I want to see a Big Bang Theory type show featuring Latinos or with a Latino perspective. We will come back to this—first, how this thought germinated.
A couple of things came together for me to reflect about the idea of a “Latinerd” (Latino Nerd…or also LERDS), and more specifically about how popular media can display Latinos (and generally people of color) who are genuinely interested in the sciences, science fiction, and other topics that are seen as “nerdy”.
First there is the whole discussion about STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and how to increase participation in those fields by underserved and underrepresented students (i.e. minorities). Not just how do we get more interest, but rather, how do we make these fields accessible?—because the onus should not just be on one side.
Second, the first Saturday of May is Free Comic Book Day (did you know?) and May 4th is Star Wars Day (read the date and see if you get it). This prompted me to think how often I see Chicanos and Latinos express their fondness and joy for Star Wars and other science fiction (through our own cultural lens). Not that there is anything odd (or should be) about Latinos loving Star Wars—it is just a neat opportunity to showcase how we love things that may be considered “non-stereotypically Latino”.
Third, there is the Big Bang Theory television show and how it plays with the idea and stereotype of “nerd” in the general sense (smart, socially awkward, loves science fiction, etc.) but how much it lacks in ethnic diversity. I will admit I really enjoy the show and I can connect with it in different ways, but yet it can be quite striking how “white” it is. Even Raj gets an oddly stereotypical treatment (the “smart Indian”).
So the question for me was if show producers should just consider adding some Latinos to the show? Maybe—but maybe not.
As Steve Rodriguez notes in his article on La Prensa, adding Latinos in the current Big Bang Theory structure of the show would not automatically help since the original structure and framing could use some work.
This prompts for me a bolder ask: network television producers (or other mainstream pop culture media outlets) should consider a show or platform to showcase Latinerds in all their positive glory. It could still be a comedy show, but it could try to break the boundaries more by thinking about prototypes and archetypes more so than just stereotypes.
What do I mean by that?
Well, a lot of humor plays off of stereotypes: “A widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing”. Key words there being “fixed and oversimplified”.
In thinking about prototype and archetype, we see “a first or preliminary model of something, from which other forms are developed or copied. A very typical example of a certain person or thing—an original that has been imitated”. I think keyword here being “original”.
So the idea of Latino Nerds would be that they would not be limited to those frames, but it would joyfully display the humor, challenges, and genuine affection of this mestizaje: how Latino nerds navigate yet another hybrid identity of being Latino and “nerds”.
It would not be restricted to the stereotypes of being Latinos and being “nerds”. It could draw from that, but the idea would be to explore the making of an archetype of being a Latinerd—and how it could serve as a positive affirmation for Latinos who are Latinerds but may struggle with it because of the negative connotations.
It would be a welcoming identity rather than an isolating one—and yet drawing humor from the paradoxes and absurdity that can come navigating these identities.
This would be going on the path to highlighting Latinos as general characters in science fiction and other media that may be seen as “nerdy” (Yes, Olmos is in Battlestar Galactica). It could also serve as a humor vehicle that helps with connecting Latinos with STEM fields—seeing Latinos who love the sciences and enjoy being both Latinos and “nerds”. It would be a connecting point—a culturally relevant entry point with which to relate. We already do it in within our communities—we just do not see it on the mainstream popular culture (i.e. television).
So Hollywood (and other pop culture gatekeepers), here is an opportunity to reach a vibrant demographic and likely make quite a bit of money (merchandising alone!)—give me a call because you will need a consultant.
For the record, I consider myself a Latinerd. I was “smart” in school, I enjoy comic books, I like science and science fiction—I geek out with science jokes. But I hold on to my nopales, wear huaraches in the summer, and know you need a molcajete for a real salsa.
Yes, “Latino” can encompass many nationalities and can be intergenerational. A “Mexican Latino” will be different than a “Dominican Latino” and a second generation Spanglish-speaking Latino is different than a first generation Spanish-dominant Latino. For the purposes here, I am generally referring to the bilingual “American Latino”.
Yes, “nerd” can mean different things too.
Also, I know talking about ethnicity, stereotypes, and issues that touch on “race” can stir up some things—your comments are welcome below.