Opinion: Saturday Night Live's "Jewelry Party" Segment Shines A Light On Bigotry


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Felix Sanchez
National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts
Our basic assumption is that comedy should be funny, but Saturday Night Live had Cecily Strong, a non-Latina, pretending to act like a Latina stereotype for laughs. (see the clip below).
What’s the point and where are the laugh lines?  Is Marisol’s name a laugh line?  Being from Venezuela?  Speaking with a “Latin” accent?  Being naive? Being an immigrant? Falling for a guy over the internet? Is it the condescension shown by the other non-Latina female characters?
Why does this segment offend us?  In the history of Saturday Night Live’s 39 years on the air, there has never been a Latina cast on the show, there has never been a Latina writer hired on the show.  In fact, there have only been two Latino males hired as cast members:  Horatio Sanz and Fred Armisen.
Last year, NHFA wrote Lorne Michaels, the show’s executive producer, to discuss the lack of Latino inclusion on the show.  This season, there are zero Latinos–male or female–cast members or writers on the show.  This season there have been zero Latino musical guests or hosts.
Before anyone offers any of the following suggestions, let me explain what’s wrong with this kind of thinking.
1.  There aren’t any talented Latino or Latina comedians.  And if you listen to Jerry Seinfeld, who cares about diversity.
There are plenty of up and coming Latinos in New York City, in fact Latinos make up 27.5 percent of the New York City’s population.  CBS has an annual comedy showcase directed by Rick Najera and there are definitely Latino comedians in that showcase; SNL has hired several cast members directly from that showcase.
2.  Why don’t we just start our own show? Network?
The goal is inclusion, not isolation.  These shows are important because as you know the alumni from these shows have made it big in films and TV.  It’s not just a stepping stone, it’s a launching pad for young comics to jettison into the entertainment stratosphere.  You think that’s going to come out of youtube?  If you have a public platform, you can use comedy to bring insight and understanding to our community.
3.  We are all Americans, we shouldn’t be trying to distinguish ourselves?
You think they see an American in the character Marisol below?  You think our accents and sun baked skin say: USA?
You think they understand the Mexican American War of 1846-1848, when Alta California and New Mexico were forcibly bought by the U.S. from Mexico for $15 million.
Do you think they understand that the 1917 Jones Act granted U.S. citizenship to all Puerto Ricans?
Do you think they recall 1960-62, CIA Operation Pedro Pan that fooled Cuban parents out of fear into sending over 14,000 of their children to 35 US states?
Do you think they understand the 1979-1990s, Carter/Reagan Administrations’ support of the Salvadoran government and Nicaraguan contras that resulted in an influx of Central American Refugees to the U.S.?
Friends, we not only belong here, we have a history that is not told or understood.  We need to hold the entertainment industry accountable for their misdeeds.  Lorne Michaels needs to be held accountable, Saturday Night Live, NBC, Comcast and all the folks who refuse to meet with us and who continue to perpetuate the false images of a “Venezuelan Marisol,” by a non-Latino, like Cecily Strong, who is not playing a comedic role, but is simply insulting an entire community of more than 50 million strong.