Saturday Night Live finally hired a black woman comic this January, but show has never employed a Latina comedian. And so when Cecily Strong depicted a clueless and heavily-accented Venezuelan woman at a jewelry party hosted by a character played by Lena Dunham on March 8, Twitter erupted with complaints under the hashtag: #StillNoLatinas
SNL still doesn’t have a Latina cast member, but the incident has focused a conversation among Latina comics, who have responded as you might expect — with mockery.
“It was cringeworthy,” said Lorena Díaz of the comedy duo Dominizuelan. “The audience didn’t know what to laugh at either. It was a missed opportunity about a stupid Latina who can’t see that her boyfriend is a misogynist.”
Díaz created a video called “Ms. Latina Stereotype Explains Hollywood” to emphasize the absurdity of these types of stereotypes. But Díaz says she didn’t create the video in direct response to the skit.
“I don’t want to start and end the conversation with SNL because this is an industry-wide problem,” she says.
Part of what troubles Díaz was the odd choice to make the character Venezuelan during a time in which the country is experiencing violent civil unrest. She says she initially thought the skit would make a comment on the political turmoil, but instead relied on stereotypes about Venezuelan beauty queens, which was both perplexing and disappointing.
“It was glaringly evident that there are no Latinos in the writers’ room,” said Wendy Mateo, the other half of Dominizuelan. And she said SNL is missing out on a generation of Latinos who have a lot of pride in who they are, but never see themselves reflected on the screen. “They’re searching for comedy to be relatable,” she says. “And you can’t have this perspective in a room full of white writers.”
The Comedy Girls, comprised of Jenni Ruiza and Jesenia (who only uses her first name), also responded to the skit with a video titled “Latino Stereotypes for Dummies,” in which, like Díaz, the women cope with the tired tropes by ridiculing them. Ruiza says they didn’t want to approach the comedy in way that was angry because they didn’t intend to alienate anyone.
Unlike Dominizuelan, The Comedy Girls say their video was in direct response to Saturday Night Live. They felt it was about time they speak up about the lack of Latinos on the show.
“When I first saw the sketch, I was not really shocked because they’ve done this before,” said Jesenia.
Jesenia says she and Ruiza must often turn down offensive roles in order to stand up for themselves. “Do I want to continue to make fun of our own people? No,” she said.
In light of the recent demand for SNL to hire black women, some are also left wondering why there hasn’t been the same level of outcry about their lack of Latinas. Ruiza says that part of it is a matter survival. She says that many Latino actors and comedians fear that if they openly criticize the industry, they won’t be cast at all. “We don’t want to shoot ourselves in the foot,” she says.
Some Latinas in the media feel that the skit itself is not the issue, but rather the lack of other nuanced depictions.
“My problem isn’t so much the reliance on caricatures as it is the complete absence of any other representation,” Alicia Menendez, anchor of Alicia Menendez Tonight on Fusion, told BuzzFeed in an email. “Where is the Latina Supreme Court Justice? Where is the Latina who doesn’t understand Spanish? Where is the Latina vegetarian whose aunt keeps trying to serve her chicken? That’s my world. That’s the one I want to see them satirize.”