Brown-ish? Latinx? It’s Complicated-ish

UPDATE: August 12, 2021 Longoria’s social media team shared with HipLatina that “the other show for ABC is not called Brownish


Photo: Wikimedia Commons: Rafael Amado Deras//Sarah E. Freeman/Grady College

UPDATE: August 12, 2021

Longoria’s social media team shared with HipLatina that “the other show for ABC is not called Brownish. Don’t know who ever called it that. It’s always been untitled.” 

As pools get inflated, and beach towels get rolled out with summer approaching, it seems that every year there’s a seasonal outbreak of the debate over what to call those of us who can trace our roots to Latin America or to the parts of the United States that were formerly Mexican territories. And here we are again, with the debate flaring up, where it often does, on Twitter, this time over Eva Longoria’s latest potential project, Brown-ish. A spinoff show from the wildly successful comedy series Black-ish, created by Kenya Barris that would “revolve around a modern Latinx family,” Deadline reported saying it’s still in the works.

Longoria, who is Mexican-American, is also behind the film Flamin’ Hot, a biopic about Richard Montañez of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos fame, another story that set Latinx twitter ablaze after allegations from a Los Angeles Times investigation questioned his claim as inventor.  But while many in the Latinx community supported Montañez, when it comes to Brown-ish, most are conflicted.

What set folks off about Brown-ish? You guessed it – the name. In addition to simply being over the “-ish” thing with the Black-ish brand, which also includes Mixed-ish, part of the resistance comes from the fact that Latinx people aren’t exclusively one race.

And as often happens when Latinx Twitterlandia is triggered, a subsequent debate ensued over the word “Latinx,”a term used to describe the family that’s at the center of the show. I like to use Latinx when speaking about us as a group to signal my recognition and inclusion of folks whose gender expression is outside the binary. I also observe that most of the authors of the anti-Latinx think pieces tend to be cis straight men that might agree with Senator Ted Cruz, when he said that no one uses the term “Latinx”.

When I speak about myself, I like to be specific and say that I am Mexican, even though that is a nationality. When I completed the Census in 2020, I selected white as my race and was pleased to have the option also to select “Mexican/Mexican-American/Chicano.” I did not, however, have the option to select “brown.”

In Inventing Hispanic, G. Cristina Mora shares that in the 60s, “the Census Bureau categorized Mexican and Puerto Rican data as simply white data. There was no way to distinguish, for example, incredibly high rates of Mexican American poverty in Los Angeles from white data.”

Mexican-American and Puerto Rican activists organized demanding that the Census Bureau add a category to help capture better data about Latinos. “There were a group of folks that said, ‘We want this category to be called ‘Brown.’ And this was quickly rejected by census officials—very fast—in part because they feared, for example, that Native Americans or even Filipinos would choose ‘Brown,’ and not ‘Asian’ or ‘Native American,’ for example,” Mora explains. The census officials went with “Hispanic”.

In an informational flier encouraging Latinx folks to take the 2020 Census, the NALEO Education Fund, advised that “The collection of Hispanic origin and race data is important for the well-being of Latinos in the United States. The information on the Hispanic origin of each person is aggregated in statistics that are used to show how many Latinos are in the country and where they live. These numbers are used to protect the civil rights of Latinos.” Notice that NALEO used Hispanic and Latino interchangeably. The flier goes on to highlight that “According to the Census Bureau, Hispanic origin and race are two different concepts, and everyone should answer both questions even though many Latinos consider their Hispanic background to be their ‘race’.”

I recognize that, however complicated it might be, it’s important to have a category or a way to group us together when it comes to research to better understand the challenges and opportunities our community faces, including, for example, how many Latinx actors get starring roles.

While 17 percent of the United States is Latinx, only 6.6 percent of lead acting roles are held by Latinx actors. Our representation is so dire, that when Gloria Calderón Kellett’s One Day at a Time was canceled by Netflix in 2019 after three seasons, Latinx civil rights organizations banned together to write an open letter shaming the network for canceling what they described as as a “guiding light—the true north in and for an industry grappling with issues of diversity, equity, and inclusivity.

When I first watched One Day at a Time, I wondered if I would relate to it as it centered a Cuban-American family. I tweeted as much and Calderón Kellett responded and encouraged me to keep watching. In the end, its specificity colored by scenarios from Calderon Kellet’s real-life experience growing up Cuban in Los Angeles won me, and millions of viewers, over. And though the show was charming and tackled issues such as mental health, sexuality, and even colorism in one episode, it starred a light-skinned family.

What I hope for Longoria’s and Barris’s project is for an opportunity to move the needle on Latinx representation. Specifically, I hope the creators can center a Mexican or Central American family, especially when Mexicans make up 62 percent of all Latinx. Also in a time when migrants from Central America are being scapegoated by people like Representative Matt Gaetz who claim they come for “free stuff”.

Both Salvadoran and Cubans make up about 4 percent each of Latinx in the U.S., but when have we ever seen a Salvadoran family be the focus of a TV show? There’s also Afro-Latinidad which is rarely represented on screen and yet 24 percent of Latinxs in the U.S. identify as Afro-Latino with many coming from the Caribbean. Maybe the show can center a Salvadoran mother and a Mexican father, depicting the experience several of my friends in Los Angeles experienced growing up. Or perhaps an Afro-Latinx family with Caribbean roots or even Afro-Mexican roots? Now that would be refreshing-ish!

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