[freedomtowernight_edited.jpg] 26th Parallel: Cubans in Hollywood

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Cubans in Hollywood

A very interesting article from Hispanic Business appeared in my inbox a few days ago courtesy of Echuta. It deals with Cuban and Cuban-American actors in Hollywood, and how they fit - and don't fit - into the Hispanic mold that Hollywood so desperately seeks to create.

More specifically, it tackles the larger issue of skin color and how our culture tries to erroneously lump Hispanics, regardless of national origin, into the same group.
Fortunately, the United States has been good to Cubans, and by absorbing so many immigrant groups over the years, we see the heavily used metaphor of the melting pot in motion. The problem is that so many immigrants do not want their cultures to "melt." Mexico has such a different culture from Puerto Rico, and likewise from Cuba; these groups do not want to be meshed together as one single culture that is viewed by others as "Hispanic" or "brown." In fact, that right there is the origin of the problems that have followed: "being Hispanic" is not a culture; it is many cultures, and now it has become a surrogate culture that stands in for all the others. Americans will differentiate between a European and a Hungarian, but not between a Hispanic and a Mexican.

International stars like Gael Garcia Bernal (ed: he's Mexican) have American fan bases, and Univision and Telemundo have become or are part of major corporations. Occasionally, the American industry will fund a film such as "Spanglish" or "Real Women Have Curves," but there is still an image associated with people of Spanish-speaking origin and how they should look. Neither actress Cameron Diaz nor director George A. Romero meet this stereotype, and as a result, that both are half-Cuban is almost never brought up.

Another example is television star JoAnna Garcia. What is interesting about Ms. Garcia is that not only does she resemble the image of the all-American girl, but her roles, such as the teenaged mother or the cheerleader with coprolalia, play off and then satirize this image. Ms. Garcia was willing to speak with me on this issue. When asked about how being Cuban affects her own identity, she responded: "Looking the way I look, having blonde hair and green eyes, has obviously affected the roles I've been offered. I could easily have changed my name altogether, but I just never considered that, because it's my name and who I am."

Tampa native JoAnna Garcia plays Reba McEntire's daughter in the sitcom "Reba", and as the picture above illustrates, looks far from the Hispanic stereotype (if one actually exists). As this post from a while back points out, it's certainly not impossible for someone of Cuban heritage to have fair features, but that's another topic.

While I don't agree 100% with everything in the article, it's refreshing to see a publication that represents all Hispanics not fall into the "Hispanics are all the same" trap that so many pan-Hispanic organizations and entities fall into. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem considering myself a Hispanic, but trying to gloss over the differences that exist should be as disrespectful to proud Mexicans or Colombians as it should be to Cubans and Puerto Ricans.

I strongly recommend reading the entire thing, it's a bit long but worth it. It sums up with this dead-on statement:
The United States is a mixed bag. It is a difficult place to succeed, and there will always be forms of racism and ignorance, as well as what many would call "a history of imperialism in Latin America." But the sheer number of opportunities and individual forms of freedom that each citizen ultimately has is staggering. Forget the American dream: The values of this country are the human dream. It is absolutely true that despite all the flaws of the United States, Cuban Americans have been one of the most fortunate groups. It is amazing what immigrants and their children have been able to achieve in this system. Yes, they are doctors and attorneys, but perhaps most impressive of all, elected officials of the U.S. And they are certainly no longer strangers to Hollywood.

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Blogger Lissy said...

Nice post Robert.

11:05 AM, January 06, 2007  
Blogger Manuel A. Tellechea said...

"[It's] certainly not impossible for someone of Cuban heritage to have fair features, but that's another topic. — Robert

Not only is it not impossible, it is rather common. I should say that most Cuban-Americans have "fair features," which is not at all surprising since more than 90 percent are white. Hence the necessity of establishing a label such as "Anglo" which exactly denotes someone whose ancestors are of Anglo-Saxon stock (that is, as mixed as any people on earth) or less exactly anyone who is white but is not a white Hispanic.

Those who refuse to acknowledge the fact that Hispanics can also be white are in fact implying that all Hispanics are "mongrels" and that mere appearance is no indicator of race.

And, yet, when I look at Jimmy Carter, I see a black man. His ancestry is written on his face if anyone cares to see beyond the fair skin. His mother Ms. Lillian was even more patently African-American. This is undoubtedly true of most Southern whites (so-called), but it is a fact that everybody seems loathe to acknowledge.

Of course, today all this is meaningless. Whatever the excesses of the Sixties' generation, they did raise children who are colorblind and who have in turn passed on those values to their children. Young people today do not make racial distinctions in their relations with their peers.

I have a dozen great-nephews in college at this time (also nieces, but I don't broach this subject with them). When one mentions a girlfriend (or "wifey" as they call them), I naturally ask "What is she?" The question seems to take them aback, as if they had never considered the subject before.

When I was young in Cuba 70 years ago relations between the races were just as fluid but everybody knew who was what.

This change in attitudes I consider healthy and promising for the future of this country.

9:35 AM, January 07, 2007  
Blogger Robert said...


I was being a little sarcastic in making the comment about it not being impossible for Cubans (or other Hispanics for that matter) to have fair features. As I mentioned in a post back in September which I linked to in this post, I fit the description of a fair-skinned Hispanic.

I wouldn't say that "most" Cubans have fair features since a good number of us have at least a decent amount of African ancestry mixed in...but it's a large percentage compared to most Latin countries.

I agree with you in that we've progressed much in the past 3 or 4 decades as far as understanding of other races and ethnicities. This is a very good thing. We're still not "there" yet, but we're closer. Miami is a place where you can't help but run into people of many different ethnicities and races in a single day.

10:22 AM, January 07, 2007  
Blogger Manuel A. Tellechea said...


Another interesting thing about Cubans is that we all have "Cuban radar," that is, we are able to tell our own even before they open their mouths regardless of race or any other consideration. This is remarkable precisely because of our diversity and the fact that there is no one "Cuban type."

10:48 AM, January 07, 2007  

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