American Sitcom Hit Pushes Boundaries With Latino Stereotypes
Humor is a rubber sword- it allows you to make a point without drawing blood,” as stated by author and humorist, Mary Hirsch. Stereotypes have had a vast role in American comedies, particularly sitcoms, from the very moment they were created. ABC’s newest and biggest hit comedy, Modern Family, is no different. Averaging about eleven million viewers per week, Modern Family currently stands as the country’s most popular scripted TV sitcom. The cast is diverse in every way, and the writers of the show make use of such diversity to get away with using stereotypes placed upon gender and sexuality. A large majority of the show’s episodes involve a stereotypical presentation of women in both American and Latino culture and in 2013, the airing of one particular episode raised the eyebrows of many. “Fulgencio,” the thirteenth episode of the fourth season of Modern Family, sparked great controversy by perpetuating Latino stereotypes in a way that ultimately crossed racial boundaries.
The award winning series, Modern Family, features the chaotic lives of a large, extended family formed by three fictional families: a husband and a wife with one young son and two teenage daughters; the previous wife’s father, his Latino wife, and their young son; and the brother of the first family’s wife, his homosexual partner, and their adopted Vietnamese daughter. While the family connection may be extremely difficult to follow at first, the goofy bunch does make for a humorous story line. However, the stereotyping of women and Latin American culture throughout the sitcom series causes me to wonder if this “modern family” is really modern at all.
Played by Columbian actress, Sofia Vergara, the role of Gloria Delgado in ABC’s, Modern Family sitcom series has been criticized in the past for stereotyping Latino women with her sexy and hot-tempered persona on the show. Gloria’s character embodies many common perceptions that many Americans have regarding Latin American women, such as being highly dependent on men, passive in nature, and sexy in appearance. She appears as a “gold digger” by marrying an older and rich man, she wears tight dresses, and has a very heavy accent in which serves as the central root of her communication problems. While this sets the scene for some great comedy, it’s also the source of a lot of racism to Latina women.
The episode, “Fulgencio,” revolves around the christening of Gloria’s new born baby boy with her husband, Jay. For the occasion, Gloria’s mother and sister (Pilar and Sonia) pay a visit to Gloria and Jay’s home, bearing Columbian traditions, baby names, and a large amount of baggage. Tension ultimately mounts between the two sisters and between Pilar and Jay when Jay refuses to name his son Fulgencio Joseph after Pilar’s last husband. After much animosity between family members, the latino name, Fulgencio was adopted for Gloria and Jay’s son without further question.
As seen throughout the TV sitcom series, Gloria usually has the final say when it comes to her newborn baby and older son because she is the biological mother and primary caregiver. Gloria is also often able to manipulate Jay by being overly dramatic and emotional. While Gloria sticks to calling her newborn baby soon by his Latino name, everyone else in the family, however, calls him by the American name, Joe. This, in itself, portrays the All-American lifestyle and how anything else, including the Latin American lifestyle, is less desirable. Not only does the episode cross a racial boundary with the stereotyping of Latin American culture, but it also takes jokes to a whole new (and inappropriate) level.
“We need more corn. Gloria, where is your garden? I will harvest some,” Sonia asked after assuming that Gloria came from an underdeveloped country like the “stereotypical” Columbian woman. Aside from harvesting corn in Gloria’s “garden,” Sonia proceeds to also ask where the river is while holding a laundry basket. In most episodes of Modern Family, Gloria’s “I lived in a village” jokes are tolerable because they’re very few and less drastic. Not only do such jokes negatively portray Latinas, but they stereotype all women as well by portaying the “typical woman” as doing laundry while the underprivileged Columbian washes clothes in the river. These jokes alone ultimately cross the boundary of what is acceptable versus what is not acceptable in regards to racial stereotypes.
Sonia (ready to do Gloria’s laundry): “Where’s the river?”
“Sadly, there wasn’t much humor coming from Gloria’s family. It was all a little stereotypical and borderline rude. Sonia asking where the garden is to wash her clothes in the river was just ridiculous,” Steven Taylor wrote for the online entertainment news site, Hypable. Despite its popularity in ratings, many critics insist that the “Fulgencio” episode of the hit show crossed the line when it came to usual stereotype mocking through exaggerated clichés of what it’s like to be a “modern family” in our 21st century today. The episode raises two ultimate questions: Where’s the boundary and how far is it acceptable to go without crossing it? Despite the American sitcom’s growing success, Modern Family just may not be as modern as it claims to be.
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“Modern Family:.” Review: “Fulgencio” · TV Club · The A.V. Club. January 24, 2013. Accessed April 29, 2015. http://www.avclub.com/tvclub/modern-family-fulgencio-90051.
“#NoMames, Modern Family: “Fulgencio” Episode Enters Uneasy Territory with Portrayals of Colombians.” Latino Rebels. January 28, 2013. Accessed April 29, 2015
Rovenstine, Dalene (January 24, 2013). “Modern Family Review: Fulgencio (Episode 4.13)”. Paste Magazine.