would not be a problem. I shudder to think that "don't ask, don't tell" made it that far into the future!

GayProf said...

I agree, D.! Like their vision of Latinos, is the Star Trek universe telling us that men-loving-men and women-loving-women simply don't exist in the future? Why couldn’t Troi and Beverley Crusher have ended up together?

Aside: Wesley Crusher as gay -- cringe. He should have made my "Queer Imposter" list -- next time. . .

D. said...

Aside: Wesley Crusher as gay -- cringe. He should have made my "Queer Imposter" list -- next time. .

LOL! He even had that rainbow stripe across the front of his uniform the first two seasons.

samael7 said...

I'm totally not disputing your point, because, yeah. See also, Margaret Cho, who has noticed a certain lack of televised Asian-descent folk who get to appear on teevee week after week.

But off the top of my head, I recalled Julio Esteban Richter, "Rictor" from the X-Men/New Mutants years. He was very much a main player early on, a core member of the second (or like 1.5) wave of New Mutants.

Here's his Wikipedia entry. No really.

That's the first one that came to mind because I thought he was totally hot at the time. Later on, in X-Force, there was an odd, slightly-homoerotic shading to a relationship he had with a guy named Shatterstar. I don't think anything came of it, though I recall very much wanting it to.

Greg said...

I always enjoyed El Diablo when he had his own comic in the...oh, was it the late 80s/early 90s? Anyway, then-ish. Of course, being English/Irish/American, I'm not necessarily the one to speak of good latino role models. There was Gangbuster, too, in the Superman comics, but he always bugged me.

PLEASE tell me you are reading the new "Blue Beetle" these days, though...

Anonymous said...

Lieutenant Richard Castillo. In the episode where there's an alternative timeline with Enterprise-C, Natasha Yar isn't dead but comes back to act as liason between the two ships,working closely with Lieutenent Richard Castillo, who she becomes romantically involved with.But they end up returming to their timeline to face certain death. When there are Latinos they are usually killed off in the first half of the show unlike the Black characters who have a 50/50 chance at surviving. There's a Latina in "Aliens". She comes across as a Dykish Puerto Rican...

Anonymous said...

More Latino Sci-Fi characters:"Starship Troopers" Director Paul Verhoeven (Showgirls, Total Recall) Johnny Rico-Argentine(Casper Van Dien), Carmen Ibanes-undisclosed Latina(Denise Richards),Dizzy Flores-undisclosed Latina(Dina Meyer).I know,Latinos played by white people but at least the characters weren't killed off and they were the good guys.How many points is that?

Anonymous said... Edward James Olmos as "Battlestar Gallactica's" William Adama. Triple Points!

Anonymous said...

And before I forget,I just saw this episode, "Where No One Has Gone Before",[TNG]. Men in one of the background scenes wearing skirts. I swear.

Anonymous said...

Check this out:Thursday, January 15, 2009
Ricardo Montalbán RIP (1920 –2009)

International Space Archives

We just lost a great Latino character actor who played many memorable sci-fi/fantasy roles, Khan Noonien Singh on "Star Trek", Armando the circus owner in Escape from the Planet of the Apes and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes who hid Caesar, the intelligent talking chimp, from the government and eventually led to our planet's downfall. And of course he played Mr. Rourke on that wretched Aaron Spelling show "Fantasy Island." Ricardo also voiced many commercials and short films including this NASA short "Women for Space" (hosted by the International Space Archives) This "Find a Latino in Sci fi" is my new quest in life. How many points do I get with this info?

Anonymous said...

Did you see/use this one?: It's on Julio Esteban "Rictor", our first almost out gay latino sci fi character. Now this is triple points.LOL.

Anonymous said...

Here's a famous latino actor not afraid to play gay in films,"Antonio Banderas" His turn as "Armand" in "Interveiw With a Vampire" counts as triple points. His Latin voice in animated Disney films counts too. George Lopez and Carlos Mencias count as positive mainstream comic characters on television and films. My points are off the chart. I'm on a mission to find positive Latino characters in the mainstream if it kills me.

Anonymous said...

Just saw this. A Latina character "Captain Hernandez" on Star Trek's "Enterprise". Episode "Divergence". AND she was not killed off in the first 15 minutes of the show but survived the Hour. Also check out John Leguizamo in "Titan A E". Does Jennifer Lopez in "The Cell" count? Great Fantasy/ Thriller of a film.

Anonymous said...

Hi again. I think John Leguizamo gets points for the vast diversity of roles he's potrayed both in and out of the Sci Fi/ Fantasy/ Comic Book genres. Even his fearless roles as gay and drag queen characters are to be commended.

Anonymous said...

OK here's another one. Benecio Del Toro. (Puerto Rican) Not to be pidgeon holed in one stereo type his characters have been varied and eclectic.His comic book genre type film is "Sin City" and believe it or not his fantasy genre role was as "Duke the Dog faced Boy" in "Big Top Pee Wee." Ca-ching, triple points!

Eddie Valentine said...

Gee. I haven't kept this story line up in a while. I'll be right back with a list but it'll be long because it's the year 2012 and things, drum roll please... have finally come around for Latinos in the Sci-Fy/Fantasy/Comic Book genres in film and/or otherwise. The Indian characters (Asian, not Native)have replaced Latinos in the Totem pole of heir-achy and are now the new "Mexicans" of all these Sci-Fy, etc. LOL! Dear Gay Prof. Please don't go away. I promise to be more active. (Top or Bottom, please.)Signed, Eddie Valentine

Unknown said...

Wasn't that guy from Miami vice in a slew of TV sci-fi shows? Aliens had one of the most memorable characters not only played by a latina but in her intro had Spanish used to identify her as latina& she rivaled Ripley for badass woman in the movie. said...


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