TV adds Spanish flair
Los Angeles Times
Nov. 5, 2007
Maria Elena Fernandez
HOLLYWOOD - "Oye," have you noticed? All over the
TV dial, "se habla espanol. Si. Si." It's true. Many of your favorite TV
characters are speaking in Spanish. Sometimes it's just a line of dialogue
sprinkled in to add a dash of authenticity. Sometimes it's a full-blown
conversation with or without subtitles. Sometimes it's even that (lazy? or is it
naughty?) bi cultural hybrid, Spanglish.
As Hispanics have grown into the largest U.S. minority, the culture has surfaced
ever so slightly on our TV programs. To be sure, the TV networks still have
their work cut out for them when it comes to all-around diversity. But
increasingly, Hispanic characters on
television are resembling the full U.S. Hispanic experience: from the
working-class families of "The George Lopez Show" and "Ugly Betty" to the
middle-class professionals of "Scrubs" and "Dexter," to the wealthy elite of
Now for the bad news: Sometimes Spanish words are so horribly mispronounced and
the grammar is so mangled that the FCC should consider charging someone with a
crime against language. "Que pasa," TV networks? Is it that challenging to hire
some tutors? In the same way that shows hire consultants to get medical or crime
investigation procedures right, can't you hire some native speakers to work with
Cases in point: In a recent episode of Showtime's "Dexter," detectives Angel
Batista (David Zayas ) and Maria Laguerta (Lauren Velez ) expressed their
condolences to the family of a victim. But the way the actors pronounced "perdida"
(loss), emphasizing the second syllable instead of the first, sent the wrong
message. Instead of "I'm sorry for your loss," they told the grieving mother
that they were "sorry that you got lost."
Fox's "Prison Break" can thank its lucky stars for Amaury Nolasco , a Puerto
Rican actor who plays heart throb Sucre and delivers his Spanish lines as
flawlessly as his English ones. But the rest of the Panamanian prison is
infested with folks who really need to spend a little more time on phonetics.
Similarly, "CSI: Miami" can't rely on Adam Rodriguez to carry all the "espanol"
on his broad shoulders. The show is based in a city where most of the population
is fluent in Spanish and not necessarily in English. But some of the language is
so mashed that those of us who do speak Spanish could still use subtitles.
Horatio, "ayudanos!" (help us!)
Speaking of subtitles, much of the new multiculturalism on the small screen
could be credited to "Lost," the ABC drama that frequently has its Korean
characters speaking in Korean, sometimes without subtitles. Whether "My
Name Is Earl" creator Greg Garcia liked what he saw on "Lost" and made it
his own is unknown, but he uses Catalina (Nadine Velazquez ) to deliver inside
jokes in Spanish that he does not translate for his English-speaking viewers.
And we really appreciate that Catalina and the new heroes on "Heroes," Alejandro
(Shalim Ortiz ) and Maya Herrera (Dania Ramirez ), speak in a Spanish that is as
convincing as Nestor Carbonell's delivery of Cuban expressions that we never
thought we would hear on broadcast television, especially on CBS. In last week's
episode of "Cane," for instance, as three men drank and toasted, two of them,
Alex (Jimmy Smits ) and Grasso (Jason Beghe ), offered the customary "Salud."
Carbonell's Frank opted for the vulgar but not obscene, "Que te crezca," which
literally means "May it grow" and is a wish men bestow upon each other's sex
Shocking? "Un poquito." But it's genuine and reflects the idiosyncrasies of a
culture without relying on stereotypes. In media interviews, Rita Moreno, who
plays the matriarch in "Cane," has praised CBS and the producers for bringing to
life an immigrant family that toiled in the sugar cane fields, loved each other
and became gazillionaires. She has noted that this is important in both show
business and social terms.
Indeed, this is a first. Never before have three generations of a Hispanic
family been portrayed on English-language television as people who are educated,
upper class and can speak English well. But as Jimmy Smits' lead character, Alex
Vega, develops more and more into a gentler and more loving amalgam of Michael
Corleone and Tony Soprano, we are reminded of how much more road there is to
Three seasons ago, ABC's "Desperate Housewives" introduced Carlos (Ricardo
Antonio Chavira ) and Gabrielle (Eva Longoria Parker ) Solis as the richest
couple on the Wisteria Lane cul-de-sac -- they even had a white gardener -- only
to turn Carlos into an embezzler who earned his millions as shadily as possible.
It seems it's not possible yet to be a rich and powerful Hispanic who does not
resort to murder or other crimes to get through life's hurdles. "Por que?"
The Suarez family on "Ugly Betty" is depicted like any other hard-working
American family. They don't speak with funny accents or spend time breaking
pinatas. They watch Spanish telenovelas at the same time they discuss young
Betty's (America Ferrera) all-consuming fashion magazine job or nephew Justin's
(Mark Indelicato ) penchant for musical theater. Nurse Carla Espinosa (Judy
Reyes ) on "Scrubs" is proud to be Dominican but doesn't get on a soapbox about
it. The Miami detectives on "Dexter" live and work in a bi cultural environment
that is never singled out as "different."
Isn't that what embracing diversity is all about? It really just comes down to "respeto."