A Latino Nielsen Family

I grew up a white boy in a brown paper bag. By that, I mean that I am Mexican American and that practically from birth I've been shaped, influenced and evenly slightly perverted by America's white dominated media culture, especially television.

I say this without animosity, though with some regret.

Not that I had a serious problem with Opie or Little Joe Cartwright. But I lament, sometimes even resent, growing up with few Latino role models on TV.

Sure, there was Speedy Gonzalez. But it's a little hard to build self-esteem based on a barefoot rat who can steal cheese faster than any vato in the barrio. And don't even get me started on Slow-Poke Ramirez.

I mention all of this because for the first time in our lives, me and my family have been selected as a Nielsen family. What that means is I get to write down everything I see on TV for a week in a pink paper pamphlet and mail it in to John A. Dimling, chairman and CEO of Nielsen Media Research. That information, of course, is then used to help tally ratings for television programs like NBC's West Wing.

Although I have to admit I've never actually watched West Wing.

No matter, I do watch television. Like most Americans, more than I'd care to admit. So I'm excited. I'm thinking, "I finally get my chance to let the world know that there's a 40-something Chicano journalist living in America who thinks reality TV is stupid and that the world could do without cable news shows that provide a platform for the likes of Ollie North and Pat Buchanan."

Okay, I know, I'm deluding myself. I'm just one guy. We're just one family. And filling out our little Nielsen diary isn't likely to inspire a flood of television programming starring Latino actors in groundbreaking roles. That's just not gonna happen.

But if it did, here's the Thursday night lineup I'd like to see.

6 p.m., Network Evening News with some anchor named Garcia or Rodriguez, who has just enough of an accent so that when he pronounces names like Antonio Banderas and Fidel Castro, I'll know that he isn't a fan of English-only legislation.

7 p.m., A great new hit comedy about a group of wisecracking surgeons with nicknames like Flaco and Chuy, who patch up wounded rebel troops battling to overthrow a repressive oligarchy in Central America. Except in this updated Latinized version of M.A.S.H. there's no "Hotlips" Maria -- far too stereotypical.

7:30 p.m. Another comedy. This one centers around the crazy antics of a gay Latino man named Apolonio, born and raised on a cattle ranch in South Texas, who moves to the big city to open his own nightclub and search for true love.

8 p.m. A gritty drama, but not so gritty that it scares white folks in Nebraska -- hey, we want the show to be hit. The show stars Benicio del Toro as a hard-nosed defense attorney who's sick of seeing Latinos, blacks and other people of color sent to prison in numbers disproportionate to their representation in the general population. Okay, you're right, too cerebral. But the critics will love it.

9 p.m. The return of the live, primetime variety show. Jennifer Lopez hosts. The world premiere of J-Lo Live features a duet with Mark Anthony, comedy skits with the California comedy troupe Culture Clash and an interview with Celia Cruz, the goddess of Salsa.

After a commercial break in which corporate America shows Latinos driving new cars, eating burgers, investing in the stock market and commiserating over the heartbreak of psoriasis, a local half-white, half-Latino news anchor named Pedro Richardson reports that President Mendez has just announced a 10-year initiative to provide full health care to every U.S. resident regardless of legal status.

At which point, I shut the TV off, dutifully note my viewing habits in my pink Nielsen diary and saunter off to bed.

Fantasy, you say? Lighten up, its TV.

James Garcia is editor and publisher of PoliticoMagazine.com. E-mail him at Politico1@aol.com.


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