From Selena to Cristela: Our Moment is Now
Another Latina star is on the horizon. Her name is Cristela Alonzo, and every gene of Cristela's body is pure gente.
Nearly twenty years ago the Latino community lost one of its greatest performers. Selena Quintanilla Perez, the embodiment of our aspirations and dreams, was tragically taken away. She was only 23 years old. We lost not only one of our brightest stars, but also someone who was like family.
Published on LatinoLA: October 3, 2014
We knew her. We connected with herÔÇªshe was us.
At the time of her passing, Selena was starting to cross over to English-language radio--finally, one of our own would be one the greatest ever, in both Spanish and English, among Latinos and non-Latinos.
At the same time, twenty years ago, the Latino community was all the rage. We were called the "sleeping giant" and were about to wake up. Our population in 1994 was 24 million, and we were going to buy things, run for office, vote, change the face of entertainment and watch Latino actors play non-stereotypical roles with original storylines. Unfortunately, not all of this happened.
Twenty years later, the Latino population has more than doubled, to over 50 million. Our purchasing power has increased from $212 billion dollars in 1994 to an estimated $1.4 trillion dollars today. Yet, we are underrepresented in Congress and in federal and state government. Although the sleeping giant woke up briefly in 2012 to help re-elect President Obama, the Latino community is at an economical, political, and social crossroads.
It's now 2014. How can Latinos leverage our numbers? We have another opportunity for a defining moment, but it's very much under the radar.
Twenty years later, another Latina star is on the horizon. Her name is Cristela Alonzo, and every gene of Cristela's body is pure gente. Whether you're from Boyle Heights, the Valley, or Back of the Yards, you'll connect with her. She is us. Raised by a single mom in San Juan, Texas, Cristela is a comedian and actor, and her new show "Cristela," based on her life, premieres on October 10, 2014.
Unfortunately what could be groundbreaking -- a Latina starring in a family sitcom on national television -- is almost invisible. Just ask your friends if they know who Cristela is and that her show will be on TV and see what they say.
I would have been one of the many who does not know Cristela Alonzo; however, this summer I had an unexpected surprise at the annual conference of the National Council of La Raza. While waiting to say hello to a friend, I heard a conference volunteer announce that the pilot episode of "Cristela" was about to begin and that I should come in to the theater and take a seat.
The audience was quite a mix. There were the die-hard Latino community activists next to students, next to the network suits buried in their smartphones. I doubt many there had even heard of Cristela. Before the screening started, Cristela Alonzo introduced herself and thanked everyone. The room was packed. The lights went out.
We all laughed our nalgas off!
We all identified with the humor, the family dynamics and the quirkiness of our people. When the lights came back on, everyone was on their feet and clapping--even the suits seemed surprised. Some of them were stepping out to make calls based on the audience reaction.
I was in the audience, feeling proud, when I suddenly realized that this against-all-odds pilot, with an all-Latino cast, will not be seen by millions of Latinos unless we take action. And it's the kind of action that will require us to commit to watching the show on Friday with our friends.
And so I come back to our economic, political, and social crossroads. At a time when all of us are immersed in social media, we have an opportunity on October 10th at 8:30 p.m. to make a major statement. Average Latinos like me, your primo Chuy and [i]amiga Gaby, can help launch another Latina star and flex our collective muscle.
Instead of wasting another hour on Facebook or Twitter liking or tweeting about dancing cats, we should mark our calendars and make a commitment to watch "Cristela" on TV. Yes, TV. I know this sounds archaic, like from the '80s or '90s, from the days before streaming video. But to the network executives, ratings still matter. And if "Cristela" does not meet its magical ratings target, it may be gone before anyone even knows it was on.
Although our influence is growing each year, we are largely absent on the big and small screen. According to a study by the University of Southern California's Annenberg School, less than 5 percent of actors in Hollywood films are Latino, and only 4 percent of the characters on prime-time TV shows on broadcast networks are Latino. Yet while Latinos may not appear on the big or small screen, we are packing in movie houses. In fact, the Motion Picture Association of America says that 43 million Latino moviegoers purchased 25 percent of all movie tickets sold in North America in 2013. That is a $2.7 billion market.
As impressive, Latinos are the most frequent movie-goers on a per capita basis. We average seven trips to the movies a year, compared to four trips a year for non-Latinos. And those numbers are certain to increase considering that by 2020 Latinos are expected to represent more than 25 percent of the country's population aged 18-to-29.
It's time we harness our viewing power. If "Cristela" does not have a strong audience, the mainstream media will once again conclude that there is no need to make TV shows or films about Latinos, because Latinos don't watch them. That would be a big mistake.
It's taken twenty years for another Latina from Texas to be on the cusp of mainstream stardom, which is just about the same amount of time that it's taken our community to be taken seriously. Latinos, let's help Cristela be our next Selena.
Invite Chuy and Gaby and make it a watch party on October 10th at 8:30/7:30c on ABC.
Get the word out!
Miguel Orozco is President of Nueva Vista Media, a member of the National Association of Latino Independent Producers and Co-Founder of Novelas Educativas?« ÔÇô an award-winning educational film company based in Burbank, CA.
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