When Sofia Vergara started her acting career, she was a natural blonde. After a number of auditions that failed because casting directors "didn't know where to put" her, she decided to dye her hair dark. Suddenly, she was "the hot Latin girl" — less of a challenge to work into a TV show or movie than a light-haired girl with a Spanish accent.
Vergara is most notably known for her role on "Modern Family," where she plays the role of Gloria Delgado-Pritchett, a Colombian woman married to an American man. Gloria's personality is largely defined by a lot of yelling, a lot of crying and a lot of mispronouncing words. She wears colorful, revealing clothing and always styles her hair in long, dark waves — even when she's about to give birth. She's loud and unconfined in almost every way. That is, until her "fieriness" gets out of hand, forcing her much older, wealthy husband to calm her down or shut her up.
Unfortunately, "Modern Family" isn't the only place that this flat, simplistic image of the Hispanic woman is found. Gloria's character reflects a widely accepted stereotype — Hispanic women are loud, sexy and spicy. Our society has largely accepted this idea, and TV writers aren't in the business of challenging preconceived notions about ethnic or cultural identity. It's no wonder that the only show currently on television featuring a largely Hispanic cast is called "Devious Maids."
Stereotypes of Hispanic people have existed basically as long as TV has been around. Ricky Ricardo, Lucille Ball's fictional husband on "I Love Lucy," was a hot-headed, macho man (who also happened to sing and dance, just to round out the image). In the 1983 sitcom "Condo," famous for being the first television show to feature a middle-class Hispanic family, the Kirkridges were cultured and refined, while the Rodriguezes were rough and uncouth. Thirty years later, we still insist on placing people into their respective stereotypical boxes. Salma Hayek's short stint on "30 Rock" had her portraying Elisa, a character whose personality barely extended beyond her breasts. Hispanics are not allowed a personality beyond their hot-tempered, hot-blooded, hot-bodied stereotype.
Stereotypes like this not only flatten TV characters — they flatten real people, too. In Vergara's case, it was a stereotype that forced her to define her success not on her acting skills or her incredible humor, but on her ability to conform to an image of what she should be — an image that she didn't choose or define. And while dyeing one's hair might seem like a minor sacrifice to make in exchange for a job, the change points to a deeper problem: we are only happy seeing minorities in the media as long as their presence is unchallenging. While Vergara seems totally in control of her image, even empowered by her sexiness, her success exists only as it fits within — and perpetuates — a harmful stereotype. When a Hispanic girl sees Vergara on a commercial, shouting that "you can't draw a woman with straight lines!," she learns that if she grows up to be anything other than dark and buxom, she'll be abnormal, uncategorizable and unacceptable. When she sees the "Ugly Betty" tagline, "From Poncho to Honcho," she learns that she has to shed her culture if she's to ever find success.
It's a shame that we continue to accept this "entertainment" without question. It's a shame that a hilarious, talented woman like Vergara felt that she had to fit into a stereotype in order to gain success. It's a shame that any Hispanic actress would agree to act in a TV show in which all the lead Hispanic characters are maids. Most of all, it's frightening that someone like Vergara, even after her wild success, still has no other choice but to confine her image to a stereotype in order to remain successful.
Marianela D'Aprile is a fourth year in architecture. She can be reached at email@example.com.