Josie De Guzman (1992)

I think there has been a basic confusion about what it means to be Hispanic. Hispanic is a cultural and linguistic distinction, not a racial one. There are Asian Hispanics, Black Hispanics, Caucasian Hispanics, and Indian Hispanics, as well as combinations of all four. In the performing arts, this confusion has been most apparent in the area of casting, especially non-traditional casting.

I am Puerto Rican; I am very proud of my culture. Yet, I don’t consider being cast as Sarah in the Broadway production of Guys and Dolls to be non-traditional casting for me. I am white. I never knew discrimination in Puerto Rico. That is something I have had to learn about here. It is something that has been imposed upon me.

There is no uniform Hispanic look. The Hispanic community knows this. Rather, it is the producers of movies or clients at advertising agencies and the like — who are rarely Hispanic themselves — that have made these definitions for us. In film, for instance, I have often been told that I don’t look Hispanic enough and denied the opportunity to read for Hispanic/Latina roles. At the same time, I have only rarely been allowed to read for Anglo roles for the opposite reason. Where’s the middle ground in this?

I can understand a desire to cast an actor with an average, Midwestern American look. But what lies behind that desire? Is it not a form of stereotyping in itself? Among Latinos, we contrast ourselves with North Americans. But I am also North American. I was born in New York. I am part of what makes up this American look. By being denied the opportunity to audition for these roles, I am being told I am not American enough.

I have met this attitude much less often in theater than in film and television, but still it exists everywhere. I know a number of Hispanic actors who will not mark the boxes for their ethnic background at auditions, because they don’t want to be categorized on those terms. Or they check “white” or “black.”

I am very much in favor of non-traditional casting. But not when it is used to reinforce categories or create new ones, such as the “non-traditional” actor. For Hispanics, a first step would be overcoming the need to simplify and to see us in the full complexity of our experience.

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