The L Word’s Brush with “Latino Culture”


Sarah Shahi as Carmen on The L WordSarah Shahi

Despite the fact that the Latino population is one of the fastest growing minority groups in the United States, few television programs have featured LGBT Latino characters. This is not surprising given the fact that most TV characters in general — let alone gay characters — are Caucasian, but even on gay programs like Queer as Folk and The L Word, Latino representation is almost nonexistent.

On The L Word, it wasn’t until Season 2 that a Latina character, Carmen De La Pica Morales (Sarah Shahi) was introduced — and this on a show set in Los Angeles, where 46% of the county’s residents are of Hispanic or Latino origin.

During the second season, Carmen’s ethnic heritage was noted, but downplayed.

Though she initially tells Shane that her father was “some kind of Mayan medicine man,” her ethnic heritage quickly takes a back seat to her developing relationships with Shane and Jenny. Later on in the same season, she sports a shirt declaring “Everybody Loves a Latin Girl,” but it is not until Season 3 that Carmen’s cultural background is more fully addressed.

The result, at least as showcased in the first two episodes of the third season, is a well-intentioned but somewhat clumsy introduction to Latino culture, featuring overgeneralizations and an unfortunate reliance on stereotypes.

This is not altogether unexpected. Before The L Word, no other television programs have even tried to engage with the intersection of sexual orientation and Latino cultures, so one can chalk their clumsiness up to a kind of pioneer syndrome.

Before the specific comes the general; before a nuanced character or cultural situation can be developed, we must air out our old stereotypes.

This is the path that all representation of minority cultures has taken on television and in film.

The few television shows that have included recurring Latina lesbian characters have never delved into the characters’ cultural heritage. Lisa Vidal played lesbian firefighter Sandy Lopez on ER, but her ethnic background never played a role. Latina actress Iyari Limon played vampire slayer Kennedy on the last season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but once again, her ethnic heritage was never mentioned.

More recently, WB teen drama One Tree Hill featured a Latina teen, Anna, who came out as bisexual, but again, her ethnicity was only nominally referenced.

Finally, Roma Maffia currently plays lesbian anesthesiologist Liz Cruz on Nip/Tuck, but her ethnic background has also been largely erased.

On the big screen, lesbian Latinas have similarly been invisible. Only the Salma Hayek film Frida, a biopic about the legendary bisexual Mexican artist, flirts with same-sex desire in a Latino context, and even Frida mostly uses bisexuality for titillation.

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