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Brooklyn 99

Rosa Diaz and Amy Santiago Are My Favorite Things on Television

When it premiered in 2013, Brooklyn 99 seemed to be like any other cop show centered around a white male police officer named Jake Peralta. In this case, the known star is Andy Samberg of SNL and Lonely Island fame. And while I liked Andy Samberg, I wasn’t about to make time to watch a slapstick cop comedy. But I gave it a shot, figuring what’s 20 minutes in this post-Netflix world? And let’s be honest, I had just graduated from college, and was still enamored with the concept of there being no homework or trips to the library after dinner. With these low expectations, imagine my disbelief upon seeing Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz) and Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero) in the intro.

Diaz and Santiago represent many of the hopes I have for how Latinas will be represented on television and in media in the future. Not only is salsa music never in the background when they’re on-screen, neither of the two characters represent the stereotypical roles I usually see Latinas play. Neither of them are ever described as “spicy,” made fun of because of their accent, or fit the two roles that TV has largely cast Latina women in: the sexy hypersexualized love interest or the janitor/gardener/maid.

Detective Rosa Diaz is the toughest cop in Brooklyn 99 by far. Let’s not forget the episode that is completely dedicated to her coworkers’ challenge to get her to smile. She also insists that people simply share too much stating in one episode: “I hate small talk. Let’s drink in silence.” Not only is she strong but she is also vulnerable, coming out as bisexual in season 5. Actress Stephanie Beatriz herself identifies as bisexual and queer and has talked about how important it is to have a character like Rosa on TV.

 

 

I identify as bi and queer…growing up I didn’t ever see myself on television, not to mention that I’m Latina. So there were very limited characters that I identified with… I can think of many times when I was 13, 14, where I thought, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be okay… I don’t see people succeeding that identify this way.’

Breaking the oh so common one Latina per TV show, Amy Santiago is a very different character from Rosa. Santiago is extremely competitive and has a serious addiction to binders, label-makers, and organization in general. She is notoriously horrible at cooking and her dance skills are more Urkel than Shakira. The show evolves Santiago as a character to become truly multidimensional, something few Latina actress have had the opportunity to play in the past.

 

In an episode directed by Beatriz (Diaz), Santiago is put on a case where a man attempted to sexually assault a female co-worker (at you guessed it an investment bank). In the episode, Peralta and Santiago are put on the case trying endlessly to prove without a doubt that a “typically toxic” male character is guilt. For a sitcom known for slapstick comedy to try to comment on sexual assault was definitely a risk. But one that was clearly worth taking.

Although a little awkward at times, this episode shows the right way to have a conversation about gender power dynamics in the workplace, while ignoring some of the shows previous misstep regarding women in the workplace. While there are still plenty of jokes, Beatriz orchestrates moments of truth that shed light on the ways both women and men react to sexual assault. Whether it’s the disbelief of male allies when confronted with women’s everyday obstacles in the workplace, or the complexity of the decision to come forward, Brooklyn 99 handled it with care and responsibility.

This show has become my favorite comedy sitcom on television because it not only looks like the world I know but features and centers people of color who break the stereotypical structures forced on POC in televisionBrooklyn 99 centers an ensemble with two Latinas showing all of television that the “no more than one” rule doesn’t and shouldn’t ever apply to casting. And I’m not the only one who’s a fan (cough Lin-Manuel Miranda cough).

 

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Hi Fall TV: I’m Latino and NOT a Criminal

Dear Fall TV:

I’m writing to let you know that I’m Latino and not a criminal. Also I exist. Hi!

So before you can say “Latino Magnum PI,” I want to let you know that I’m also not part of the criminal justice system. I’m not a perp, victim, cop, DA, or personal investigator. Crime’s not really a big part of my life. One time my wallet was stolen. It sucked. BUT it was hardly a defining experience. Also, I’m not part of the drug trade. I’m not a mule, addict, dealer, mob boss, or corrupt politician profiting off the people’s suffering. True, I have been known to smoke weed from time to time but that hardly makes me a candidate for the Latino reboot of Friday.

That’s why I get so frustrated when so many of the Latino roles I see on TV have to do with drugs, crime, or the oh-so-stereotypical drug-crime combination. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing Karla Souza as Laurel Castillo, one of the law-student co-conspirators on How To Get Away With Murder. I’m thrilled that la raza gets an unheard of TWO parts on Brooklyn 99. But I’m frustrated that when it comes to “prestige” drama, we only get leading roles if it’s Mayan MC or Narcos.

Brooklyn 99 gif: "Your entire life is garbage"

The fact is Latinos make up 12.5% of the American population. Yet, we’re only 5.8% of folks on TV. It’s even worse if you’re a woman (hi ladies!) because then we’re dealing with not just racism but sexism too. For Latinas like me, the numbers stack as 6% of the population in real life, but just 2% on TV. That makes Latinas the least represented ethnic group when compared to our numbers in the population. It’s not good.

It’s particularly not good when you realize how many of those small numbers of roles are wasted on the Latinos-as-criminals trope. You see a good 50% of Latino immigrants on TV are portrayed as having committed a crime and a quarter of all Latino storylines are crime-related. This despite the fact that Latinos and Latino immigrants ARE NOT more likely to commit crimes. Don’t believe everything you see on TV people (or that you hear the President of the United States say).

You can see why I’m so frustrated. It’s like TV, politics, and the powers that be are all trying to sell me the message that my family and I either A. don’t exist or B. are gangbangers. Neither of which is true (see the beginning of letter).

Now Fall TV, I do want to give you some credit. It’s not all bad (even if statistically it’s horribly). I am a witch, so good job on the Latino reboot of Charmed. At least you got that one right.

But seriously folks, can we get more Jane the Virgin’s? What is this universe where a show about being accidentally artificially inseminated rings the most true to the Latinx experience? And, of course, Jane isn’t even on this fall – we have to wait until 2019 to see the final season. In the meantime, I’ll be comforting myself with America Ferrera in Superstore, Gabrielle Ruiz on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and the original GOAT EGOT Rita Moreno on One Day at a Time. Because those are the women representing Latinas as regular, interesting humans on TV. It would be great to see more of us. Thanks!

Sincerely,
Cristina (no relation to Pablo – I’m not even Colombian. My family’s from Durango (Mexico, not Colorado)) Escobar

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