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It’s the last day of Hispanic Heritage Month, when after 31 days of celebrating the contributions people like me make to the United States of America, everyone — from clothing stores and colleges to streamers and TV networks — puts their giant sombreros back into storage to collect dust until next year.
As a Latine person in the entertainment industry who founded a company — Campanario Entertainment — to tell Latino stories in mainstream media, this was the month where I often get asked: What’s it like to be a Latino in Hollywood?
Until now, I’ve kept my responses positive and sunny. I am proud of my Mexican heritage, my community and what we have to offer. Indeed, our company launched Selena: The Series, one of the first Mexican American family dramas on American television, to great success this past year on Netflix, attracting 28 million viewers and counting.
But I must be more honest about what it really means to be among the 49 percent of Los Angeles residents that identify as Latino, one of the almost five million people who reside in Hollywood but are rarely heard from in “mainstream” media except for this one month.
There’s a lot of talk, but very little action. We’re a thriving community globally, celebrated in panels and news articles — yet there’s no other month I feel more invisible.
And maybe that is the unifying force behind the Latino experience in the United States for the past decades: being invisible to so many.
A quick primer on U.S. demographics: Latino communities make up 18.5 percent of the U.S. population, and of that percentage, almost 70 percent are of Mexican descent — meaning that Mexican Americans alone represent over 10 percent of the U.S. population.
One in five Americans is Latino, but is that proportion reflected in corporate boardrooms, the federal government or mainstream film and TV? Of course not. The reality of our widespread exclusion is omitted from Hispanic Heritage Month discussions, and that must change.
Let’s take one big recent cultural moment as an example. I grew up watching Jeopardy! with my Mexican parents. It was a family tradition to watch together and play along. The show made headlines for its ongoing search for a new, permanent host while cycling through a rotation of guest hosts. Still, there wasn’t one guest host of Latino origin behind the podium. Did any of the hundreds of articles about Jeopardy!’s host search ever mention this absence?
It feels especially insane considering that Jeopardy! shoots in Los Angeles, where 49 percent of the population is Latino (again, that’s not a typo). I wonder if people have ever sat down for a second to consider that. Did anyone of Latino descent get a chance to audition for the host role in a city where basically one out of every two people is Latino?
Sen. Alex Padilla replaced Vice President Kamala Harris and made history as the first Latino senator in California history. Latino people represent 40 percent of California’s population and gave the state its name — and it still took 170 years to get representation in one of the state’s highest seats. Saturday Night Live announced a new cast for its 47th season and again, not a single Latino voice to join Melissa Villaseñor, who was the first Latina castmember after 41 seasons.
Famously non-Latina Billie Eilish recently won a VMA in the — pause for suspense — Best Latin category.
If you saw this happening constantly, you would feel invisible, too.
In 2021, there’s simply no defense for continuing down this path. Our inability to remedy our invisibility led to one man coming down an escalator, calling our people “rapists” and somehow still becoming president of the United States.
If you do not elevate our voices, the loudest bigots will always win. Perhaps you never thought to look for it before, but now you’ll be able to see our exclusion everywhere. Enough lip service: If you want to help create change, I propose some action steps we can take together.
STEP ONE: DO THE LATIN AUDIT
In the entertainment industry, Netflix performed an internal diversity audit and found that for scripted series, only 2.7 percent of creators, 2.6 percent of producers, 2.5 percent of writers and 2.5 percent of directors were Latino. Almost 3 percent is not even close to 18.5 percent, but at least Netflix knows it has a problem and is taking accountability to make changes.
A few weeks ago, Congressman Joaquin Castro unveiled the results of a U.S. Government Accountability Office study that reported that Latinos only make up 4 percent of media executives. Is being this invisible so acceptable?
Others in Hollywood (including the talent unions and agencies), as well as every Fortune 500 company, must follow Netflix’s lead and perform a Latin audit. If you work for an employer with a huge global presence and influence, ask that question. In fact, wherever you work, ask anyway.
STEP TWO: IF YOU HAVE A JOB OPENING, INTERVIEW US
It may be revolutionary, but I’m a guy who believes that you cannot get a job if you’re not being considered for it. How can there be a Latino host of Jeopardy! if we aren’t even in the audition?
The sports world has adopted step two. They call it the Rooney Rule. It requires every team with a head coaching vacancy to interview at least one candidate of color. It’s not a perfect policy (representation still needs to increase in sports), but it ensures BIPOC candidates get considered for every major position and did marginally grow minority representation in the NFL.
You will always be invisible unless you’re invited to the party.
STEP THREE: ADD AND SUPPORT MORE LATINO-LED AND -CREATED CONTENT
When there’s a hole in the road, you fill it. When there’s a lack of shows featuring Latino people, you order more shows.
There are dozens and dozens of non-BIPOC-led shows every television season. Some fail, some are sleeper hits, and some are just amazing from the start. I can think of many non-BIPOC shows that had a rough start but were given time and second seasons to find their groove (ahem, Seinfeld).
Give Latinos the opportunity to have more than one or two shows per season and allow us to thrive. Stop cancelling our shows after one season. Remember The Baker and the Beauty last year? ABC axed it two months after its premiere, but it later found a devoted audience with Netflix. Give us more room to grow. Don’t bet on just one “diverse” show to give you the viewership you want.
These are three easy steps for actual change but if you want to ignore them, we’ll be fine. We will still top the music charts (check Spotify), create hit shows and thrive both in our communities and with those that welcome us. We know all that we can offer
So, if you want to really celebrate Latino Americans, let’s reframe the conversation around data.
Let’s make Hollywood and Fortune 500 companies understand that Latino Heritage isn’t just a month, but a necessary commitment all year round.
Let’s take real steps to fix the representation gap and stop simply checking us off the list of “inclusive” celebrations.
Let’s make Latinos in the U.S. essential and visible.
Jaime Dávila is co-founder and president of Campanario Entertainment and executive produced Netflix’s Selena: The Series.
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