What did they look like? What was I watching?

As I briefly mentioned in class I became interested in this topic my junior year of high school when I was a part of the AP Spanish Literature course offered at my school. Toward the middle of the year we started reading a play written by Federico Garcia Lorca called La Casa de Bernarda Alba . A play surrounding a widowed matriarch who has five daughters, all ranging from their late thirties to the tender age of twenty, and her control over each of them. As we discussed the main character was the mother, Doña Bernarda Alba. Then as my class attempted to break down her character I created an image similar to that of the popular villain, in the well-known telenovela (Spanish Language soap operas) airing at that time; “En Nombre del Amor.” The antagonist to the sweet young protagonist and her mother was named Carlota Espinoza de los Monteros. She dressed all conservatively and in dark colors like Bernarda did.

As my friends and I tried to connect La Casa de Bernarda Alba with the characters of the soap operas airing on Spanish Speaking Networks like Univision and Telemundo, my teacher overheard us, and decided to extend the connection to the rest of the class. It was easy to open this discussion to the rest of the class. I was sitting in the classroom of a single sexed school in the middle of East Harlem. All the girls in my AP Spanish Literature course were of Latin- American decent, fluent Spanish speakers and at some point or another in their lives consumers of the romantic soap operas produced and distributed by Mexican networks like Televisa. As we started to speak about our experiences with our novelas my teacher began to write the main characters of Bernarda Alba on the board and asked “En las Novelas Mexicanas, cuales son las apariencias físicas de los protagonistas?” “In Mexican soap operas, what are the physical characteristics of the protagonists?”

That was something I never thought about before… what did they look like? Who were the damsels in distress? Who were their knights in shining armor? Did they look like us, Latinas with indigenous ancestry or the white Latinas, all with caras perfiladas con ojos claros y cabello rubio? Meaning were they white Spanish speaking women with well chiseled faces, light eyes and blonde hair?

I was not sure of the answer but my teacher would give me a lesson I would never forget, and for the remainder of these blogs I will articulate his observations with my analysis. Mexican novelas were not original, most remade from original Colombian novelas that would become famous and multimillion dollar projects in Mexico. For this case study I will be focusing on two soap operas, starting with Café con Aroma de Mujer (Coffee with the aroma of a woman), first airing on Colombian airwaves in 1994. I will compare the social construct used to build the same story in the Mexican version 2007’s Destilando Amor (Distilling Love).

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