Thursday, January 19, 2012

Network shows about Latinos fail in prime time

Latino TV shows struggle to get beyond tired, worn stereotypes
By Guillermo I. Martinez, Columnist
Sun-Sentinel (January 19, 2012)

Once again, television networks are attempting to integrate Latinos into their prime time television lineup; and once again they are failing miserably.

Instead of incorporating Latinos into the story line in a legitimate manner, the attempts so far this season are more of the same tried and failed programs that are full of casting and plot stereotypes that may be funny to some, but are offensive to many.

The first one to go on and off the air this year was ABC's show "Work It," in which Amaury Nolasco, weighing his employment opportunities, said: "I'm Puerto Rican. I'm really good at selling drugs."

"Work It" became a damaged brand as was quickly taken off the air.

Last week, it was CBS that tried its hand at bridging the culture gap with Latinos on English language television. Its new show "Rob" was described by - TV Comedies as "yet another lazy obvious CBS sitcom, an outdated culture-clash premise and one-dimensional characters."

In the show, the lead character played by Rob Schneider marries a much younger Mexican woman, named Maggie, played by Claudia Bassols, and encounters Maggie's very large extended family. That is the first of many stereotypes. Jokes about guacamole follow as do comments about what Hispanics, in this case Mexicans, do while they are having a siesta. Maggie's family is the a stereotypical Latino family and Rob's insensitive comments about Mexicans are supposed to be funny.

What Josh Bell, a comedy reviewer for the Las Vegas Weekly, posted in - TV Comedies could not have been more on the mark. He said: "It's heartening to see a network sitcom with an almost entirely Latino cast, and this show is in a unique position to explore a perspective that is rarely seen on network TV (and hasn't fueled a sitcom since George López was canceled). Unfortunately, it squanders that opportunity in favor of obvious, stereotypical jokes and tired retreads of themes from other shows."
It's a pity. But mainstream television networks insist on portraying Latinos in stereotypical fashion. Recently a police detective show on one of the networks had a throw-away line about the dangers of the Cuban mafia.

Of course, there are exceptions. Sofia Vergara, the Colombian star, is marvelous in the show "Desperate Housewives." These successes, however, are few and far between. For the most part, TV studios don't seem to know what to do with Latinos.

Why can't Hollywood find its groove with Latinos? I remember "The Jeffersons" with George Jefferson playing a funny rich owner of several dry cleaners, and his family. The show was funny, real funny, as was the Bill Cosby show.

Three decades ago, PBS in South Florida did a series of episodes of the hopes and fears of three generations of Cubans adapting to life in America. The show was sensational and, in fact, it still is in re-runs in many stations throughout the country.

The difference between that show and the recent attempts at incorporating Latinos into the prime-time television scene is that "¿Que Pasa USA?" was the trials and tribulations of a family adapting to file in a new country. It was bi-lingual and truly funny. It showed how grandparents born in Cuba and spoke only Spanish, tried and failed to understand the life of the two grandchildren, who spoke English predominantly and couldn't understand the restrictions their grandparents and parents tried to impose on them.

It was a comedy about the successes and challenges of a Latino family fitting into this country - something that has happened to many families. It was funny to watch, not because the show made fun of them, but because the situations they put themselves in were funny in any language and in any community.

Rob Schneider is in real-life married to a Mexican woman with a large extended family. One can only wonder why his presumably real life experiences couldn't be translated into a television show that went beyond the shallow stereotypes.

Guillermo I. Martínez on Twitter at @g_martinez123, or email him at

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ban of books false say school officials

Reports of TUSD book ban completely false and misleading
Tucson Unified School District (January 17, 2012)

Tucson, AZ - Tucson Unified School District has not banned any books as has been widely and incorrectly reported.
Seven books that were used as supporting materials for curriculum in Mexcian American Studies classes have been moved to the district storage facility because the classes have been suspended as per the ruling by Arizona Superintendent for Public Instruction John Huppenthal. Superintendent Huppenthal upheld an Office of Administration Hearings' ruling that the classes were in violation of state law ARS 15-112.

The books are:
  • Critical Race Theory by Richard Delgado
  • 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures edited by Elizabeth Martinez
  • Message to AZTLAN by Rodolfo Corky Gonzales
  • Chicano! The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement by  Arturo Rosales
  • Occupied America: A History of Chicanos by Rodolfo Acuna
  • Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire
  • Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years by Bill Bigelow
NONE of the above books have been banned by TUSD. Each book has been boxed and stored as part of the process of suspending the classes. The books listed above were cited in the ruling that found the classes out of compliance with state law.
Every one of the books listed above is still available to students through several school libraries. Many of the schools where Mexican American Studies classes were taught have the books available in their libraries. Also, all students throughout the district may reserve the books through the library system.
Other books have also been falsely reported as being banned by TUSD. It has been incorrectly reported that William Shakespeare's "The Tempest" is not allowed for instruction. Teachers may continue to use materials in their classrooms as appropriate for the course curriculum. "The Tempest" and other books approved for curriculum are still viable options for instructors.
The suspended Mexican American Studies classes were converted last week to standard grade-level courses with a general curriculum featuring multiple perspectives, as per the directive by the state superintendent. Students remained in classes with their teachers, who are now teaching general curriculum.
As the district has taken action to comply with the order from the state, the goal of the district has continued to be to prevent disruption to student learning. Books used as instructional materials in the former Mexican American Studies classes were collected only from classrooms in schools where the courses were taught. Again, all the books are still available to students through the TUSD library system.
In one instance, at Tucson High Magnet School, materials were collected from a filing cabinet while students were in class though teaching did not stop during the process.
Tucson High Magnet School Principal Dr. Abel Morado acknowledges that the gathering of materials could have been accomplished outside of class time in all instances.
"We had a directive to be in compliance with the law and acted quickly to meet that need," says Morado. "Part of that directive is communicating with teachers, students and parents, and collecting materials. We regret that in one instance materials were collected during class time."

For further information:
Cara Rene
Director of Communications
Tucson Unified School District

Tucson schools short of burning books

Tucson schools bans books by Chicano and Native American authors
by Brenda Norrell, The Narcosphere (January 14, 2012)

TUCSON -- Outrage was the response to the news that Tucson schools has banned books, including "Rethinking Columbus," with an essay by award-winning Pueblo author Leslie Marmon Silko, who lives in Tucson, and works by Buffy Sainte Marie, Winona LaDuke, Leonard Peltier and Rigoberta Menchu.
The decision to ban Chicano and Native American books follows the 4 to 1 vote on Tuesday by the Tucson Unified School District board to succumb to the State of Arizona, and forbid Mexican American Studies, rather than fight the state decision.
Students said the banned books were seized from their classrooms and out of their hands, after Tucson schools banned Mexican American Studies, including a book of photos of Mexico. Crying, students said it was like Nazi Germany, and they were unable to sleep since it happened.
The banned book, "Rethinking Columbus," includes work by many Native Americans, as Debbie Reese reports, the book includes:
  • Suzan Shown Harjo's "We Have No Reason to Celebrate"
  • Buffy Sainte-Marie's "My Country, 'Tis of Thy People You're Dying"
  • Joseph Bruchac's "A Friend of the Indians"
  • Cornel Pewewardy's "A Barbie-Doll Pocahontas"
  • N. Scott Momaday's "The Delight Song of Tsoai-Talee"
  • Michael Dorris's "Why I'm Not Thankful for Thanksgiving"
  • Leslie Marmon's "Ceremony"
  • Wendy Rose's "Three Thousand Dollar Death Song"
  • Winona LaDuke's "To the Women of the World: Our Future, Our Responsibility"
The now banned reading list of the Tucson schools' Mexican American Studies includes two books by Native American author Sherman Alexie and a book of poetry by O'odham poet Ofelia Zepeda.

Jeff Biggers writes in Salon:

The list of removed books includes the 20-year-old textbook "Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years," which features an essay by Tucson author Leslie Silko. Recipient of a Native Writers' Circle of the Americas Lifetime Achievement Award and a MacArthur Foundation genius grant, Silko has been an outspoken supporter of the ethnic studies program.

Biggers said Shakespeare's play "The Tempest," was also banned during the meeting this week. Administrators told Mexican-American studies teachers to stay away from any class units where "race, ethnicity and oppression are central themes."

Other banned books include "Pedagogy of the Oppressed" by famed Brazilian educator Paulo Freire and "Occupied America: A History of Chicanos" by Rodolfo Acuña, two books often singled out by Arizona state superintendent of public instruction John Huppenthal, who campaigned in 2010 on the promise to "stop la raza." Huppenthal, who once lectured state educators that he based his own school principles for children on corporate management schemes of the Fortune 500, compared Mexican-American studies to Hitler Jugend indoctrination last fall.

Bill Bigelow, co-author of Rethinking Columbus, writes:

Imagine our surprise. Rethinking Schools learned today that for the first time in its more-than-20-year history, our book Rethinking Columbus was banned by a school district: Tucson, Arizona ...

As I mentioned to Biggers when we spoke, the last time a book of mine was outlawed was during the state of emergency in apartheid South Africa in 1986, when the regime there banned the curriculum I'd written, Strangers in Their Own Country, likely because it included excerpts from a speech by then-imprisoned Nelson Mandela. Confronting massive opposition at home and abroad, the white minority government feared for its life in 1986. It's worth asking what the school authorities in Arizona fear today.
Roberto Rodriguez, professor at University of Arizona, is also among the nation's top Chicano and Latino authors on the Mexican American Studies reading list. Rodriguez' column about this week's school board decision, posted at Censored News, is titled: "Tucson school officials caught on tape 'urinating' on Mexican students."
Rodriguez responded to Narco News about the ban on Sunday. "The attacks in Arizona are mind-boggling. To ban the teaching of a discipline is draconian in and of itself. However, there is also now a banned books list that accompanies the ban. I believe 2 of my books are on the list, which includes: Justice: A Question of Race and The X in La Raza. Two others may also be on the list," Rodriguez said.
"That in itself is jarring, but we need to remember the proper context. This is not simply a book-banning; according to Tom Horne, the former state schools' superintendent who designed HB 2281, this is part of a civilizational war. He determined that Mexican American Studies is not based on Greco-Roman knowledge and thus, lies outside of Western Civilization.
In a sense, he is correct. The philosophical foundation for MAS is a maiz-based philosophy that is both, thousands of years old and Indigenous to this continent. What has just happened is akin to an Auto de Fe -- akin to the 1562 book-burning of Maya books in 1562 at Mani, Yucatan. At TUSD, the list of banned books will total perhaps 50 books, including artwork and posters.
For us here in Tucson, this is not over. If anything, the banning of books will let the world know precisely what kind of mindset is operating here; in that previous era, this would be referred to as a reduccion (cultural genocide) of all things Indigenous. In this era, it can too also be seen as a reduccion."
The reading list includes world acclaimed Chicano and Latino authors, along with Native American authors. The list includes books by Corky Gonzales, along with Sandra Cisneros' "The House on Mango Street;" Jimmy Santiago Baca's "Black Mesa Poems," and L.A. Urreas' "The Devil's Highway." The authors include Henry David Thoreau and the popular book "Like Water for Chocolate."
On the reading list are Native American author Sherman Alexie's books, "Ten Little Indians," and "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven." O'odham poet and professor Ofelia Zepeda's "Ocean Power, Poems from the Desert" is also on the list.
DA Morales writes in "Three Sonorans," at Tucson Citizen, about the role of state schools chief John Huppenthal. "Big Brother Huppenthal has taken his TEA Party vows to take back Arizona . . . take it back a few centuries with official book bans that include Shakespeare!"