We’re Not Laughing: Anti-Latino Humor Has Entered the Mainstream

Roberto Lovato, New York-based contributing Associate Editor with New America Media and a frequent contributor to The Nation Magazine, today wrote about the trend of anti-immigrant humor in mainstream popular culture and our collective lack of attention to this disgusting pattern:

While the immigration debate in Congress ended months ago, the immigrant jokes haven’t. This is not so much because the late night hosts are at the tail end of a political trend, but because they are, in fact, at the front end of a major cultural trend: the mainstreaming of anti-immigrant sentiment.

Immigrant rights activists have concentrated much energy on challenging rightwing radio as well as blatantly racist, formerly fringe video games like “Border Patrol” in which players shoot immigrants for points. But little attention is paid to the more mainstream fare: Top-selling video games in which white good guys kill immigrant bad guys and black and Latino zombies; popular television shows like NBC’s The Office, in which immigrant characters are ridiculed for their accents, nationality, and other traits; movies like the supernatural thriller Constantine or last year’s comic hit Nacho Libre, in which immigrant characters embody evil and stupidity.

The proliferation of anti-immigrant messages in pop culture moved UCLA linguist Otto Santa Ana to study what he calls an “explosion” of anti-immigrant representations in pop culture.

Depictions of Latino immigrants do not all fall into the negative category, however. The Emmy award-winning Ugly Betty sitcom treats immigrant and immigration in a funny yet respectful manner. It’s no accident that the show is produced by immigrant Salma Hayek. A new video game, “ICED! I Can End Deportation,” developed by the New York-based nonprofit Breakthrough, turns players into undocumented immigrants as they flee from cruel border patrol agents. The same Spanish-language radio jocks who played definitive roles in last year’s immigrant mobilizations are continuing citizenship and voter registration campaigns. Comedians such as George Lopez draw attention to racial issues in much the same way African American comedians have done for decades. Columnists such as Gustavo Arellano, who writes the popular “Ask a Mexican,” similarly use judo-like methods to deflect and draw attention to an anti-immigrant streak that grows.

Thanks to Prof. Carlos Muñoz, Jr. for sending this out. Read Lovato’s full post here:

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