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'Hey You Guys!' Latino actors/actresses deserve recognition, too

By Sunny Cadwallader - Jan 14, 2017

While many were marveling at the words of Meryl Streep at Sunday night’s Golden Globes, I was (nearly) rolling on the floor laughing.

A comedic exchange on a Netflix show featuring two Latinas - mom and adult daughter characters - was far more entertaining. And empowering.

Netflix’s latest reboot offering is a remix of the 70’s sitcom, One Day At A Time, but with a distinctly Hispanic spin. The show features two powerhouse Latina actresses - Justina Machado as single working mom and war veteran, Penelope Alvarez, and the legendary Rita Moreno as Penelope’s semi-hip, yet old-school Cuban mother, Lydia.

Lydia lives with daughter Penelope and her two kids helping to manage the day-to-day challenges of the household all the while still maintaining a connection to their Cuban roots.

A common subject throughout this first season is Elena’s (Penelope’s daughter) quinceañera - a Hispanic girl’s coming-of-age celebration. While this is part of their Cuban heritage, it faces an uphill battle with modern, feminist-minded Elena.

Moreno’s character Lydia is what you would expect from a traditional abuela. The quinceañera is very much about the pomp, circumstance and religion. Elena views the whole spectacle as sexist and out-of-touch with today. Penelope is caught in the middle, prompting…."loud discussions" throughout the series. (You’ll have to watch the series to see how it turns out.)

Now it’s not to say that this is how it is in all Hispanic/Latino families, but the passionate, emotional yet real interactions between the characters reminded me of home. They say what they feel, often without filter, because they believe in it. Truth matters, but pride has a way of asserting its authority over all.

That pride, that Hispanic pride, can get in the way of being honest with one’s self.

During the first episode, Penelope emotionally expresses her feelings to Lydia about being single. Penelope feels alone, especially at night -- ‘there’s no one there to spoon with.'

Pride is laid aside and Lydia comforts Penelope. That moment later led to my rolling on the floor moment.

Lydia walks into Penelope’s bedroom and says to a sleeping Penelope, “Move over.” Penelope (startled) wakes up and says, “What? What are you doing here?” Lydia responds, “I’m going to spoon you.”

The delivery of that line by Moreno was everything. Loving, sarcastic and sincere.

*

When I first saw Rita Moreno - yes, I’m dating myself here - it was in the PBS show Electric Company. Moreno is the one who comes out at the show’s open and yells, "HEY YOU GUYS!"

As a little kid, something about that made me laugh.

OK, I guess you had to be there.

That was my first introduction to this talented Latina. The next time I saw her was during an old Saturday afternoon movie-watching day on television. There she was with that thick, Latina accent that I grew up hearing within my own family.

Perhaps a bit exaggerated but… The role of Anita in the 1961 movie adaptation of the Broadway hit West Side Story earned Moreno an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. It was the first of several accolades this Puerto Rican-born actress has received in her career.

She is one of only 12 people in entertainment history to win the EGOT: an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award. She is the only Hispanic to do so.

The 85-year old Moreno began her career in the 50’s. She has starred with the likes of Gene Kelly and Yul Brynner in film and Jack Weston and F. Murray Abraham on stage.

And yet in 2017, here she was on today’s version of television, Netflix, stealing scenes like she has done her entire career. And... Making me laugh.

It hasn’t always been easy for Moreno, navigating Hollywood and the entertainment industry.

Fighting against the stereotypes of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, Moreno struggled to find a role, even a Latina role, that wasn’t secondary. “Before West Side Story I was always offered the stereotypical Latina roles,” she told the Miami Herald in 2008. “The Conchitas and Lolitas in westerns. I was always barefoot. It was humiliating, embarrassing stuff. But I did it because there was nothing else.”

There was nothing else. Think about that. There was nothing else for an actress the caliber of Moreno. The lack of opportunity and diversity that plagued Hollywood during Moreno’s early years is still lacking today.

Despite Hollywood including “outsiders and foreigners” as Streep stated on Sunday night, it still seems lacking in opportunity and diversity.

Some hailed the Golden Globes for their diversity with proper recognition toward Viola Davis, Tracee Ellis-Ross and others. If the definition of diversity means black and white”, then I guess they were diverse.

But, if diversity means everyone (Caucasian, African-American, Latino, Hispanic, Native American, Asian, Arabic, Slavic, South Asian, etc.) is given equal opportunity, then no.

The same issues that plagued Moreno last century are still prevalent this century. That’s why a show like One Day At A Time is so important. It’s important to make and to support shows that feature Latinos. Or Native Americans. Or Asians. Or....

To redefine the narrative of diversity in today’s society, we need to champion and support efforts like One Day At A Time whether it is “our own” or others. It is only when we stop tearing each other down to raise up “our own” will we move beyond talking diversity and actually living it.

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