I like Riverdale. Yes, it’s a weird show. Both in tone and emphasis, it pretends that solving murder mysteries is a normal part of high school. It’s unsure of what decade it’s in, waffling between 50s-era nostalgia (Betty may not actually wear a hoop skirt, but it’s close) to modern-day plot points(see the episode where Veronica was slut-shamed online or the one on gay-conversion therapy). It is terrible at product placement with characters naming brands from lipstick to dating apps in a way that’s clearly trying to sell you something.
But these quirks give Riverdale a unique style. You know you’re in the Archie-But-Make-It-Sexy universe when you see that terribly died red hair, applique leather jackets, and high school girls at home, alone, in silk lingerie and heels. Everything is both earnest and ridiculous on Riverdale and the same is true of Veronica Lodge’s ethnicity.
Riverdale’s Veronica represents a major break from the source material — she’s not a vapid rich girl who’s biggest challenge is her shoe selection. Instead, she’s a savvy businesswoman, trying to do right despite being raised in a mob family and her former life as a mean girl. She also happens to be Latina.
Camila Mendes, who plays Veronica with charm and verve, is Brazillian-American and her TV parents Hermoine (Marisol Nichols) and Hiram (Mark Consuelos) are both played by actors with Mexican heritage. As far as I can tell, the Lodges are some sort of generic Latinx with no particular place of origin. Their Latinidad shows up in their Catholicism, their mestizo appearance, and their propensity to say “mija” as many times as possible.
Latinx/Catholic plotlines include Veronica’s confirmation and her parents getting their marriage annulled rather than divorcing. Spanglish crosses their family dining table, alternating between silly and cloying. At one point Veronica tells boyfriend Archie that her Dad doesn’t like him because Archie doesn’t speak Spanish — even though we don’t actually see her family speaking Spanish to each other, outside of you guessed it “mija.” Presumably, Veronica’s remark is actually just a coded way to say her dad would prefer her to date inside her race, which she has no chance of doing as there no eligible Latino boys on the show.
In fact, the only Latinx people we meet (and who we’re sure are Latinx) are Veronica, Hiram, and Hermoine. There are no primos, tias, or abuelas swooping in. When we meet Hiram’s mob family, they’re all white. Perhaps some of the Southside Serpents (hi Sweetpea, hi Toni, hi Fangs) are Latinx but we don’t know for sure as they don’t have the backstories (and the actors are not).
Riverdale is one of those one-of-each shows with representation from every group while still remaining white overall. There are Black and Asian and Latinx characters and maybe even Native Americans although whether an indigenous grandparent counts is unclear (just ask Elizabeth Warren). But the show’s main characters, three of the four central group, are lily white and Josie and the Pussycats aside, so is the show’s aesthetic.
I’m not saying Veronica’s latinidad is inconsequential. Certainly, I’m glad she’s in there and holding her own. It’s fun that she’s the rich out-of-towner rather than a salt-of-the-earth or girl-next-door type. That said, I’d prefer the sole Latinxs not being criminals, even in a show where nearly everyone is tainted.
I mean Betty’s Dad is a serial killer and Jughead’s is an accomplice to murder but white people (somehow) get to sin without it reflecting on their entire race. After all, Betty and Jughead’s dads are countered by Archie’s parents (RIP Luke Perry) who are 100% good and other, more ambivalent figures in the town like Sherrif Keller, not to mention the kids themselves. But the Lodges are alone. They’re the only Latinx people in Riverdale and so their story becomes the single story of an entire ethnicity. That’s why we need more than one, not just a single girl and her parents, but rather a multitude.
It’s not too late for Riverdale to deliver a more nuanced understanding of latinidad. Mishel Prada of Vida fame is set to play Veronica’s sister in the current season and I’m excited to see what she’ll bring. Perhaps some new students or visitors from New York could brown the place up. Maybe now dead Joaquin DeSantos (played by Italian Canadian Rob Raco) will have not just the pint-sized brother Ricky (played by Nico Bustamante) but more relatives, this time played by Latinx actors and with more central plotlines. Certainly, if Riverdale’s creators can set their show simultaneously in the fifties and today, they can figure out how to fit in more Latinx people.