By ALEX ALVAREZ
Oye, fellow CHICA$! Mamis, lemme ask u a kuestion. R u r3aDy 2 B on TV? Duh, rite? Well, locas, have I got the oportunidad 4 u! Peep this kasting kall looking for “fiery, passionate, spanish speaking bi-lingual goddesses who are those beautiful, exciting, mami chulas NY is notorious for (sic)” to take part in a show called “Mi Vida Loca.” DALE!
When I got this casting call (“kasting kall”) in my inbox (from Doron Ofir, the guy who did Jersey Shore) I actually cracked up because they managed to hit every horrible stereotype ever (except “ay, dios mio!”). It was incredibly thorough in its stereotyping. So good job, I guess, fuckfaces.
Latinos are blessed with the richness and complexity of many cultures, but we are equally cursed with the racial baggage of two juxtaposed worlds: One in which one drop of non-European blood makes someone “the Other.” And another in which any sign of European heritage makes a person of color, White.
Back in August, I got into a small YouTube mail fracas (I know) with Yannis Pappas, the white male comedian who portrays “Maurica Rodriguez,” a stereotypical sassy Latina from the Lower East Side. Someone sent his video links to my boyfriend, who is in the band Das Racist, suggesting he might like it. God knows why; that person should delete all Das Racist mp3s from their iTunes immediately, since Pappas’ “Maurica Rodriguez” is in fact, actually racist.
Like many whites (and non-whites) dressing up as ethnic female characters (i.e. every season of Saturday Night Live), Pappas’ portrayal of Maurica is an extension of a racist stereotype, in this case his notion that the Lower East Side (read: poor) Latina is inherently sassy, trifling, and—don’t forget—SPICY! Pappas also uses his Latina-face to liberally utilize the n-word, which he seems to relish, and of which mama don’t take no mess.
I left a comment saying all those things, not really expecting any response since, you know, it’s a fucking YouTube comment. So obviously I was amazed when dude totally wrote me back! In personal YouTube Message! POSSIBLY THE FIRST OF ITS KIND! His response:
finally!!! congrats! you are officially the first negative comment for maurica since she was created! the only one! you get the attention! you’re right that is exactly like i created her i just wanted to use the n word, be sexist and rasict and not funny and see if i could get people to think it was funny, not racist and not sexist. I tricked them all except you! you’re amazing! you are going to do great things!!!
the guy who plays Yannis Pappis. Yannis Pappas is just a stand up comedian character i play.
you’re amazing! great work.
It didn’t surprise me that Yannis Pappis (or Detrond, the Greek-American who plays him) reacted so defensively. (What completely surprised me was that he sent me a YOUTUBE MESSAGE! YO!) It also didn’t surprise me that his defensive email seemed to justify or deflect my comments with an “everyone else likes it, you must be stupid” attitude. Furthermore it did not surprise me that his immediate response was an attempt at gaslighting since I was, allegedly, his first negative comment. (Really? And he’s performing this character in New York?)
What did surprise me was how much his response bummed me out. Not that I expected him to be like, “You’re right… it’s time for me to re-evaluate my entire act!” It was even the fact of his response in the first place, with entitlement that doubled the way Maurica smarted my heart. Like, not only did he feel entitled to assume the role of “Maurica” based on his condescending view of Latinas, but he felt entitled to then shit on a Latina for expressing her dismay. White male privilege on white male privilege on white male privilege. I didn’t respond, of course. Because fuck that guy. But I’ve had it in the back of my mind for months, since it happened.
So today, in a lightweight internet k-hole, I discovered John Leguizamo’s “House of Buggin,” a short-lived follow-up to “In Living Color” that featured mostly Latinos. (Leguizamo’s refusal to make the cast more white contributed to the show’s cancellation after one season.) ((Yes, I shocked myself that I didn’t already know about “House of Buggin.”)) About 30 minutes into the YouTube wormhole, I discovered this clip, from Leguizamo’s 1993 one-man show “Spic-o-rama,” a story of a family in Jackson Heights preparing for a wedding. Maurica is a wholesale bite off Leguizamo’s “All My Life” bit, watchable below. But Leguizamo’s portrayal of a middle-aged Latina is one of the tenderest, realest, most feminist bits of cross-dressing comedy I have ever seen. This clip’s two minutes long, yet his character is deep, humbling, and legitimately funny—he doesn’t exploit his vision of her life, but brings it to light while giving her a natural spirit. It split me open, a bit, before it healed me. I will love John Leguizamo forever.