A new study from the U.S. Government Accountability Office shows Hispanics and Latinos are underrepresented in media such as movies, TV shows, and news reports.
According to the most recent census, Latin and Hispanic families make up 19% of the American population, yet in media like TV, movies, and news, they only represent 11 to 12% of the workforce.
In forward-facing roles like acting or reporting, the number is even lower at 5%.
"I would just say that there's this general sense of invisibility,” said Anita Martinez, executive director of the Michigan Hispanic Collaborative, a nonprofit based in Detroit that works to lower poverty in Latin and Hispanic communities.
A government report published in September found in media specifically, the lack of accurate representation of Latinos at best means Americans do not get a full understanding of their lives and their contributions. At worst, it could engender further stereotypes and violence like the killing of 23 people in El Paso in 2019 by a gunman who was targeting Hispanics.
"What you see now are typical stereotypical genres and themes around gang violence and drugs, which then perpetuates additional stereotypes, which then perpetuates some of the experiences that people that walk through the world are trying to overcome,” said Martinez.
“There's tons of stereotypes out there, but as we see more and more representation in film and media, some of those are deconstructed and broken down, and I feel like that is extremely important,” added Kevin Alfaro-Ortiz, a sophomore at the University of Michigan studying radio, television, and film in hopes of becoming a screenplay writer one day.
Alfaro-Ortiz says growing up, he would feel pride when a Hispanic or Latino actor would appear on some of his favorite TV programs. He says feeling seen is something many outside of minority communities might not understand to the same degree.
"When I tell people, 'Oh yeah, I'm from Detroit. I'm first gen,' they shrug it off, and I wish they could understand how monumental of an accomplishment it is that I'm here, I'm staying here, and I'm planning on graduating and going off into the entertainment industry," Alfaro-Ortiz said.
Alfaro-Ortiz's parents emigrated to the United States 20 years ago with little more than the clothes they brought with them. It was a struggle, a grind that allowed Alfaro-Ortiz to sit where he is today.
"My identity isn't just a label or something else; it's a very large portion of my identity,” he said. "My parents didn't sacrifice their entire reality for me to play it safe. If you're going to do something and you're truly passionate about it, follow it because that's what will get you forward."
“It builds belief [to see people like you in media],” added Martinez. “It gives you the confidence to walk through the world when you have somebody that looks like you."