Novelas: More than a late-night show
It’s after 7 p.m. on a weekday. It’s been a long day, my mom has been out working since 4 a.m. and we only have a few hours left to be together before bedtime. We flip the TV to Univision or Telemundo for our daily novela.
Watching novelas and movies in Spanish with my mom and grandparents is still a vivid memory for me. I’ve always felt like they were a way for me to see things from my mother’s homeland of Mexico that I never got to see here in the states.
When I was a little girl I never saw any representation of my Latinx heritage on TV except “Dora the Explorer” or “Maya and Miguel”. Even a recent study done by The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found that out of the 100 top-grossing films each year from 2007 to 2018, only 3% were Latino actors in lead or co-lead roles.
This is nothing new though. I saw that statistic play out at home and for a long time, I wondered about what life would be like if my grandparents didn’t need to come in search of the American dream.
It’s not really a compare or contrast between this culture or that one though. For me, these late-night novelas are one way to see beyond what I’ve experienced here in the U.S. While watching I notice the language, the architecture, the rare plants, the customs and the people who look like me. I see a world that’s different from the U.S.
They have romantic love stories, drama, family arguments, violence and wisdom I think we can all relate to. It’s also fun to crush over the Latinx actores every now and then. My tias and cousins and I all love it when a novela with William Levy, a Cuban actor, comes on. I have to admit though, some novelas are over the top. We get a lot of examples of rich families, and women like Teresa who are willing to do whatever they can to get a higher status, whether that be in money or relationships.
On the other hand, a major downfall of mainstream novelas is the lack of representation of the indigenous people from Mexico and South America. That’s a problem for me because indigenous roots are a part of the Latinx story and we need to know more about that.
They do have a way of connecting people through language though. In my opinion, sometimes things in other languages sound more meaningful than when they’re in English. For example in the novela “Cafe con Aroma de Mujer,”the protagonist’s mother says “ Si uno tiene un pendiente, organisalo. Eso le va dar tranquilidad en el corazon.” In English that translates to “If you have something pending, organize it. That will give you peace in the heart.” Novelas have even helped me keep my Spanish in check. Without them, I don’t think I’d hear enough Spanish to even speak it clearly. My parents always spoke some, pero las novelas me ayudan powder tener una conversacion natural con mis abuelitios.
Sometimes I even catch myself getting hooked on the sayings and accents of other Latin cultures while watching novelas
For me, there are still a lot of missing pieces about my ancestors’ lives, but seeing films and novelas in Spanish inspire me to learn more. Through them, I can imagine the luscious forests and wild-growing fruits, the clean rivers and herbal remedies and the long journeys and hardships of my ancestors.