Americanized Family

Despite it's dependence on stereotypes, it's still a TV show worth watching

By Al Carlos Hernandez
Published on LatinoLA: February 3, 2002

Americanized Family

I, like many Latinos, watched in anticipation an episode of the PBS episodic drama, "American Family" and was disappointed. Oscar nominated Director Gregory Nava somehow crammed almost every banal and maudlin Latino/Chicano stereotype into the one-hour presentation.

The good news was, it was commercial free.

Technically the program is beautifully moody and theatrically shot, complete with lime green & pink walls, food somehow growing in the back yard, and pictures of religious icons.

I was expecting a close-up of velvet Elvis or a needlepoint JFK. This show is about as far from contemporary Latino reality as the other show about "aliens", Third Rock from the Sun.

Nevertheless, we are not real aliens and neither are they.

If a non-Latino were to put this series out there, "Hispanic" groups would probably be up in arms, burning candles, marching around the block, and calling for boycotts.

The series seems constructed by a LULAC sub-committee of teaching assistants, to be as non-offensive yet instructive in informing non-Latinos about Latino culture as it exists in LA. It doesn?t work.

The preachy-while-uninteresting cultural bias and dogma is clear. The story lines are too predicable. The characters are too clinically and didactically drawn.

I pity, yet admire, the quite attractive stellar cast for taking on these potentially career-constricting roles.

The episode we watched the other night was Episode 2 entitled "The Sewing Machine."

It has been three months since Berta?s -- the matriarch -- death. Nina the radical attorney has moved into her parent?s home to take on the mother?s role. Pablito rejects Nina because she is nothing like Grandma Berta, because Berta is really Sonia Braga.

A family crisis ensues when a sister named Vangie wants to take Berta?s sewing machine as a keepsake.

A flashback auxiliary story line recalls a time when Grandma Braga could not afford a new dress for Nina?s valedictorian speech, as she is accepted to Stanford on full scholarship. Edward James "Forced to play Selena?s Dad again" Olmos will not give them the money.

Grandma scrimps, saves, stays up all night and sews Nina a Quiencea?era-Minnie Pearl-Shirley Temple-drag queen dress...and a matching purple bouquet.

Well of course Nina forgets the whack bouquet on purpose, after telling the folks that no parents are allowed to view the speech, much to the chagrin of Eddie Olmos who cancelled a few buzz cuts to attend.

Mama Braga, formally a world-class babe, grabs the bouquet, then shows up at the High School auditiorium while Nina is giving her speech in a nice Armani cut business suit.

She is speaking about living in two cultures, Mexican yet American, yada, yada, yada, MALDEF...

She sees Mom standing off to the side holding the babosa bouquet, looking sad. Nina feels bad but finishes the speech, only to come home later to the obligatory 19 Chicanos at the dinner table scene.

Mr. Olmos asks her about the speech and how did everyone like her dress. Mom did not give her up rather backed her up.

This is one of the few real-side story points the program brought to light.

We see later an older grown up Nina looking at the whack dress and crying once Mom is gone.

Apparently Mom did not want to be caught dead in the dress either.

'American Family' was originally commissioned by CBS to be a prime time network TV drama. The program tested well, but somewhere along the line CBS pulled the plug and the series was homeless for quite a long time, until PBS picked it up.

You can check your local listings to see when the next episode airs. Episodes include: American Family, The Sewing Machine, La Estrella, La
Llorona, Parts 1 & 2, The Barber Shop, Circle of Fire, The Wall Parts 1 & 2, Mexican Revolution, The Korean War-The Forgotten War, La Cama, Silence of God.

Irrespective of any opinion I would recommend that everybody, including and especially your Mam?s, should make it a point to watch all the programs episodes to demonstrate to PBS TV that, as a community, we appreciate and endorse their efforts to bring Latino-based material to broadcast television.

Respect should be given to the Johnson & Johnson Corporation as well as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for getting this on the
national TV schedule.

About Al Carlos Hernandez:
Al Carlos Hernandez is a screenwriter living in the Bay Area.

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