Esther Cepeda: At odds with an image
CHICAGO -- Long before there was a Sofia Vergara mugging for the cameras, playing up the Latina bombshell role, there was Maria Conchita Alonso. And she’s back. Big time.
The actress who made a splash in the mid-1980s in such films as “The Running Man” and “Moscow on the Hudson”—inspiring countless monolingual men to say “Muy caliente!” on cue—has come seemingly out of nowhere and ticked a lot of people off.
It’s unclear whether she offended so many because she did a video for Tim Donnelly, a tea party candidate running for governor of California who has been accused of being anti-immigrant and generally hostile to Hispanics, or because her participation in the video was so counter to the stereotype of the open-borders activist Latina that the whole incident screamed “drama!”
At least some of the outcry had to have been because the ad was just so darned tacky.
I won’t bore you with the details—or worse, ask you to watch it—but the high points are that Alonso’s ad featured her translating, and seemingly endorsing, Donnelly’s pitch about battling big government, illegal immigration and the threats to permissive gun laws. She did so very flirtatiously, used a few choice words that are considered vulgar in Spanish and jokingly praised a part of Donnelly’s anatomy. All while holding a pink sweater-clad Chihuahua whom Alonso introduced to the camera as “Tequila.”
As a result, the Cuban-born, Venezuelan-raised actress was panned on social media and forced out of her upcoming performance in a Spanish-language production of the play “The Vagina Monologues.”
In response, Alonso went on a media blitz offering many rationalizations for her role in the ad. She didn’t Google Donnelly in Spanish and so missed learning about his attitude toward immigrants; she didn’t know he was a tea party member; she doesn’t agree with everything Donnelly thinks anyway, so what’s the big deal?
It really isn’t a big deal. Had the ad been ignored (as I tried to), few would have witnessed the spectacle of a mostly forgotten movie star swooning over a candidate with little chance of unseating Gov. Jerry Brown.
But the story went viral because Alonso has embarrassed a lot of people who are very concerned about their image.
This includes Hispanics who wish to be viewed as an important, sophisticated voting bloc, those who constantly bemoan the lack of Latinos in Hollywood, those who want to portray Hispanics as reliably Democratic and liberal, and, last, Latinos who actually are Republican and are tired of being treated as ignorant or a traitor or a joke by their fellow Hispanics. (How many Republican Latinas cringed in disgust at how Alonso portrayed them when they learned about this kerfuffle?)
Really, the biggest losers are those who, in general, want more “Latino representation” in our society—and prefer the kind that’s strictly positive, telling the story of a proud, family-loving, culture-spreading model from the monolithic “Hispanic community.”
It’s not that this wish doesn’t have merit. I, too, want people to stop equating the term “Hispanic” with the categories of foreign-born, unlawfully present, undereducated or poor. But having model Latinos “out there” representing all Hispanics doesn’t work because of the intense diversity of the Hispanic population.
And when a formerly well-esteemed Hispanic actress trots her Chihuahua out to shill for a Minuteman in Spanish, well, the cognitive dissonance alone was bound to set people off.
But it wasn’t just Alonso who embarrassed herself and others recently.
So many Hispanics had made such a big deal about Juan Pablo Galavis, the first Latino on the reality-TV show “The Bachelor,” you’d think the first Hispanic president of the United States had been elected. (It wasn’t all good hyperventilating, mind you—many were upset that Galavis is “too white” to be a proper representative of Latinos.)
It all came to a crashing halt when Galavis said that there should be no gay “Bachelor” contestants because they are “more pervert.” Galavis blamed his clumsiness with the English language, but no one was buying it and so Hispanics all over America were disappointed that their representative on “The Bachelor” turned out to be a homophobe.
It’s a bummer, but if you’re the type who really longs for a “Hispanic leader,” “Latino representative” or other ethnicity-based spokesperson, then it goes with the territory. It’s not feasible but some still want it and, as you can see, they should be very careful about what they wish for.
Esther J. Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter, @estherjcepeda.