By: Rocio Portela-Berrios
When I turn on the TV looking to watch a TV show or movie where Latina humor is actually funny and not offensive to me, I always end up looking for a Modern Family episode featuring Sofia Vergara. Sofia Vergara is a Colombian-American actress, comedian, producer, television host, model and businesswoman. Vergara stars on the ABC series Modern Family as Gloria Delgado-Pritchett, for which she has been nominated for four Golden Globe Awards, four Primetime Emmy Awards, and seven Screen Actors Guild Awards.
In Modern Family, Vergara plays what many in the United States view as the “stereotypical Latina:” from the voluptuous body, to the heavy accent, with a whole lot of sass in between. Vergara has managed to make her mark in Hollywood and has established a brand for herself but not without a fair share of criticism. Many in the Latino community have spoken out about why they believe Vergara is not going right by Latina women and actresses. In an interview with The Huffington Post in 2012, Chairman and co-founder of the National Hispanic Foundations for the Arts, Felix Sanchez said, “Sofia created an updated version of Charo, the ‘cuchi-cuchi’ 60s and 70s sexy and ditzy Latina persona,”. “While we applaud her creating a comedic brand that works for her, unfortunately Hollywood looks at Sofia and tries to find replicas of her, believing that Valkerian Latinas are authentic Latinas, not realizing that her act is a shtick and not an example of the U.S Latina actress they should be casting for dramatic television and film roles.”
On the other hand, when Vergara was asked about whether she was actually similar to the character she portrays, she answered: “I play her the way I see my mother and my aunt behave as Latin women. And now the writers know more about the Latin culture than when I started doing the show, and they know me better, too.”
I am a Latina woman. I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, and moved to the United States to pursue a better education and career. I have experienced first-hand how Latina women are often thrown into a box of stereotypes and preconceived assumptions. I often wonder what can be done to break the “stereotype.” I have come to the conclusion that all we need to do, as Latina women, is to get out there in the world and show the world who we are, what we are made of, and the great that we can do in whatever career we choose.
For example, in an interview with Time magazine, Vergara explained how she does just that at work: “One time we were at a party with Colombians [in a scene], and the Colombians were dressed like Mexicans,” Vergara said. “So I went to the writers and was like, ‘Colombians don’t dress like that.’ Little things like that, but now they’re really good about it.”
As a Latina woman, that is what I expect from someone in Sofia Vergara’s position. She is bringing cultural awareness to her work environment. The fact of the matter is that Latinas come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and amounts of sass. Some of us are amazing cooks, some of us live off of Lean Cuisines. Some of us have very heavy accents, some of us have no accent at all. We are blonde, brunettes, and redheads. We are lawyers, doctors, teachers, and stay at home moms (just to name a few). Additionally, the one thing we all have in common is the passion we bring to the work we do and the people we care about, and that the successes of one of us will open doors for the success of others.
Thus, yes, maybe Sofia Vergara plays the “stereotypical Latina,” but at least it is an actual Latina playing that role and bringing in some authenticity so that those of us who relate in more ways than one to Gloria can feel that we are genuinely represented. Might I add, that Sofia Vergara is also making a push in Hollywood for more Latino/a writers, so that in the future the “stereotypical Latina” character is not the only one written about. For now, I will take a break from law school, I’ll sit back, relax, and eat my Lean Cuisine while I laugh at Sofia Vergara’s mood swings. But most of all I will be proud to have a fellow Latina women making her mark in one of this country’s industries. I will rejoice in the fact that behind her tight clothes, and heavy accent, Vergara’s character brings an undeniable passion to all aspects of her life. If there is one stereotype about Latinas that I have no problem spreading, it is that we are passionate about everything we care for, and that is nothing to be ashamed about.