Elvis the new Harold?

While I chose to focus on the women in Mexican soap operas, I neglected to inform you of the one character that actually brought me to Destilando Amor. That character’s name on the series was called “Elvis Perez III.” He was the first black man I have ever seen on Mexican television. My parents are not from Mexico, they are Ecuadorian, and I am a first generation Ecuadorian American. As the only real Spanish speaking television networks on the American airwaves are Univision and Telemundo (Telemundo is a “child” of parenting company NBCUniversal), Univision is closely tied with Televisa, the leading entertainment mass media company in Mexico, thus a majority if not all novelas aired on the Univision network are Mexican in origin. Despite the limited choices in programing offered to Latinos in the United States there are things you do not see on TV when you’re growing up and black people are one “thing.”

As I became addicted to the story of La Gaviota (played by current first lady of Mexico Angelica Rivera) and her Rodrigo in 2007’s Destilando Amor I was shocked when Elvis came on the screen. I had never once before seen a black character on a Mexican soap opera. He became the brother-in-law of our leading man, Rodrigo Montalvo. While Rodrigo was not bothered by his sister’s relationship with a Black man their paternal grandmother and sister were completely against the idea of her marrying a black man. While the relationship and the many objections did not explicitly name race and the color of his skin as the issue, there were many hints at the grandmother’s audacious treatment of Elvis. His character would more often than not make small jokes about his dark skin. Often referring to it in similar value of objects like “the darker the coffee the richer the taste.” Doña Pilar, Rodrigo’s grandmother would usually scuff at his jokes, and nearly always wished that her granddaughter would get over the European “fad.”

Oscar Bordas as Harold McLein in Cafe con Aroma de Mujer (1994)

Edgardo Eliezer as Elvis Perez III in Destilando Amor (2007)

Elvis Perez III is based on original Café character, Harold McLein. Harold is a man who Marcela, Sebastian Vallejo’s youngest sister. As is in the story line in Televisa’s Destilando Amor (2007) the Vallejo family’s matriarch Cecilia Vallejo rejects Harold. In one scene, when Marcella first introduces Harold to her family, they are not aware that he is black. They tell her that they “enchanted” by the fact that his name is “Harold McLein”. They are impressed and delighted their family member has taken a liking to a foreign man with a strong “white” name. While white is not expressed in their awe, in many Latin American cultures it is a socially esteemed for a person to have a last name that demonstrates their racial origin. Last names like “Vallejo” and “Montalvo” are last names that belong to a history, even if it is a fictional one. While I will discuss the class relations, and their correlation with the “value” of last names in another post, this minor introduction to their importance in various Latin American cultures illustrate the actor’s approval of the then faceless Harold McLein.

The Vallejos meet Harold Mclein

As the scene progresses and the family hears a knock on the door, their faces light up in hopes of meeting this “charmed” suitor. Capturing the moment from outside the door, the audience cannot see who the man is. That is until; Marcella extends her hand to bring him in and greet the family. As soon as he is visible under clear light it is obvious the family does not like what they see. The men are a little more approving of this friendly man, however it is beyond clear the women in the family setting are nearly disgusted with Marcela’s new beau. Her grandmother, Cecilia, will not even face the man head front she is seated to her side, facing her granddaughter and daughter in law. Harold noticing the tension building in the living room runs to “la abuela”, the grandmother, to tell her how pleased he is to meet with her and how wonderful it is that after years of being grandmother-less he can finally have one to welcome him.

I watched a special that spoke of the success behind Café con Aroma de Mujer. There the special spoke about the unplanned introduction of Harold. He was a character that some of the creators, producers were skeptical about producing. Race relations in Latin American are not as “clear cut and visible” as they are in the United States. Race and the issues associated with it were not something the Colombian producers wanted to call too much attention to. Especially if the character himself was not portrayed correctly and came off as what the producer called a “caricature.” The actor, Oscar Bodas, was pleased to play the role because he felt it was an issue people were avoiding. He as a black Colombian knew the prejudices behind skin color. He even said in the interview “I was able to say, without yelling it at the to of my lungs, the resentment that people have on the blacks (as we would say here.) There are no black people in “el eje cafetero.” El eje cafetero, is the region in Colombia where the national coffee is grown. Mr. Bordas is grateful for the role extended to him, to bring to light the prejudices that he has suffered as a Afro-Colombian.

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