Opinion: A Line in "Work It" Sitcom Fueled Stereotypes and Salted Wounds

A mediocre show and a facile joke have ignited a firestorm of controversy.

Whether or not you believe it is much ado about nothing, actor Amaury Nolasco and ABC have insulted Puerto Rico, and the Hispanic community itself.

The insult comes not solely from the line "I am Puerto Rican, I would be good at selling drugs," on the debut episode of the new sitcom “Work It,” but the fact that it was deemed proper to say at all.

This is the crux and core of the grievance.

I  ask: Did anyone in the script run question the line?

It is not funny because it plays to the negative stereotype.

Nolasco's delivery of the line in an exaggerated accent is an Uncle Tom stance that has angered many on the island and on the mainland.

His and the network's silence and their inability to apologize, says much.

Let me clarify to both what a stereotype is: it is a generalization about a group of people whereby we attribute a defined set of characteristics to this group. Senores, you have done just that. The fact that the actor is himself Puerto Rican just adds more insult to injury. Why did he agree to say the line?

Let me debunk a myth. Puerto Ricans are educated people who go to Princeton and sit on the Supreme Court. We are not lazy.  The majority of us do not deal drugs.

I am not offended because of political correctness. I am, more than anything, saddened that we are still here, in this place, with these words.

I am Puerto Rican. I was born and raised on the island, educated in America and the United Kingdom. I have worked in the media most of my professional life.

Maybe - if they had more Hispanics in their upper echelon of decision making, they would not act in such a manner. They should have apologized by now.

There is something else that bothered me about the throw-away line.

While the vast majority of Puerto Ricans – on the island and the mainland – are law-abiding, the actions of a few in the drug trade have become a scourge and caused great pain in the community.

The toll that drug trafficking has taken on the island is no laughing matter.

After almost 30 years away, I returned to Puerto Rico to take up the post of News Director of a major network.

For four years, I witnessed first-hand the level of violence due to the drug trade that seeped into almost every aspect of daily life. Not your  run of the mill robbery, rape and murder.

No - it is "un pais en guerra" violence.

Every day, part of the talk in newsrooms, editorial meetings and around water coolers is how many bodies, particularly of young men, were found the night before.

Bodies stuffed in the trunks of cars, thrown from bridges, found hidden in thickets, hands tied behind their backs and faces erased by bullets as a sign of execution.

When it is estimated by island economists that at least 20% of the GDP is narco money, we are talking serious wars for territory. We are losing a generation on the street.

These are young men who believe that having a showy car, "bling, bling", that girl on his arm and money is enough to throw your life away as a "gatillero." They know they will probably not make it to 30. These are adolescents that start planning their funeral in their teens.

They are the real human cost of this war. That fact is truly not the stuff of jokes.

Susanne Ramirez de Arellano is a freelance writer based in New York City. She is a former News Director for Univision Puerto Rico and has worked for ABC News, the Associated Press Television News in London and CNN International. She writes a Blog for www.magacin.com called Susanne en la Ciudad.

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