By Veronica Villafane
September 30, 2016
The lack of diversity on Saturday Night Live has been widely criticized for years. And while the comedy show has had over a dozen African-American comedians throughout the decades, kickstarting the careers of stars such as Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock and Tracy Morgan, Latino talent has been notably absent from SNL.
In its 41-year history, the show only had two Latino cast members. Chilean-born American actor Horacio Sanz, whose stage name is Horatio Sanz, was on SNL from 1998 to 2006 and Fred Armisen, whose mother is Venezuelan, from 2002 to 2013.
Earlier this month, NBC announced it was adding impressionist, comedian and America’s Got Talent Season finalist Melissa Villaseñor as the first Latina cast member of the long-running comedy sketch show.
“Everybody!! Oh boy!! I cried and am so, so grateful. Will do my best to bring tons of giggles and joy!” she tweeted when she landed the gig on September 13.
It took nine years after Villaseñor first auditioned for the show to land her dream job. “SNL is one of the main reasons why I started comedy at 15 and I pray to be there someday when I am ready,” she wrote on her Facebook page when she was told she didn’t get selected to join the cast in 2009.
Her hire sent cheers and praise from Latino fans and advocacy groups who had long been lobbying for representation on the program. Last year those efforts snowballed into a major campaign, when NBC invited Donald Trump to host the show in November of 2015 after spouting racist comments about Mexicans during a speech announcing his run for President of the United States.
The outrage was immediate, prompting the trending social media campaign #RacismIsntFunny. It also united efforts by the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, comprised of 40 Hispanic organizations, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and hundreds of thousands of online petitioners on MoveOn.org and Change.org calling on NBC to rescind Trump’s invitation to host SNL.
They all criticized the network for validating Trump in their efforts to gain ratings at the expense of the Latino community.
“It is a level of endorsement that says to America that every hateful and racist thing Donald Trump has said since the moment he launched his campaign is acceptable and no big deal,” wrote Congressman Luis Gutiérrez in a letter asking NBC to “dump Trump.”
NBC did not back down and Trump hosted SNL. But after that incident, and with mounting pressure and criticism about the absence of Latinos, the network this month revealed its decision to add Villaseñor and also hired a Latino writer for the show.
Salvadoran comedian Julio Torres, who was a guest writer on the last season of SNL, is now a full-time writer.
Leading to the premiere this week of the show’s 42nd season, NBC announced Emmy, Grammy, Tony and Pulitzer Prize-award winner Broadway star Lin-Manuel Miranda will host the show for the first time ever on October 8 – just in time for Hispanic Heritage month.
The additions of Villaseñor and Torres are a first step in becoming a television program that is more representative of the country’s population and consumer audience.
While advocates and fans may be celebrating Latino talent in front and behind the scenes of the show, there will undoubtedly be a lot of pressure for the newest members of the SNL team to deliver outstanding performances and appeal to all viewers – not just Latinos.
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