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Wiseacre Latinas

A soap disturbs the ethnic hornets’ nest.

Aug 19, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 46 • By CHARLOTTE ALLEN
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I received an unsolicited review copy of The Feminist and the Cowboy in the mail, and I read it avidly, because Valdes really is an excellent writer, just as she claims. Though I must say I didn’t much care for the cowboy. From the photos she posted online, he seemed to be overdoing the Marlboro Man shtick, looking as though he was modeling, not really wearing, his Western duds. And he also turned out to be romancing another Albuquerque woman on the side. 

Still, it was impressive to take in how quickly Alisa Valdes melted in the presence of the first alpha male she had probably ever met in her life, and to savor her contempt for the “icky ‘liberal’ men, each icky in his own unique and decidedly hypocritical or terrifying way” whom she had dated before meeting Mr. Cowpoke. It was also fun to read the horrified reviews by feminists and the icky liberal men who love them when Valdes’s memoir emerged from its publisher, Gotham Books, this past January. Typical was Noah Berlatsky at the Atlantic, who accused Valdes of indulging in “pseudo-science nonsense .  .  . boasting self-abnegation, and .  .  . simple-minded feminist-baiting.” 

But then Valdes dropped a blog-post bomb declaring that the dogie-wrangler of her dreams was actually “a domineering abuser”—um, sort of like her ex-husband. In April 2012, Valdes had discovered she was pregnant; the
cowboy informed her that she could either abort the baby or never see him again. That would have been a deal-killer for me, and so it was for Valdes—until she suffered a miscarriage and jumped back into his arms. Later, the cowboy failed to exhibit appropriate sympathy for the injuries she suffered from jumping out of his moving truck during what proved to be their last fight.

The Feminist and the Cowboy duly tanked, and Valdes and Gotham Books are no longer on speaking terms. Valdes resumed robbing the cradle, and her latest flame is an Albuquerque volunteer coordinator named Michael Gandy (not the football player), who is at least 13 years younger than she. With no publisher and certainly no Hollywood entity willing to take her on for obvious reasons, Valdes is currently hunting for crowdfunding in order to make an indie film out of The Dirty Girls Social Club, done exactly the way she wants it. Indeed, the real gravamen of her beef with Eva Longoria was the fact that Lifetime, one of the four outfits to let its option lapse on Dirty Girls, is producing Devious Maids when it ought to be producing a series based on Valdes’s novel, with its upscale “powerful Latina protagonists.” Valdes pointed out that all the characters in the original telenovela were Latino, in contrast to the Anglo employers on Maids, “which allowed for class distinctions.” 

She wrote: “Longoria’s argument conflates race/ethnicity with socioeconomic status.” And actually, Valdes is right. The producers of Devious Maids (not to mention most Latino advocacy groups) tend to view “Latinos” as an undifferentiated mass of low-end and often-exploited laborers, ignoring the class distinctions that are self-evident to Latinos who live in the real world, whether north or south of the border. Still, she is only half-right: For Latinos, socioeconomic status is intimately bound up with race and ethnicity. Most Latinos, including me, have some indigenous blood; but in nearly all Latin-American countries, the upper socioeconomic levels of society—the ranks of the educated and successful professionals—are populated by lighter-skinned people with far more Spanish blood than the darker-skinned peasants and blue-collar workers at the bottom, who are often pure indios

It is from the latter group that the recent tidal waves of legal and illegal Mexican and Central American immigration into the United States have come—and it’s largely those immigrants who are the Latina domestics running their dry mops over the cherry-wood floors of Bel Air property porn. 

The real reason Devious Maids has raised so many hackles among the Latina literati is that they’re seeing themselves portrayed as members of a social class, and even an ethnic group, that they wouldn’t be caught dead belonging to. Indeed, the actresses who play the maids on Devious Maids, led by Ugly Betty veteran Ana Ortiz as maid Marisol, don’t look the slightest bit like real-life Latina maids. They’re willowy, toned-muscled ectomorphs with masses of exquisitely styled raven hair. They do their housework wearing skinny jeans and wedge peep-toes.

Real-life Latina maids tend to look more like Mildred Baena, the stocky, un-photogenic Guatemalan housekeeper who bore Arnold Schwarzenegger’s love child. It wasn’t so much outrage at Latina “stereotypes” as well-disguised snobbery that threw Alisa Valdes, Michelle Herrera Mulligan, and others into high dudgeon: Is that what they think we Hispanic holders of Ivy degrees are supposed to be? Maids

Devious Maids, whose premiere episode drew an anemic two million viewers or so competing against AMC’s Mad Men, is likely to collapse of its own light weight. It’s hard to get interested in such cliffhangers as: Will maid Valentina (Edy Ganem) be seduced and abandoned by the frat-boy son (Drew van Acker) of her nymphomaniac employer (Susan Lucci)? Will maid Carmen (Roselyn Sánchez) get caught swimming naked in her boss’s pool? Who killed Flora? 

But it raises more interesting questions that ought to trouble the Republican policymakers who think that running, say, Cuban-descended Marco Rubio for president could attract the votes of the millions of Mexican Americans who have voted Democratic since anyone can remember. For example: What, exactly, is a Latino or a Latina? And what on earth do the numerous groups of people who bear the tag “Hispanic” really have in common?

Charlotte Allen is a frequent contributor to The Weekly Standard

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