In 1990, my first year as a SAG member, I was asked by a dear friend to join the Equal Employment Opportunity Committee.
I was a brand-new SAG working actor and felt so honored just to be asked. At that meeting, the chairman of the committee announced with full confidence and a wry smile on his face that “1990 was the year of the Latino.” I joined in the thunderous clause and felt that I landed smack dab in the middle of that often time used phrase, “In the right place at the right time.”
Since that time, I have attended general meetings, SAG Foundation events, and speeches given during the writers strike, that “insert date here____ is the year of the Latino actor.”
Now, I am not denying that progress in certain areas on both sides of the camera haven’t happened. Among the shows I was watching television as a kid were: What’s Happening, Sanford and Son, Good Times, The Jeffersons, Maude, Mary Tyler Moore, Julia, Chico and the Man, Longstreet, and Ironside. This was diversity to me. Black lead characters, intelligent women with careers, a latino protagonist, and two shows with characters with disabilities as the leads. The only Asian actor I saw was on The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, starring Bill Bixby and Miyoshi Umeki (an Oscar winner for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Sayonara, 1958), as Mrs. Livingstone, the housekeeper. The only Indian (Native American) actor, I thought I knew was Chief Wild Eagle on F-Troop. He was played by long time character actor Frank DeKova and as far as I know, he was a native New Yorker.
The only gay character I saw on television was Paul Lynde as Uncle Arthur in Bewitched, but I’m not sure if that counts. But that was my world of diversity in the television shows I watched.
I never thought of diversity in casting as a goal.
My agent sent me out for “typical Hispanic roles,” gardener, Colombian drug lord, illegal alien, priest, migrant worker, busboy, waiter, construction worker, and car mechanic.
I didn’t think about it because I was so busy just wanting to work, that I never saw myself as the lead in any role that could be played by a White actor. I did have some experiences where a casting director would ask me to read for another role that had nothing to do with race; such as, detectives, fathers and doctors. But these roles were very rare indeed.
Now I am watching shows both American and British that show the world and characters that actually resemble my daily life and I suspect, the life of many of my fellow human beings.
Is television catching up to the real world as we know it? I would have to give a qualified yes. Can we all do better? Most assuredly. So, the bottom line is that the creators, the writers, show runners, producers, directors, and network executives need the diversification that will make changes truly happen. And the good news is, they are already here. So, maybe this year is the year of the Latinx, Black, Asian American, Native American, LGBTQ, women, seniors, performers with disabilities.