We just got finished praising Melissa Villaseñor for breaking the glass ceiling for Latinas on Saturday Night Live, and not nearly a week later, we’re already going onto the next with Villaseñor in our rear-view mirrors because of some tweets she made on her now-private Twitter page.
I had just written about Villaseñor exactly eight days ago as of the time of this post. And before my post could even become old news, Buzzfeed along with other outlets, had broken the news that Villaseñor has had a long history of tweeting insensitive, racist statements. Not even real jokes per se; there was literally no way to find what she wrote amusing in any form.
What am I talking about, you might ask? Here you go:
— April ?? (@ReignOfApril) September 22, 2016
— Shanelle Little (@ShanelleLittle) September 22, 2016
Villaseñor’s tweets make me reflect on something we should stay cognizant of at all times; that there’s more than just one type of Latinx identity and that Afro-Latinx face a multi-layered form of discrimination and racism, some of which us Americans, black white or otherwise, don’t even know about.
America typically denies the multi-layered experiences of Afro-Latinx people, opting for the idea America usually adopts when thinking of Latinx and/or Hispanic people; a person who is either European-looking or tan-skinned. This denial is clearly an undercurrent in Villaseñor’s tweets, but it’s also an undercurrent in other Latin-American and South American countries as well. In many ways, the discrimination black diasporic people face in these countries are linked to America’s own issues with race-based colonialism.
Take for instance Mexico. Americans typically don’t think of “black people” when they think of Mexico, but they are there. Black Mexicans have never fully been integrated; you don’t see many (or any) black Mexican actors and actresses in the telenovelas that make it to American shores. We also don’t hear of black Mexican singers or painters or leaders. Mexico itself hasn’t come to terms with its own history, in many cases refusing to believe black Mexican citizens about their own heritage. Clemente Jesus Lopez, head of the Oaxaca state office for black Mexicans, told the BBC that he can remember two instances in which the Mexican government didn’t believe black people were a part of Mexico, both instances involving women.
“One was deported to Honduras and the other to Haiti because the police insisted that in Mexico there are no black people. Despite having Mexican ID, they were deported.” Lopez said that Mexican consulates were able to bring the women back, but the Mexican government itself offered no apology or compensation. However, for the first time in 2015, citizens were able to check “black” on the Mexican interim census, so Mexico is showing some subtle movement of the needle, but that’s only the starting point.
Related: #DifferenceMakers: Janel Martinez’s “Ain’t I Latina” Reps for Afro-Latinas Left Out of the Conversation
It’s also worth pointing out that there are also Asian Latinx and Asian South Americans as well. Asian Mexicans make up a small percentage of Mexico’s population, for example. And Brazil has the largest percentage of Japanese citizens outside of Japan itself; many of whom we saw during this past Olympics winning for Brazil. There are also quite a few Asian-Hispanic/Asian Latinx American actors in Hollywood, including Kirk Acevedo, Harry Shum, Jr., Tatyana Ali, Tyson Beckford (both of whom are also Afro-Latinx as well), Enrique Iglesias, Bruno Mars (who is also Ashkenazi Jewish), Kelis (who also has African American heritage), and many more.
While Latin America and South America have their own work to do, America has some things it needs to suss out for itself, and Villaseñor’s mistakes can be used a learning point for most of us.
The fact that we, as a melting pot nation, don’t generally recognize part of the black diaspora as part of the Latinx identity, is something that speaks directly to our ideas about race, ideas that are reflected squarely in Villaseñor’s now-deleted tweets. We, and I guess Mexico and other countries as well, expect for blackness to be a self-contained, monolithic identity. Blackness doesn’t just equal one thing; blackness can be multilayered. You can be Afro-Latinx, just as much as you can be a black Native American, blasian, and of white and black heritage. So when we (and Villaseñor) label “black” as just being one thing, we’re erasing entire groups of people. The erasure is doubly so when blackness is equated with being ugly and subhuman.
Thankfully, there are people out there doing the hard work of providing a space for Afro-Latinx to feel included, such as Janel Martinez’ Ain’t I Latina?, which focuses on news and entertainment centered around the African diaspora throughout Latin and South America. But each of us can do our part to end this discrimination. First, we can start with addressing our own ideas about what constitutes blackness. Second, we can demand those who are figures in society to think outside of themselves and think of those they’ll impact the most with their words. For some like Villaseñor, if you’re going to become a role model for other Latinx coming up after you, shouldn’t you make sure you’re inclusive and represent all Latinx?
Third, With those of us who are championing diversity or getting more diversity on the screen, we need to ask ourselves if we are inviting all voices to the table, and not just the voices we think represent the whole of a people. When we fight for diversity, we need to make sure all racial and cultural experiences are accounted for. When those of us in power to cast actors in an inclusive way, we need to make sure that our idea of “Latinx character” includes all races and ethnicities, since Latin America is multicultural as well. Those of us who are media creators need to make sure that we think outside of what we’ve been told a Latinx character should look like.
Ultimately, though, while we can all learn lessons from Villaseñor’s transgressions, the biggest lesson should be for Villaseñor herself; now that she’s in the public eye, she’d better what she says as well as what she tweets.
What do you think about Villaseñor? Give your opinions in the comments section below.
Saturday Night Live is finally breaking another glass ceiling; they have finally hired their first Latina cast member. The question is: Why did it take so long?
According to Complex, the NBC staple has added three new castmembers, Alex Moffat, Mikey Day, and Melissa Villaseñor. Villaseñor, the first Latina SNL cast member, is a multi-talent; she’s a stand-up comedian as well as an actor, musician, graphic designer, and voice actor, which credits such as Family Guy and Adventure Time.
Naturally, to be on SNL, you have to be pretty funny. She certainly is: she made it to the finals of Season 6 of America’s Got Talent doing amazing celebrity impressions. Take a look:
Flama has more of her impressions:
NBC News goes into more depth, stating that Villaseñor “has over 10 years of comedy experience [and] has headlined over 100 clubs and colleges around the country.”
So with all of that, the question remains: Why did it take so doggone long?
The clear reason is that Saturday Night Live, and by extension, Lorne Michaels, didn’t think it pertinent enough to find a Latina comedian to join the ranks.
Saturday Night Live has been in the news for being less-than-diverse before, which led to the hiring of black women comedians like Leslie Jones, Sasheer Zamata and LaKendra Tookes. But the show has also been in the news for disrespecting its Latino and Hispanic audiences. Last year, the show ignored the protests of outraged citizens and allowed for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to host, despite his then-recent comments stating that Latino and Hispanic immigrants were rapists and murderers.
Turning a blind eye to the needs of part of its demographic is something that the show has had to grapple with, especially since inclusionary casting has become more and more of a necessity. The Guardian‘s Luis Miguel Echegaray gets at some of this new reality:
Despite the fact that this [casting] is less about show boss Lorne Michaels’s rebellious ingenuity and more about an inevitable decision to diversify, the hiring of Villaseñor is cause for celebration for the Hispanic community, because it opens a door which was once presumed locked. It’s difficult to comprehend the value of diversity when you’re not directly affected by it, but the issue is particularly acute in entertainment.
Despite a slight upswing this year, Hispanics are the least represented speaking roles in film and television. Earlier this year, meanwhile, a study by Media, Diversity and Social Change initiative noted that out of more than 11,000 speaking characters in film and TV, a mere 5.8% were Hispanic.
Villaseñor’s introduction to the late-night schedule might not answer everything, but SNL’s huge influence on today’s millennial and digital culture is a platform that can help her (consciously or not) inspire other young Latinas who are struggling just to get in the door.
Lorne Michaels does have to be given credit, though, for partnering with NBC Universal Telemundo to find new talent. With NBC Universal Telemundo and his Broadway Video, the online comedy channel Más Mejor was born. As Echegaray writes, Villaseñor was a huge part of the channel, and that playing ground gave her the foot in the door to Saturday Night Live.
Hopefully, Villaseñor’s hiring will mean that Saturday Night Live will hire more people of Latino and Hispanic background. It’s past time for there to be more meaningful representation, and Villaseñor is just the beginning.
What do you think of Villaseñor becoming part of Saturday Night Live? Give your opinions in the comments section below!
It goes without saying that Donald Trump being anywhere near a highly popular show like Saturday Night Live would cause friction, particularly after his horrifying statements on Mexicans during the early part of his campaign. The statements caused him to get fired from NBC. But NBC basically recanted on their stance against racist and discriminatory speech by allowing him to come back to host Saturday Night Live. But that’s not the only way the show mocked the anger many Latinos have towards Trump for his prior statements.
EDITED TO INCLUDE VIDEO
Black History Month is here and believe it or not, the BHM kick-off party happened on Saturday Night Live. Not only were there tons of jokes about racial appropriation (that scathing Iggy Azalea joke, the digital short about the “true” biopic about Jay-Z starring Mike O’Brien, aka a white dude on SNL, and other white dudes, including the host J.K. Simmons, as Kanye and Nas), but there was also D’ANGELO. And boy did he not disappoint.