Natalie Sharpe: Looking at Latinx Representations on the Margins and in the Mainstream

I am conducting research in Los Angeles to gain context for, through the combination of archival research and selected scholarly texts, television within the past twenty years that centers around the US Latino experience. When I first began my research, my primary goal was to discover how the particular experience of marginality as a Latino in the US is reflected in digital media representations, and identify how these works comment upon, reproduce and or challenge the dominant historical narratives. Through scholarly research, I have been able to define a set of Latinx stereotypes that have historically made up most digital representations. What I have become interested in is how these tropes became so deeply embedded in our cultural vocabulary, and tracing the transformation of these same images into the ones we recognize on our television screens today. I want to better understand how narratives of the Latinx experience move from the margins to the mainstream, and the ways that these representations reference, deploy and reject a long line of stereotypes. I want to unpack the problem of being or becoming “mainstream,” and what is known as crossover stardom, and consider the relative importance of such mass representation. 

Through UCLA’s Film & Television archive, I have narrowed my focus to looking at English-language sitcoms and comedies, in an effort to understand what kind of Latinx representation has historically been deemed palatable for mass audiences. A theoretical framework has helped me contextualize those works and introduced language and concepts that support my thinking. From the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, the early 2000s paper series entitled, “Studies on Latinos in Primetime Television” provides critical information and statistics about representation. The fact that it has been so difficult to come upon this type of research has been a bit disheartening and speaks volumes of the invisibility of this issue. I find myself returning to one of the issues that compelled me to this topic in the first place: despite representing the largest minority group in Los Angeles, there is a dearth of Latinxs working behind the scenes in entertainment, particularly in decision-making positions. As I currently work part-time at a production company, this is something I have noticed first hand. 

The most exciting event to support my research takes place this week, the NALIP Media Summit, which will bring up-and-coming Latino media into the forefront. The NALIP aims to “promote, advance and advocate for Latino content creators across media,” and the media summit brings together speakers, panels, and screenings to uplift Latino voices. The conference should give me a peek into narratives still evolving at the margins, as I will see screenings of digital narratives from a more marginalized section of Latino storytellers that have yet to break into the mainstream. I hope to hear specifically from speakers about current thinking surrounding breaking stereotypes and building dynamic narratives of the US Latinx experience. I hope to learn more about what kind of representation is missing and what stories are urgent to be told. Do these representations exist already at the margins of media representations, and have they just yet to break into the mainstream? 

Signed posters and other memorabilia inside the UCLA School of Film and Television building
The UCLA Powell library where the Film and Television archives are held, as well as the viewing room!
Inside the UCLA School of Film and Television
Posters inside the UCLA Film and Television archives