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Get a grip

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Esther Cepeda
January 9, 2012
— Life would get darned tedious if we demanded apologies, started YouTube campaigns and generally freaked out every time something insulting was implied about Latinos.

Imagine if Mexican-Americans had decided to tar and feather Boomer Esiason in reaction to comments he made last week on whether his old team, the New York Jets, would be looking to replace their current quarterback, Hispanic heartthrob Mark Sanchez.


“If you watched Mark Sanchez the last month of the season, he was like a Chihuahua standing on Madison Avenue and 36th Street entering the Midtown Tunnel, eyes bigger than you-know-what, and just so shaky,” Esiason told WEEI Sportsradio in Boston. Esiason later told ESPN he wasn’t making a reference to Sanchez’s heritage—“It’s a skittish dog, and he’s been a skittish player.”


Since Mexican-Americans and Chihuahua enthusiasts didn’t raise a stink, few people heard about the Sanchez slam—which is as it should be.


Too bad some in the Puerto Rican community didn’t take the same approach with a recently aired ABC television pilot for a “Bosom Buddies”-like cross-dressing pal comedy revolving around the pharmaceutical industry. One scene between two characters included the line: “But I’m Puerto Rican, I’d be great at selling drugs.”


I, and many others, would never have heard about this critically panned show had the reaction to that one line not included furious social media and blog postings, a Change.org petition demanding apologies, denouncements from politicians and a YouTube campaign featuring Puerto Ricans affirming their heritage and declaring “I DO NOT sell drugs.”


I’m half-Ecuadorean and half-Mexican, and between Mexican cartel and Ecuadorean drug-trafficking violence headlines, I sure don’t want to be associated with drug dealers either—nor should anyone be associated with drugs just because of their Latin American roots.


But let’s get a grip here: We’re talking about a comedy TV pilot that few people saw and most critics have written off. And it’s not as though TV shows and movies don’t prominently feature white drug dealers all the time—I don’t recall anyone being offended by Mary-Louise Parker’s character as an upscale, suburban-mom drug dealer in “Weeds.”


Is it now the duty of members of any category of the population—women, various religious faiths, ethnic or racial minorities—to take offense and rebel any time they feel they are slighted?


I always say that if you go around looking to be insulted, you’ll never be disappointed. But hey, if Puerto Ricans want to exercise their First Amendment rights this way, then more power to them, I guess.


But Darlene Vazquetelles, the Los Angeles-based actress who started the effort to put positive Puerto Rican images on YouTube, was in Chicago filming a movie over the weekend and asked me to make sure people understood that social media blew this whole thing up way beyond her intentions.


“I’m honestly not asking an apology from ABC or Amaury (Nolasco, the Puerto Rican actor who delivered the line) or anybody—I’ll still watch ABC and the show,” Vazquetelles told me. “I’ve decided to leave behind the anger I felt when I first saw the episode. I know not every (Latino) was offended—I just want to concentrate on starting the new year with a positive way to break stereotypes.”


Esther Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

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