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Sci Fi

Latinxs in Space

Latinxs in Space

by Cristina Escobar

Sci-fi is singular because of where it can take us— with Star Trek, I get this sense of hope that humanity will learn to rise above the prejudices that define our current world. With Battlestar Galactica, I question fate and the limits of human ingenuity. With Star Wars, I delve into the delightful idea that all living beings are connected and that life itself has its own power (the Force — you dummies). It’s a way to reflect on and examine our current reality without having to look directly at it, like when you watch an eclipse’s reflection rather than looking directly at the sun.

And that holds true even for race. While most shows in space have done away with the social construct of race as we know it, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still affect how we view those shows. We, the audience aren’t living in a post-racial reality so, of course, our understanding of say Blackness colors our interpretations of a Lando Calrissian or a Captain Benjamin Sisko. Shows like Battlestar and The Expanse use their futuristic setting to comment on the present in ways that other shows can’t (or won’t), further lending their sci-fi credentials to a social justice framing of our modern times.

All of which is to say, I just want to see some Latinxs in space. In these dark times, I want to envision a future where we keep our culture and our difference but our fates are not determined by them. I want to visit a future where together we “boldy go where no one has gone before.” You know? And I want that future to include Latinxs. For our stories, our bodies, our futures to be just as important as everyone else’s. So join me in celebrating these, my favorite Latinxs in space:

Captain William Adama

Battlestar Galactica: Edward James Olmos as Captain William Adama

Can humanity survive itself? Maybe not! But our chances are a lot better with Edward James Olmos (and Mary McDonnell) in charge. Olmos plays Captain William Adama and while it’s not clear that “Latinxs” exist in a future in which humanity doesn’t even know where Earth is, the name “Adama” paired with the casting of Olmos is surely a nod to our continued existence. Plus, Olmos plays a Latinx type we can all recognize — the sidelined leader sticking to the old ways, long after they fell out of fashion. I certainly wish we had more of this type of leadership, now throwback to Stand and Deliver.

Chief Engineer B'Elanna Torres

Star Trek: Roxann Dawson as Chief Engineer B’Elanna Torres

Sometimes I think we’d be better off ditching “Latinx” and instead embracing a term like “mestizo” (mestizx?), one that recognizes that our identity is not founded in the place of Latin America but rather in the aftermath of colonization and the ensuing, fraught mixing of our ancestors’ cultures. We’re “ni de aquí, ni de allá” no matter where we are or presumably, how far we go. That’s what makes Roxann Dawson’s half-human, half Klingon B’Elanna Torres so Latina even as there’s no such thing in Star Trek. Played by a Latina, Torres’s name, identity struggles, and stereotypically “hot” temper clearly make her one of ours. And as a kid, I watched her week in and week out, rooting for Engineer Torres without really knowing why (it was her latinidad).

Shout out to Voyager for actually featuring TWO Latinx actors, the other being Robert Beltran as Commander Chakotay. As the first (and I believe still only) Native American main character in the Star Trek universe, we can’t claim him as “Latinx” though. And indeed Chakotay knows clearly who he is and where’s he from, making him B’Elanna’s opposite even as he is her ally. Who else recognizes that dynamic?

Other notable Star Trek Latinxs include Wilson Cruz as Doctor Hugh Culber in Discovery and of course the formidable Ricardo Montalbán as Khan. I will always love Cruz (and Claire Danes for that matter) as watching My So Called Life was a formative experience for me. Doctor Culber starts off boring but gains depth once he comes back to life and must decide which aspects of his former life he wants to resume. Montalbán was amazing throughout, his delicious evilness made the movie, arguably the best of the original series’ films. That said, evil and savage isn’t really the direction I’m looking for. Plus Kahn was white-washed in the reboot with the part played with much less vigor by the Anglo Benedict Cumberbatch (loved him as Sherlock thorough — maybe stay in your lane?). So honorable mentions to both.

Zoe Alleyne Washburne

Firefly: Gina Torres as Zoe Alleyne Washburne

Like so many before me, I’m still lamenting that Fireflyonly got one season (kind of like Pearson) but that doesn’t stop me from celebrating Gina Torres as Zoe Alleyne Washburne (plus, Serenity was fun). Yes, she’s second in command and yes, she’s married to a white guy, but that doesn’t keep Alleyne Washburne from taking center stage and delivering some of the best lines of the show (see “big damn heroes”).

Captain Andor

Star Wars: Diego Luna as Captain Cassian Jeron Andor

My favorite thing about Diego Luna’s Captain Cassian Jeron Andor is his accent. Imagine a future in which we travel the planets meeting entirely new species with the assistance of sentient robot helpers AND still have to learn English as a second language. It’s delightful! Seriously though, Luna showing up and speaking English like he normally does, even in space, is a powerful reminder that an accent doesn’t define a person, their intelligence, or potential.

And of course, Luna isn’t the only Latinx in the Star Wars universe. We also have Oscar Issac as Pilot Poe Dameron and Pedro Pascal as The Mandalorian. Which means Latinxs TOTALLY exist in Star Wars, just as long as you’re male, white-passing, and incredibly attractive (plus, hopefully, paired with a powerful brunette).

Naomi Nagata

The Expanse: Dominique Tipper as Naomi Nagata

Dominique Tipper’s Naomi Nagata is a badass. She manages to be the smartest person in the room, the most compassionate, and the best in a crisis while never falling into the trap of “strong Black female.” Nagata’s accent alone deserves a dissertation and The Expanse pairs her with a diverse cast and a troubled premise — in this future, we’ve just found more ways to divide humanity into false hierarchies. So of course, it falls on Afrolatina Tipper to reluctantly save us. ¡Gracias Mamá!

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