Washington Heights, MTV’s much buzzed about new docu-series, premiered on January 9 to a mix of criticism and enthusiasm, especially within the Latino community. Whereas many Latino viewers and Washington Heights residents were excited to watch a group of young Latinos featured on an MTV show about their lives, some viewers felt — and still feel — that the show wasn’t able to adequately represent the Washington Heights community.
There wasn’t enough Spanglish spoken, there weren’t enough shots of corner bodegas, not enough footage of tigeres hanging out on corners, or any viejos playing dominoes in the park. “Pero qué pasó?” people asked. “Where is the Heights in Washington Heights?”
Audiences were clamoring to see the ninth star of Washington Heights —the Heights, itself. Though the Heights makes a few appearances at rooftop parties, family barbeques and the potted-plant framed windows of the cast members’ homes, viewers soon learned that the show isn’t really about the neighborhood, just as The Hills and Laguna Beach weren’t about their namesake communities. No, Washington Heights, like most of MTV’s docu-series, is about a group of young people and their unique experiences.
On their website, MTV promotes the show as being about:
“A group of best friends living, working and playing in the diverse New York City neighborhood of Washington Heights. Having grown up just blocks away from each other, they all share special bonds that feel more like family than friends. While fiercely proud of their community, they sometimes struggle to push past the confines of their upbringing in order to carve out bright futures for themselves.”
Now five episodes in, we see that Washington Heights has made good on what it promised to deliver: a show about young Latinos living in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood. We’ve watched Frankie fall in love, Ludwin deal with his brother getting locked up, Reyna fight with her family (and Eliza!), JP struggle to launch his career, and Rico try to figure out what he wants out of life. We’ve also seen Fred take on a new internship, Jimmy fight and make up with his girlfriend, and Taylor keep the peace.
MTV spends more time focusing on the individuals in this group of friends than it does on the community as a whole. But is that really a bad thing?
The truth is it’s impossible for MTV, Washington Heights or any one show to truly represent an entire community. To try and accomplish that, one would have to rely on the very same generalizations and stereotypes that mainstream television has perpetuated since the invention of the medium. At the end of the day, the show’s authenticity cannot be questioned, as its premise is to document the deeply personal experiences of a very specific group of young people. Their story is authentic, as their story is real — at least for them.
For what it’s worth, Washington Heights is refreshing. It’s great to see young Latinos steadfastly pursuing their dreams. It’s great to hear Spanglish and Spanish slang sprinkled throughout conversations about love and life. Even with how little it’s shown, it’s great to see shots of fire escapes, urban skate parks and Bustelo cans filled with aceite sitting on stovetops. It’s a start.
In every instance that Washington Heights fails to show my reality, your reality or any other individual’s experience of the Latino community, there is an opportunity for another story, another angle, another Latino-created project to emerge.
Let’s not pin our hopes for an accurate representation of our lives, our hoods and our struggles on one show. No, let us see this show as the beginning of a trend of young Latinos taking the helm and producing the sort of media that reflects their multifaceted lives.
By Being Latino Contributor, Tanisha Ramirez. Tanisha is a pop culture and lifestyle writer from New York City. By day she is the Managing Editor at NewLatina.net and by night she manages her pop culture blog, Chicaandthecity.com. Follow Tanisha on Twitter @TanishaLove.