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Fronteras: ‘The Latino narrative is missing’ — Congressman Joaquín Castro on Latino underrepresentation in media

Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro - File Photo
Carson Frame / Texas Public Radio
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Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro - File Photo

Latinos have been underrepresented both on and off screen for decades. The lack of representation has endured so long that Latinos have become conditioned not to expect to see themselves represented at all.

Those who grew up in the '80s may only remember seeing Latinos like Ricardo Montalbán on “Fantasy Island” or Freddie Prinze on “Chico and the Man.”

Since then, Latino representation in Hollywood has improved. George Lopez’s sitcom lasted six seasons. Eva Longoria and San Antonio’s own Ricardo Chavira were mainstays on “Desperate Housewives.”

Hollywood is just the tip of the iceberg. Other aspects of Latino representation and workforce diversity in the media were explored in reports by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The GAO’s 2021 report found that Latinos made up only 16% of the motion picture industry. Only 12% were part the media workforce in 2019.

The second installment of the report was released in October. It made recommendations on what the government — especially the Federal Communications Commission and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — can do to improve workforce diversity.

San Antonio Congressman Joaquín Castro was one of the lawmakers who requested the report.

He likened the lack of representation and misrepresentation of Latinos on screen to a negative political campaign ad. He said this leads to real-life tragedies, like the 2019 Walmart shooting in El Paso.

“When Latinos are disproportionately … portrayed as criminals or ex-convicts or gangbangers or drug dealers, and Latinas are consistently, for years, hypersexualized on screen and portrayed as prostitutes or ‘easy,’ there is over time, an effect on the population of that kind of consumption, and it leaves an impression,” he said.

Castro said Latinos also face barriers when trying to get into the media industry.

“You have a lot of Latinos whose families cannot financially float them while they try to go do an internship at a studio or somewhere else in Hollywood or internship in journalism.” he said. “The cost has been especially problematic.”

View a video of Congressman Castro's presentation of the GAO report to the National Press Club.

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1
Marian Navarro produces for Texas Public Radio's Morning Edition and Fronteras.