New Eyes

by Alex O.

Growing up, inclusivity in media was not something that concerned me. I was the first born child of two Puerto Rican doctors, growing up in San Antonio surrounded by my Latinx family. I was raised in Texas, so spanish-language media and culture were readily available, but it was the domain of the older generation. Like so many children in similar situations, I consumed English-speaking media. While my parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles were watching telenovelas and Univision, my cousins and I were watching Ninja Turtles, GI Joe, and other distinctly American media.

After moving to the Midwest, away from most of the ties to my cultural heritage, I continued consuming English media. I didn’t truly consider myself Hispanic — sure, that was my heritage, but I seemed somehow removed from it. This influenced the way I consumed media, because I never looked for representation. I took most media at face value, never looked beyond the surface.

At the time I didn’t care, there was little media widely available with people who looked and acted like me so that interested me, so why bother. Of course, as tends to happen, I got older. I began to feel like an outsider. The novelty of being ‘the Spanish speaking one’ and of not seeing many heroic portrayals of Latinxes in media I consumed grated.

Then November 2016 happened, and for the first time in my very fortunate life, it was really driven home that to a staggering number of people, I am ‘other’. I still loved the media I consumed, but finally having my world moved like that, having my foundation shaken, began the process of opening my eyes. Particularly after listening to Kat and Pranks talk about their own struggles with finding meaningful representation in Star Wars, it really hit home for me.

I’ve always been a fan of Star Wars. My father introduced me to the Original Trilogy and I consumed. As time went on, I read some of the books from Legends, watched my VHS tapes of the Special Editions until they were nearly worn out, and watched all of the Prequels in theaters. At the time it didn’t strike me, but as has been pointed out before, with very few exceptions minorities were not protagonists. For every Lando and Mace there were, and are exponentially more white characters.

I re-watched Rogue One recently, and was moved by Diego Luna being able to retain his accent, and the power of that seemingly small gesture struck me. Here was a protagonist, a hero, who sounded like people I’d grown up around.

This is a point which has been made before, and will continue to be made. As one of the biggest entities in popular culture today, though, Star Wars owes it to the youth of today and future generations to change this. It’s beginning to, but it needs to work harder. I grew up identifying with Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, not just because they are good characters, but because in Star Wars they were some of the ONLY available characters. There were no prominent Hispanic characters, no one who looked or talked like me, so I latched on to what was available.

Star Wars, similar to a growing percentage of modern media, is increasing representation. While imperfect, it’s getting better. By allowing Diego Luna to retain his accent and be a hero, they are giving people like me a hero to not only latch onto, but relate to. In general, Star Wars is making an effort to introduce diversity into its casts, which is great. The characters may not always be portrayed as fully as many may like, such as Saw Garrera in Rogue One being ‘an angry revolutionary’, but for every trip there are steps forward, such as with Bodhi. My hope is that Star Wars, being such a high profile franchise, can normalize diversity and give all people heroes to aspire to that they can relate to.

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Alex is a lover of many nerdy things, with a mind like a steel trap, but only for useless trivia. You can find him @olympianzeus on twitter if you’re so inclined.

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