Telenovelas are melodramatic television shows that portray passionate love stories and comedic plots. Nonetheless, they often depict political issues and challenges that are relevant to modern-day societies of the countries in which they are produced. While telenovelas have always been a staple of the culture in many U.S. communities of migrant Latin Americans, they have also become important cultural touchstones for U.S. Latiné* communities. Historically, when the Latiné population increased in the United States, telenovela viewership began to increase as well (Glascock et al. 2009). They provide an outlet of culture and representation on television which wasn’t something frequently seen on US television. For migrants who sought familiar forms of culture and community in the United States, telenovelas were an easy link to home (Films Media Group 1995). They also satisfied the nostalgia of viewers who watched them growing up in both South America and the United States.
"Although telenovelas have been part of my world since childhood, I always felt like I had to be something that I wasn't. I had to put on so much makeup and wear a push-up bra and have huge hair with blond highlights. I was falling into a mentality where "more" was more beautiful."Genesis Rodriguez (Reynoso 2015)
For example, I used to watch telenovelas with my mom and sister. I loved watching the fantastical plots and storylines of the shows. The first telenovela I remember watching was La Fea Mas Bella. I also remember Rubi, Rebelde (my favorite), Lola: Érase Una Vez, Amor Real, Destilando Amor, Al Diablo Con Los Guapos, and others. In Mexico, telenovelas have been able to remain popular through their focus on love, comedy, and drama which resonates with audiences and allows them to grow with the characters and their stories (Benavides, “Origins and Development of the Mexican Telenovela”). Similarly, watching the telenovelas growing up enthralled my mom, sister, and I with the drama and love stories. Besides the enjoyment of watching such dramatic stories of star crossed lovers, watching telenovelas actually helped me learn Spanish.
Once, I watched with my sister and mom and asked them to explain what was happening, but my mom turned to me and said, “you’ll have to learn Spanish if you want to know what’s happening.” I was so mad, but also very determined to learn Spanish, and I did. Although as a child I found a connection to telenovelas, looking back the telenovelas lacked any representation of the struggles faced by Latiné in the U.S. The stories being told in telenovelas aren’t reflections of the experiences Latinés face in the United States, but the representations of stories and struggles of Latin America.
Like the novelas I watched growing up, novelas do a good job depicting stories about characters facing struggles in Latin America where the politics and culture differ a bit from those that Latiné Americans have faced in the United States. Therefore, the need for proper Latiné representation in primetime U.S. television is important. Although telenovelas were a break from American primetime television, I’d like to argue that both telenovelas and U.S. television lack a true representation of the Latiné American community.
*Latiné: a gender-neutral word created to describe a person of Latin American descent. It is an update to the previous use of “Latino” with its masculine ending as applicable to all and equivalent to “Latinx.”