Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Watching Devious Maids En Español

So, here's my secret: I really like Devious Maids.

Just before it premiered in 2013 I remember that there was a lot of criticism about the show. It disappointed many that the first time a US tv show would have an all-Latina lead cast would be a show about maids. Devious ones at that.

The death of Lupe Ontiveros in 2012 seemed prescient to the debate. In her obituary in the NYT, the number 150 stands out. It is the low estimate of the number of times she played a maid on screen. I will always remember her turn as "Nacha", a maid in "El Norte", which we watched in my high school Spanish class, over and over. She also played the maid in "The Goonies," antagonized by the butchered Spanish of Corey Feldman. The obituary alludes to her efforts to break the stereotype and play more dynamic roles. She is quoted as stating that if she performed an audition in perfect English, she wouldn't get the part - an issue Sofia Vergara probably faces even today, despite not playing the maid on Modern Family.

150 times. That is the context to the criticism: as Latinas so often already play maids in US entertainment, why couldn't this show be different? Why couldn't this show present Latinas as doctors or lawyers? Eva Longoria, a producer of the show, wrote an essay on the Huffington Post responding to this criticism directly. As she points out, isn't it also important to tell the stories of maids from their perspective? Aren't their stories valuable too?

Of course, one twist in the plot is that not all five lead characters are actually maids. One is a lawyer disguiding herself as a maid to unravel the dirty secrets of the white people who employ them. Another is an aspiring singer. But that's an aside. I wanted to write about the experience of watching Devious Maids en español and how it completely changes this context of US racism, stereotypes and typecasting.

I watched the first season of Devious Maids on Hulu, dubbed in Spanish. I felt that, since the storyline is a little fluffy and very over-the-top, it might be fun to practice my Spanish comprehension while enjoying this guilty pleasure. It wasn't so far-fetched to imagine that the five Latina lead characters were speaking Spanish - they do occasionally throw in a little Spanish in the English version. I believe all of the actresses speak Spanish fluently. But the dynamics between maid and employer shift significantly when everyone is speaking Spanish. Suddenly, the story could be set anywhere - Miami, Mexico City, Caracas. It is very grounded however, in the idea that this is Beverly Hills culture: white, rich, elitist. But, you don't think there are white, rich, elitist people living in Beverly Hills who also happen to speak Spanish and happen to be from Latin America? When you hear her speaking Spanish (even though it is only dubbed) can't you imagine the red-haired, dark-eyed Perri Westmore as a telenovela star? Or Susan Lucci as an ex-beauty queen from Venezuela? Evelyn Powell serves a similar role on the show as the Dowager Countess on Downton Abbey by delivering one-liners that make the wealthy seem out of touch with the real world. When she is dubbed in Spanish, you could easily imagine her as the kind of evil villain that rules late-night Univisión. 

Most Americans are confused by the differences between race and ethnicity and have a hard time contemplating that someone could be both white and Latino. Or black and Latino. Or any other combination of race, nationality and ethnicity. But all Latin American countries have populations of mixed ancestry. It is perfectly reasonable to pretend that when Susan Lucci is dubbed in Spanish, she might really be Latina.

In English, Devious Maids has a Latina Maid vs.White American Employer set up. When you watch in Spanish, you can almost take ethnicity out of the equation. You could pretend that, as everyone is speaking Spanish, they are all Latinos, maids and employers alike. They could, in theory, be from the same Latin American country. The employers could be immigrants themselves. Then you are left with race and class. The maids have varying skin tones. The employers, in the first season, were mostly white, with the exception of Alejandro - the Latin Music Pop star. All of the employers are filthy rich - that's why they live in Beverly Hills!

 Watching Devious Maids in Spanish takes out the discrimination based on ethnicity and brings to the forefront discrimination based on race and class. It's structure really is much like that of a traditional telenovela with the white actors playing the wealthy and powerful and the people of color playing their servants. In Devious Maids there is one big difference: the story is told from the point of view of the maids, not the employers. This is what makes the show such a breakthrough.

Now, in the second season, you have a wealthy black family who employs Rosie as a caregiver. You have the Russian maid, Odessa, upset by Carmen's ascendance to Alejandro's (fake) girlfriend. You have the Powell family (briefly) employing a Lebanese maid, rather than Latina. And Marisol isn't even pretending to be a maid anymore. 

*While I'm enjoying the second season, unfortunately, Hulu doesn't seem to be offering it in Spanish anymore. It really does change the whole experience!

Friday, April 25, 2014

5 Ways Springtime Tallahassee Could Be Better

The Springtime Tallahassee Parade 2014 was March 29th. Tyree and I take our parades very seriously. Having enjoyed three Carnival Seasons in New Orleans, we know what makes a successful parade, and what does not. Springtime Tallahassee began in 1967 as a way to show civic pride in the State's Capital. In my opinion, as someone who loves her hometown, they could do better. 

Springtime Tallahassee doesn't need to copy Mardi Gras to be fun, but it could use a few pointers. And more alcohol. 

1. More Marching Bands!

At this year's parade we saw only one marching band, Shanks Middle School from Gadsden County - and they did a great job revving up the crowd. But then they kept marching and the techno music blasting from the Gasparilla floats was just not cutting it. I heard a rumor that Lincoln's marching band was somewhere downtown that morning, but if they weren't marching in the parade what was the point? Parades need energy from the crowd and live marching bands serve to get people excited - that's why they play at football games. Having local student bands play reinforces community spirit. So, where were the middle school and high school bands? Where were the FSU and FAMU bands for that matter? Is FAMU too good to play at Springtime Tallahassee? Having played Purple Rain in the Rain with Prince for a Super Bowl Halftime Show, yes, probably they are too good for us.  

2. Less Racism!

Springtime Tallahassee has always had a racism problem. Wikipedia states there are five "krewes" involved in the Springtime parade (which is kind of laughable when you think that in New Orleans each krewe gets its own parade). The Spanish Krewe, American Territorial Krewe, Antebellum Krewe, War and Reconstruction Krewe, and the Century Krewe. These were developed in 1971 and are meant to show different phases of Florida's history. Except that what they do is highlight Florida's racist past. So, there is a Spanish Krewe, but no mention of Florida's Native Americans? There is the Antebellum Krewe, which hides slavery behind hoop skirts. War and Reconstruction - yes! a lovely era in our history. Makes me think of burnt out plantation homes, poverty and the birth of Jim Crow legislation. And then all the progress and civil rights gains washed over by the Century Krewe. Most controversial of all, Andrew Jackson always makes some sort of appearance as well. This has routinely been protested by Native American groups as insensitive to Jackson's fatal history with their ancestors - yet he is always there!

Tallahassee's population is 60% White, 34% Black and 4% Hispanic. But based on the historical highlights chosen to represent our state, it's clear who got to do the choosing. If the idea behind the parade is to make people feel proud of being from Tallahassee and to give a sense of community spirit, then maybe we should do away with some of the divisive imagery and create more inclusive themes for the Krewes. It is possible to both love your state and accept that the Antebellum period doesn't need to be romanticized anymore. Or that Jackson was racist and really doesn't need to cast his shadow on such a lovely spring day. 

And, just so you know I don't think Mardi Gras is perfect, here is an older blog post about race and gender roles in Mardi Gras parades:

3. Let the floats go down the middle of the street!

Even though all of Monroe street is blocked off, the floats ride on the right side of the street. Why? This means there is a good side and a bad side to watch the parade from. We were standing on the wrong side. It is harder to interact with the floats, harder to catch beads, harder to get into the spirit. And it's just dumb when there isn't any oncoming traffic.

4. TPD needs to chill out! 

Part of what makes Mardi Gras such a fun experience is the interaction between the crowds and the people on the floats. You can walk right up to the floats, talk to the masked riders, tell them which beads you want. For some reason there is a rule at Springtime that you are not allowed to be anywhere near the floats. And the people riding on the floats are not allowed to interact with the crowd, not allowed to toss any throws, beads or candy. They have people walk along the sides passing things out, but usually they are so busy trying to keep pace with their group, there is no time to talk, or dance, or share a drink. Sigh. When a spectator gets too close to a float, as in the picture above, TPD swarms in and kills the fun. This officer was on a mission to make the family to the right go back to the sidewalk on the off chance that float, riding at 10 miles per hour and 20 feet away from them might pull them under. 

5. Be more generous with the throws!

Again, I understand that Springtime is and never will be Mardi Gras. But if they are going to pass out beads and candy, they could be a little more generous. In New Orleans, a general rule for parading is that if it falls on the ground, you don't touch it, because they are going to throw more. You can't go to Mardi Gras and walk away without being covered in beads. But in Tallahassee, they pass out their beads one at a time, and as there is this bizarre rule about not interacting with people, they often throw the beads directly on the ground. WTH? And, because Tallahassee children have not grown up being showered with beads every year, they will actually pick them up off the ground, even out of the gutter. That's just sad. 

Hopefully someone will hear me! Springtime Tallahassee could be so much better!

All Posts on Mardi Gras

Monday, April 21, 2014

Seventh Generation Healthy Baby Party: Easter Sunday

As I posted last week, Seventh Generation sent me a Healthy Baby Home Party pack with samples and coupons for their products, along with a few other companies. I integrated the Healthy Baby Party with our family's Easter party. I actually think the message of Easter and the mission of Seventh Generation work well together!

I used pages from the literature they sent me to decorate. Each green panel has a tip for making your home safer from toxins and chemicals. Here is my cousin signing the petition asking Congress to improve testing regulations on the chemicals used in household products. If you want to sign, click here.

I decided that green Easter eggs would be for the babies - so the older kids knew not to take them. I put some of the samples, coupons and healthy baby snacks in these eggs so that the babies wouldn't end up with tons of chocolate they couldn't eat. I also wrapped up some of the full sized products and put them out as part of the Easter egg hunt. This way, the moms got to enjoy the hunt too!

I prepared an envelope full of samples and coupons for each family. We talked about the petition and the healthy home tips. It was a great day and everyone enjoyed. 

Thanks Seventh Generation for the party pack and the opportunity to share this information with my family. My cousins and I already have some awareness about toxins in the home, but it gave us a chance to talk to our parents - who are now proud grandparents - about why they should care about these issues too. My aunt, mom and mother-in-law all care for their grandbabies on a weekly basis, so it's great to have reinforcement with literature and samples to try to convince our parents that they need to be more careful about the products they buy and spray in their homes.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


I'm so proud of C! We were at Publix the other day and she pointed right at a bunch of grapes and yelled "Uvas!" I'm proud of her for speaking a Portuguese word (and for liking healthy snacks more than I did as a child.) 

Is it a question of who said it first? Reinforcement? Or is uva just easier to say than grape? 

I wonder sometimes, how much difference it makes if the word is easier in one language over another. She has never said cachorro - always says doggy. Cachorro is a much harder word to pronounce.  Duck is also easier for her - when she does attempt to say pato she says papu. Which, I think, it a pattern. When she says bottle she says bappie. This makes me think the letter T is hard for her, in both languages. amd she sometimes replaces it with a P. Agua is still agua and perhpas it's because agua is easier than water. Or maybe it's that agua is easier for everyone to pronounce than other Portuguese words and even my husband and mom reinforce it by asking her if she wants agua instead of water. 

For now, uvas are uvas, and she loves them. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Spanglish Baby

Spanglish Baby is a great website for bilingual parents. It is focused on Spanish-English bilingualism, but I have found many helpful hints on the site even though our household in Portuguese-English. It seems the site no longer makes many new posts, but their facebook page is very active and is a great place to read articles on bilingualism.

Check it out:

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Seventh Generation Healthy Baby Home Party: Package Arrives!

We were selected to receive a Healthy Baby Home Party kit from Seventh Generation! Seventh Generation is a green cleaning and baby product company. They use plant-based formulas in their products in an effort to make them safer than common cleaning and baby products.

I let C help me open the package. Of course, she immeadiately found the food! In addition to Seventh Generation products like detergent and baby wipes, there were yogurt puffs and puree squeezes from Happy Family. C already knows all about yogurt puffs. Nothing has helped reinforced learning the words AND sign for "more/mais!" Now I have to work on "please/por favor."

Included in the package were enough samples for around fifteen people and a few full sized products. There were samples for Seventh Generation dish detergent, laundry detergent and skin boosting serum with prickly pear. Also Zarbee's seasonal allergy medication and coupons for Seventh Generation, Zarbee's and Happy Family products. Full sized products included Seventh Generation dish detergent and baby wipes and Happy Family yogurt puffs and two yogurt squeezes. There were envelopes to package the samples and coupons for guests and a booklet about Seventh Generation's mission to improve household safety via plant-based chemicals. 

Part of Seventh Generation's motivation behind sending out the party kits is to encourage more parents to sign their petition to congress. From their website:

"Congress has the power to hold companies responsible for the safety of the ingredients they use. Tell them it's time to strengthen the Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013, and protect our families from harmful chemicals with suspected links to cancer, birth defects, asthmas and more."

If you would like to sign this petition, click here: Seventh Generation Healthy Baby. There is also a short video which explains their mission further. 

Of course, another motivation for sending out the party kits is that the company hopes mamas will tell other mamas about their products. I wouldn't have signed up to host such a party for just any baby company. I do actually appreciate companies that are trying to do their part to take care of the environment - both inside and outside our homes. And the literature they sent me has been eye-opening. 

Despite being a public health professional - I haven't really paid that much attention to cleaning products. (Environmental Health was not my favorite course.) We often buy what is cheapest, what I have a coupon for, what smells the best, without thinking that my baby is going to walk barefoot over this floor. She is probably going to pick things up off this floor and try to eat them too. It matters what chemicals we use or don't use to clean the floor.

The party will be in a few weeks. I'll be posting a few tips about reducing toxins in the household and pictures from our party. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Book Review: Upa! Upa! Hip, Hop

When I was pregnant, I asked for lots of baby books. I registered on Amazon and I asked for almost every Portuguese baby book available - which was not many. Almost all of them were bilingual, English-Portuguese.

There is some debate among parents raising bilingual children about whether bilingual books are beneficial or not. Having the English right next to the Portuguese, in my opinion, means that when C is actually learning to read, she could be lazy and just read the English. When she does get older, I will have to try harder to find children's books in only Portuguese, so that she will have to read the Portuguese, not just read the English and look at the Portuguese, with its funny accents and strange spellings.

For now though, I have an assortment of board books that I'd like to review. Some of them are nice, some of them are really bad.

Upa! Upa! is somewhere in between. I love the colors - black and white and primary colors. They are perfect for babies and you can see by the worn corners that C has already enjoyed the book (both looking at it and trying to eat it!)

But the Portuguese text is kind of strange. For one, all the animals are in the diminutive: cãozinho, peixinho, coelhinho. While cute, it is kind of strange when you're trying to teach the names of animals. And why use the word cãozinho instead of cachorro?

Also, the pattern is off. For some animals we learn the sound they make. But some animals, like rabbits and fish, don't really make sounds. So dogs go woof, but rabbits go hip hop. And fish go splish splash in both English and Portuguese? Really? There isn't a way to say splish splash in Portuguese? 

O peixe não espirra agua?

But again, C really loves the book, mostly beacause the colors are engaging. It's a very simple, cute book. But if I could re-write the text, I would. I might pull out my label maker and do just that.

Grade: B-