What happened to George Lopez? The promotional photograph for his new show “Take Me Out” shows a white George, not the chubby cholo we’ve loved since his stand-up comic days. Now his face is lighter and he’s got blinding bright teeth. At a glance, I thought it was the late Dick Clark.
Something about the entertainment industry manages to change Latinos into gringos. When Jennifer Lopez was discovered in 1997 and played Selena she had dark black hair and rounder features. Fifteen years later, in light brown hair and a sharp jawline, she looks a bit like Jennifer Aniston.
I think she’s beautiful, stunning in fact, but why the drastic change toward the Hollywood standard? Yes, when she played Selena she was a Puerto Rican from the Bronx playing a Mexican American from Texas, so the thick black hair and the brown native features were necessary to achieve Selena’s look, but one cannot deny that J. Lo has transformed into her own distinct look over the years. And that look has progressed toward an ever lighter shade.
The same thing seems to be happening to George, a California-born Mexican American. During one episode of the Lopez Tonight show, it was revealed that he is 32% Native or mestizo, which makes sense as Mexico is a mestizaje society. So why the Dick Clark makeover?
My argument is this: I would like Latino celebrities to represent what Latinos look like. And there’s a range of looks, colors, and shades, certainly, as Latin America is made up of every race in the world lumped together by language. In ‘Blaxicans’ and Other Reinvented Americans, Richard Rodriguez reminds us that in the 1970’s Richard Nixon categorized Americans into five racial and ethnic groups: Black, White, Asian/Pacific Islander, Native American, and Hispanic.
Tell a black Brazilian or a white Argentinian that he or she is Hispanic and you’ll get laughed at. At any rate, this is the country we live in and these are the categories we’ve accepted, so as I said, Latin America includes every color and shade. Why then do celebrities with Latino backgrounds who originally had brown or dark features turn noticeably into another color group entirely?
We know why. It’s the same reason Latin and Indian grandmothers coo over newborn babies that have light skin. It’s the same reason the black community has the term “good hair.” It’s the same reason I wear chinos, polo shirts, and Sperry Top-siders (especially while I was at Georgetown). And it’s the same reason I wasn’t taught Spanish and why I barely speak any of my Native language. Get me on the phone, and you’d think you’re talking to the whitest white guy you’ll ever know.
I understand copying white society is a need for survival, a need my Feminist hero Audre Lorde articulated nearly 30 years ago: “For in order to survive, those of us for whom oppression is as american [sic] as apple pie have always had to be watchers, to become familiar with the language and manners of the oppressor, even sometimes adopting them for some illusion for protection. [We] copy it if we think it is dominant, destroy it if we think it is subordinate.”
Again why the change? We know why. We just never call anyone out. We notice his lightened skin or her blonde hair, but we say nothing, because deep down inside, some of us wish we could pass, too.
The Audre Lorde quote comes from her speech/essay “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference.” The full text can be found in Sister Outsider or online as a document via Google.