The Magazine

Wiseacre Latinas

A soap disturbs the ethnic hornets’ nest.

Aug 19, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 46 • By CHARLOTTE ALLEN
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Devious Maids is the Sunday-night soap on Lifetime about five Latina domestic servants who routinely outwit their wealthy, decadent, self-centered, materialistic, and generally evil Anglo employers in the Beverly Hills monster-mansions where the maids have been hired to do the cooking and dusting. 

Five little maids from school are we .  .  .

Five little maids from school are we .  .  .

lifetime

The show is based on a Spanish-language telenovela, and its pilot was produced by Eva Longoria, the 38-year-old actress-veteran of the long-running ABC Sunday-night soap Desperate Housewives (both shows have the same creator, Marc Cherry) and, more recently, Hispanic-outreach diva for Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign and assorted other pet causes of America’s overwhelmingly Democratic Latino political bloc. 

But what Devious Maids has actually turned into is the focus of a Hispanophone media catfight over what might be called Latina yichus—the bloodline and credentials that would allow someone to define herself as queen Latina and then feel entitled to tell other Latinas what they ought to be thinking, saying, and doing. 

It would seem that every literate female in America with a Hispanic surname has added to the frenzy of digs at Ms. Longoria, and the consensus is that Devious Maids perpetuates a negative stereotype: that Latina women work as housemaids (even though nearly every household in America that can afford domestic help has at least one Latina on the employment roll). 

The pile-on has proved embarrassing for Eva Longoria. Best known for her good looks (she’s a former Miss Corpus Christi), her two tumultuous marriages, and several wardrobe malfunctions stemming from her off-and-on disdain for underwear, Longoria has been striving for years to cast herself as a Mexican-American power player. She has contributed lavishly to Latino causes, championed amnesty for illegal immigrants, and played up her part-time job at Wendy’s in high school as evidence of her working-class solidarity in a speech to the Democratic National Convention last year. She even obtained a master’s degree in Chicano studies at California State University, Northridge. 

But she was shocked when a DNA test coupled with genealogical research conducted by PBS’s Faces of America in 2010 revealed that far from “coming from the indigenous native people,” as she once described herself, she is actually 70 percent European genetically and a direct descendant of the Spanish conquistadors who presumably slaughtered and oppressed the indigenous Mexicans.         

I’m speaking freely about all of this because I’m a Latina myself. Or rather, I’m a Latina courtesy of the half-and-half rule of ethnicity that has made Barack Obama our first black president even though his late mother was a white Kansan distantly related to Wild Bill Hickok. In my case, it’s my late father who had the paleface chops: He was South-Bronx Irish. My mother, however, is the granddaughter of a traveling jewelry salesman from Andalusia who married a young lady from Mexico City and sired a son (my maternal grandfather) who married into an upper-middle-class family in Lima, Peru. I may have my father’s freckles, but hot Iberian sangre courses through my veins.

Mis hermanas in the Hispanic media elite have not been kind to Eva Longoria. In an open letter published by the Huffington Post, Michelle Herrera Mulligan, editor in chief of Cosmopolitan for Latinas, called the new show “a wasted opportunity” and “an insulting disgrace.” On Latina.com, Damarys Ocaña Perez wrote: “For decades Hollywood has consistently and almost obsessively cast Latinos in stereotypically negative roles. Gangbangers. Drug dealers. Hypersexual Latin lovers. And of course, maids—slutty ones, saintly ones, subservient ones, sassy ones, ones with ridiculously heavy accents.” Tanisha Ramirez, in yet another HuffPo piece, complained: “Aren’t Latina teachers’, doctors’, CEOs’, and entrepreneurs’ stories worth telling as well?” New York Times reporter Tanzina Vega, assessing a scene in Devious’s premiere in which the lady of the house (Rebecca Wisocky) threatens to deport soon-to-be-murdered maid Flora (Paula Garcés) for having sex with her villainous husband (Tom Irwin), sniffed, “Most maids, however, don’t sleep with their bosses.” 

Arnold Schwarzenegger, call your office.

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