why didn’t I see myself on the screen?

by Emily Ortiz

Why didn’t I see myself on the screen? I always saw aspects of my personality, and struggles that I've faced being portrayed. But I never saw myself. My name is Emily Ortiz, I am a Mexican and Puerto Rican high school student living in Wilmington, DE.

One of the biggest issues I’ve faced was something I never thought was an issue until recently. The issue being the effect of the lack of Latinx representation in American media on how I perceived myself growing up. On a lot of shows and movies I grew up with, if there was ever a hispanic or Latinx character, they were often very fair skinned with a lack of cultural background (at least from what was shown in the shows/movies). Growing up, much of the Mexican side of my family including myself didn’t look like these actors, not at any fault of them as individuals, but because the industry as a whole does not care to address the lack of representation of Latinx and many other ethnic groups. Not seeing my culture represented in almost everything I watched on American television eventually led to me not wanting to embrace my own culture. It was never my parents' faults, as they continuously encouraged me to love my culture, I continuously rejected it. I won’t fully blame American media for this, but I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if I saw my culture embraced in movie theaters, or on cable television growing up.

I was never truly myself from fifth grade all the way up to Junior year of high school. The people I “idolized” were mostly white and/or straight social media influencers, actors, and celebrities as a whole. It’s just what I saw on all sections of the internet. So, in turn, I also looked up to my friends at the time who would fit those categories, which ended up being the start of a huge identity crisis throughout most of high school. I made my mom buy me clothes that I've now realized she couldn’t afford at the time, but she bought them anyway out of love. I never talked about what my family gatherings were like(which were always a blast) because I thought I would be judged for having a different culture. I never really learned how to dance how the rest of my family did because I was scared to pull out the moves and possibly weird everyone out. All these irrational thoughts would pop into my head most frequently throughout middle school. Looking back I know none of my friends at the time would have cared if I brought up any part of my culture in a conversation, but I was still scared.

This past school year, I realized I don’t have to dress or act like those people in order to be happy or live the life I wanted to live for the future. I can be who I truly am and love my culture without fear of being judged, and if I were to be judged, then that’s someone else’s issue. I participated in culture day at my school with one of my greatest friends, I just started listening to Spanish music regularly which my mom loves to see. I wish I realized how beautiful my culture is much earlier on in life, but I'm glad I can still embrace it now. The issue with Latinx and hispanic representation goes deeper than just the media though, it is rooted within our school systems and our government. These are even bigger issues that I hope to learn more about and do more for with the AHEO.

about the author:

Emily Ortiz

Emily Ortiz is an Asian Hispanic Empowerment Organization member of Wilmington, Delaware and attends the Charter School of Wilmington.

Emily is passionate about advocating for the Latinx community and seeking racial equality for all people of color. She writes an article touching on the lack of media representation of those of her background and how that affected her self-identity as a Hispanic individual. She realizes the need for more minority representation in media and will continue to advocate for her community to create change.