Research Profile: Latina Representation in the Media

Cate Carrejo, a communication and business administration major, marketing and psychology minor, was one of the students featured at last year’s Undergraduate Research Symposium. Her work was an investigation into the quality of Latina representation in primetime television. “I’m Latina, and it’s always been a problem for me to find a truly positive role model,” Cate explains. This inspired her to look at “how the media stereotypes of Latinas present a very limited image of what we are and what we can be.”

The results were eye-opening. “I can’t un-know what I know now,” says Cate, “Every time I watch a show or a movie, I’m scanning it like I did for this project and the results are usually disappointing.” For starters, in the 2012-2013 season, Latinas comprised only 11.8% of female supporting roles. Those who do get cast, Cate found, get placed into one or more of three main stereotypes, “oversexualization as the mamacita, low socioeconomic status as the pobrecita, and alienation as the immigrant.” These stereotypes can be easily seen in characters such as Modern Family’s Gloria Pritchett, played by Sophia Vergara, or Glee’s Santana Lopez, played by Naya Rivera.

sophia vergara
Sofía Vergara on the cover of Esquire Magazine – April 2012

Even as Latinas are breaking ground, such as Cristela Alonzo, who is “the first Latina to create, produce, write, and star in her own primetime comedy,” they still often get forced back into these archetypal roles. Alonzo addresses topics such as internalized racism, but also relies often on “the immigrant” stereotype. There are several examples of Latina characters that do not fit into the mamacita, pobrecita, or immigrant stereotypes. However, Cate found that “ethnic identity is peripheral to the character” in many cases, or that the character is racially ambiguous.

To Cate, who is hoping to enter the entertainment industry after graduation, the research “is both motivating and scary.” There are already not many opportunities for Latinas, and if you’d like to participate in a positive, non-stereotypical way, “you have to make that happen.” Rather than be discouraged, her work has instilled in her the importance of change for Latina representation. She hopes to work professionally for both the Deaf community and the Latin community. Cate’s current research is investigating the representation of disability on television.

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