(This post was originally written for the Ethnic Aisle blog, but I just realized all my links in that post are broken, so here’s a corrected version. Please do check out the other hair-related posts on that blog,though!)
I have never been one of nature’s blondes, one of my aching desires as a kid. Before I come off like some Aryan Nation weirdo, I should mention that my motives were strictly pragmatic. See, my future career backup plan was to become a Spanish-language television personality.
Outlandish as it may seem, this vision was fairly sketched out. Ideally I’d host my own song-and-dance variety show—something Xuxa-esque, but weirder—but I’d have settled for a telenovela gig too. (This seemed less far-fetched than my other ambition, to one day make a living by writing things.) The overwhelming majority of women on Spanish TV, the ones who weren’t playing maids on the prime-time soaps, looked a lot like me—as in, they too were white as hell. Univision, the Miami-based Spanish television network we picked up at our house, was (and continues to be) a virtually Mestiza-free zone. I figured a Caucasian-looking halfie like me stood at least a semi-decent shot.
It didn’t seem like talent was much of a factor for getting onto Univision. I’m no actress, but neither are many of the ladies on the social mobility-bent love dramas I grew up watching with my mom. A fair complexion, a little surgical enhancement, and flowing locks seemed the requisite criteria for climbing the Latin programming pyramid, as a woman.
Oh yeah. You also had to be blonde.
Okay, so blondeness wasn’t exactly required. It was more like the silver bullet that could make even the most marginally negotiable amount of onscreen charisma sufficient for stardom.
It’s no shocker that I’m not the first person to make this observation. A Google search for “blondes latino television” pulled up this LatinoLA blog post that criticizes Spanish TV for perpetuating a “Euro-cute” ideal of beauty rather than represent characters who reflect the Mestizo majority of its viewership. That search also brought up a Yahoo! Answers forum that asks: “Why is Latin American television so blonde obsessed?”
I feel like, if you’re reading this, you probably don’t need a basic lesson on the history of Colonialism and the remaining correlations between economic stature and whiteness in Latin America, or the uneasy identity baggage of Meztisaje. If you do, the Internet is an excellent resource. At any rate, the answer to Latin American television’s blonde obsession can almost certainly be found within that complicated history. Just like back in the day, when flaxen locks meant you probably came from European stock and were on the side of the conquerers rather than the defeated, or a little later when they meant you were of the land-owning instead of the workers, or now, when it still means that you’re likelier to possess greater wealth and power than someone whose hair is not blonde, the reasons for the appeal are clear. Blondeness is power. It’s post-aspirational.
So, back to me. I am not a telenovela star. I used the funds I’d squirreled away for breast augmentation to pay international tuition fees, for better or worse. (Just kidding; I never possessed that kind of foresight). But I still watch Spanish-language television whenever I visit my folks back in the states, and it’s still more of the same: Euro-cute with a bonus for blondeness. At least no one can accuse Latin American television of ignoring minority populations.