Race and ethnicity in Hollywood are complicated things and being a dark-skinned Latina doesn’t make it any easier.
Here’s the deal. I am Dominican-American. My mother and father were both born in the Dominican Republic. I was born in New York City. I am Latina. I’m also an Actress.
Here’s the problem. America (and most of the world) has trouble accepting someone who looks like me, as Latina. In their eyes, Latin women look like Jennifer Lopez, Latin men look like Mario Lopez and all Latin people have the last name Lopez (or Garcia, Hernandez, etc. Guilty: I was born Grecia Maria Mercedes-Garcia, how’s that for Latina?)
Here’s the reality. Latinos are the most diverse looking group of people in the world. We come in all skin colors, eye colors and hair textures. We do not all look like the Latinos you see on TV and in films. Though I will admit this is gradually changing (thank you Zoe Saldana, Gina Rodriguez & Victor Rasuk), but in my opinion, not fast enough.
Here’s what’s frustrating. As a Latina of color, I have to constantly explain what I am. And as an actress, it gets complicated. I’m usually not Latina looking enough (for Hollywood) to play Latina, definitely not white, so I can’t play that and though I can play African-American, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to be “more urban” aka “more black” aka “more street,” it’s infuriating. So I usually fall in the ETHNIC or ETHNICALLY AMBIGUOUS category; a category that basically means anyone and everyone who’s not white. It’s interesting.
Here’s the story. I am so proud to be Latina and love my culture and all that comes with it, but I am a little tired of giving history lessons every time someone is dumbfounded at the fact that I can have darker skin and still be 100% LATINA. Oh really, I thought you were mixed, like half black and half white. Well, you know what, you are not exactly wrong there. Let’s Wiki it, shall we…
According to the most recent genealogical testing the average Dominican is estimated to be 58.1% European, 35.2% African, and 6.4% Amerindian overall. So to recap (and this is the case with other Latin islands in the Caribbean as well), Dominicans are historically and presently a mixed race that speaks Spanish and has a Latin culture and identity. Because of this, we do not ALL look like a famous Lopez. Some of us have black skin, some white, some olive and everything in between. It’s a beautiful thing.
Here’s my wish. That Hollywood and the world will open their eyes to the beauty that exists in our cultural and physical differences. That we stop stereotyping what someone should look like or act like based on where they’re from. (I’m guilty of it too). That we cast people based on talent not on color. (I realize this can’t always happen with biopics etc., but you get my drift.) That we make TV shows and movies with diverse casts about topics beyond the obvious fact that they are a diverse cast. That we make TV shows and movies with diverse casts that are about their culture, but that explore it, in a unique way and not in stereotypical clichés. That a commercial with an interracial couple isn’t a big freaking deal, that people still think about, when casting commercials years later! That we all open our minds, to the wonderful diversity, that exists in our country and our world.
OK, that’s all. I know it’s a tall order but I believe in us.
Grasie Mercedes is an Actress, Host & Style Blogger from NYC, currently residing in Los Angeles and studying at BGB Studio. She loves dogs, pizza and rosy cheeks. Read her mind on Twitter: @grasiemercedes Learn more on her blog: http://grasiemercedes.com/ Watch her videos on YouTube: GrasieTV
This blog posted originally appeared in a slightly different form on this site.