My most recent Blu-Ray purchase has been the first season of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. I’ve been really digging the series and I think Summer Glau is a brilliant actress in it. As much as I like the series it’s hard to turn a blind eye to the monolithic portrayal of Latinos throughout the first season. Every single Latino male has been shown to be a lying, backstabbing cholo. I mean that literally, our ONLY onscreen depictions are as ruthless cholos in the show. The message of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is clear: Latino men are good resources for illicit goods and contraband but can’t be trusted. Even worse, all but one of them ends up killed by the end of the season. There’s only one Latina in the first season and her role in the show is just as simple but her context is a lot more complex.
The most fascinating aspect of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is the presence of Chola; a (what else) chola who comes to the aid of Sarah Connor on multiple occasions throughout the first season. Chola is no ordinary chola though, in the first season she is totally silent and easily the most mysterious figure in the first season. There have been a lot of discussions online speculating that Chola’s stoic silence means she’s a terminator. In the commentary track of the season finale the episode’s Director implies that Chola is not a terminator by stating her motivation is simply to “avenge her homies.” Ultimately her silence serves to exoticize her. A silent, nameless Chola is more mysterious than Sad Girl talking about what nail salon she got her ghetto claws done at. Chola is the twisted, idealized antithesis to the portyals of Latinas and Black Women on reality television shows: silent, friendly, and doesn’t react to or question the violence around her. It’s different, I’ll give the series that much, but just as harmful and stigmatizing.
Chola is played by actress Sabrina Perez. Looking at Sabrina Perez’ IMDB page reveals that she’s been cast in five roles thus far in her career. Three of those five roles don’t even give her a name and simply refer to her as the archetype she portrays; they speak for themselves: Chola, Gang Girl, and Assassin.
The question is: Are Latino and Latina performers who continually play these roles victims or villains? Is Sabrina Perez simply paying her dues while following her dreams to be a successful actress or is she a “Good German” not willing to question the implications of the roles she takes? At what point do we hold performers accountable for taking the meager roles that are offered to them by the mainstream entertainment industry?
The only other critical writing I’ve been able to find on Chola is this insightful post by a writer that goes by FengLiAn. I really am enjoying Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and I do hope Sabrina Perez can break through the glass ceiling she is being crushed against, for the sake of everyone stigmatized by her roles if not her. Keep ya head up Ms. Perez.