"For Europeans, South America is a mustached man with a guitar and a gun."
— Gabriel García Márquez
In real life, Latin America comprises a variety of ancestries and ethnic groups, making the region one of the most diverse in the world. The region is populated by a mix of the indigenous population who survived the colonization, descendants of Spanish and Portuguese colonists, African slaves and numerous immigrant populations who moved to the continent in the last two centuries (from places as varied as varied as Germany, Italy or Japan), leading to large numbers of the Latin American populations comprising (usually brown-skinned) various kinds of multiracial people
, alongside the more customary "Whites", "Blacks", "Amerinds" and even "East Asians" (who have sizeable communities in Peru and Brazil).
However, in fiction, if a person is from a Latin American country, he will usually fit the stereotype of a light brown-skinned person, with dark hair and dark eyes; bonus points if that person uses Mexican slang or accent even if the character is not supposed to be Mexican. He will be a Roman Catholic and speak Spanish, but eat Indian foods (tortillas, chiles, etc.), thus completing the mishmash. This is probably related to the fact that most visual media are produced in the area of Los Ángeles, which has huge population of Mexican descendants who usually fit with this appearance. This has the unfortunate implication
that all people South of the Border
are brown-skinned multiracials, which flies straight in the face of the region's actual ethnic diversity. If a Latino/a dyes his/her hair a light color and/or wears blue or green contact lenses, this trope isn't subverted unless the character can reasonably pass for an unmixed descendant of Europeans.
A similar problem is treating Latinos as if they are a separate race, when they're actually an ethnic group. (Part of the problem is Values Dissonance
does mean "race" in Latin American countries, but without the connotation of color that the related word has in English.) Thus, not only are Latinos all brown, but they belong to "the brown race" (there is no such race in modern anthropology). This is an inherently North American concept: the "separate-but-equal" racial classification system that arose in the United States (and, to a lesser extent, in Canada) never caught on in most Hispanic-American countries; ethnicity was much more often correlated to social class than to skin color (a person with mixed ancestry but who had high social status being considered "white," for example, even if his/her skin tone was quite dark).
But because Latinos are an ethnic group, and ethnic groups can technically be multiracial, there are Latinos with almost every possible human skin tone. The confusion between ethnicity and race can lead to such misguided notions as noting that, on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, Haiti is "black" and the Dominican Republic is "Hispanic"; in fact, most of the inhabitants of both
are black, just divided between French-speaking blacks and Spanish-speaking blacks (Dominican Republic is a tad more racially diverse than Haiti, however).
This trope is usually averted in actual Latin American productions, where producers are usually more Genre Savvy
about this phenomenon. Telenovelas usually avert this, though some come under fire for only casting light-skinned actors, or giving only "servant" roles to those with darker skin.
Related to Phenotype Stereotype
and Facial Profiling
(where people from a country are always
depicted with coloring associated with that country), Spexico
(where Hispanic Europeans are conflated with Latin Americans), Latin Land
(especially when the trope portrays all Hispanic American countries as an uniform mass), The Capital Of Brazil Is Buenos Aires
(when Latin Land
extends into Portuguese-speaking Brazil) and They Just Didn't Care
. Compare with Interchangeable Asian Cultures
. Since Cultural Blending
is often involved, Not Even Bothering with the Accent
is very much expected in scenes featuring Gratuitous Spanish
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Anime and Manga
- Averted by Musca Dio in Saint Seiya, who despite being from Mexico is very pale and has red (almost bordering on maroon) hair.
- Also Averted with Anime!Albiore, who while in the manga plays this trope straight, in the anime he's a handsome, blue eyed Argentinian.
- In Collateral Damage, Gordon Brewer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) looks to avenge his son's and wife's deaths at the hands of a guerrilla commando, by traveling to Choco, Colombia. Choco in real life is almost completely inhabited by black people. However, not a single black person appears in the film.
- In Lord of War, a fair-skinned Colombian drug lord pays with six kilos of cocaine instead of cash. He and Yuri also use a lot of Mexican slang for no apparent reason.
- In Machete, a kid without Latino heritage has grown up in a Mexican-American neighborhood and become completely integrated there in spite of lacking any shared ethnic background with the community. The give-away is that he is a red-head, which causes people to question his presence. In reality, red-headed Mexicans do exist,note so the kid could have deep ties to Mexico for all anyone knew.
- Becomes a bit of a Hilarious In Hindsight moment when you realize the kid is played by Daryl Sabara who also starred as the latino Juni Cortez in Robert Rodriguez's Spy Kids franchise.
- Machete Kills:
- Charlie Sheen, credited with his overtly latino birth name "Carlos Estevez," plays President Rathcock, who is not latino.
- Amber Heard plays Blanca Vasquez, a blonde-haired, green-eyed and light-skinned secret agent who claims to be Mexican-American and whose name means "white." She turns out to be a double agent, so maybe she wasn't really latina after all.
- Ramon Estevez adopted the stage name Martin Sheen in order to get more roles. Studios were unwilling to hire someone with the name "Estevez" as a leading man, but being of Galician and Irish ancestry he was too pale to play stereotypical Latino characters. Fortunately, acting had become a more flexible career by the time his younger son, Emilio Estevez, started his own career (although his older son Carlos mostly goes by his other name—see above)
- Olga Kurylenko (Ukrainian) used Brown Face to play Bolivian agent Camille Montes in Quantum of Solace. The casting choice was handwaved as her mother being a Russian ballet dancer. They could have just made her a Bolivian of Ukrainian descent, which is not impossible (a number of eastern Europeans, mostly Jews, emigrated to Bolivia in the early 20th century, although not near the numbers of neighboring Chile, Argentina and Brazil).
- While still blonde, Elsa Pataky (Spanish actress of Romanian-Hungarian descent on her mother's side) is more tanned and has her hair darker than usual in her first Hollywood role, the passenger Maria in Snakes on a Plane. This is completely avoided in her later role as Brazilian police officer Elena Neves in the The Fast and the Furious franchise.
- People raised a considerable stink over Ben Affleck casting himself in Argo as Tony Mendez, who has Mexican, Italian, French and Irish ancestry. Although Affleck darkened his hair to match Mendez's, people still accused him of not looking Latino enough.
- The Hunger Games incited some internet backdraft with the casting of Jennifer Lawrence. Some fans of the books believed that the "olive"-skinned Katniss must be a Latina, and Lawrence was not convincingly brown, though her hair (and apparently skin) was darkened for the role. Averting this trope would be Katniss's sister, who is blonde-haired and blue-eyed as she is in the book yet has the same parents.
- If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino includes a short story about a population in Latin America where the indigenous people and the European people all look the same. This is implied to be a product of inbreeding.
- Averted in Jonathan Kellerman's Alex Delaware novel When The Bow Breaks, where one of the murder victims and her brothers are described as looking Hispanic while also having naturally blond hair, and Alex speculates that they probably had Nordic ancestor somewhere in their family tree. Their mother and a friend of the family look much more stereotypically Mexican.
- Joseph Wambaugh provides two different in-universe examples:
- In The New Centurions, beat cop Sergio Duran is Latino but not brown. He is Mexican, but he is tall and fair skinned, he speaks English without an accent because he was educated in America, and his surname doesn't end in -ez, so people assume that he is a white American. Eventually he gives up correcting people.
- Detective Mario Villalobos, from another novel, is brown but not Latino. He is an American with mostly Italian ancestry, but because of his name and his dark complexion, people assume that he is Mexican and can speak fluent Spanish. He isn't, and he can't. He names his sons Erik and Kyle.
- The The Hunger Games series never explicitly states anyone's race. Many fans of the series believe that Katniss is Latina because she is described as having "olive" skin. If the family is indeed Latin, then Katniss's blonde-haired and blue-eyed sister would be an aversion. (Of course, "olive" can, in certain contexts, just as easily mean "off-white" as it does "brown"; historically, many Europeans who were not Anglo-Saxon were thought of as "dark" by the English, both because of the People of Hair Color trope and because not everyone was quite as pasty as Londoners. Scottish people, for example, were sometimes described by the English as being "dark.")
- In Scrubs, Carla is worried because Turk is placing too much emphasis on her daughter's “African heritage” and very little on her Dominican heritage. This really doesn’t make much sense since the Dominican Republic's population is mostly composed of descendants of African slaves, and Carla should have a lot of African heritage herself. This could be a case of Reality Is Unrealistic however. Black Dominicans in particular have historically downplayed their African ancestry, calling themselves trigueños (mestizos) or even "Indians".
- In the Musical Episode, Turk had a Running Gag of confusing Carla's nationality for numerous other Latino ones, including Puerto Rican, who usually have a much lighter skin tone than a Dominican.
- In the 2012 revival of Dallas, both the young female leads are played by Latin American actresses. The dark-skinned, dark-haired, dark-eyed Jordana Brewster (Brazilian) plays a Mexican character, while the lighter-skinned, brunette, green-eyed Julie Gonzalo (Argentinian) plays an Anglo character.
- Modern Family: Averted with Gloria, but played straight with Manny and his father. Even with Gloria, the actress had to dye her hair brunette for the role as she is a natural blonde.
- Cougar Town has a big aversion with Andy Torres, who is Cuban but doesn't look or sound like one. This is lampshaded in at least one episode.
- Subverted for the sake of a joke in Desperate Housewives. Gabrielle is stopped speeding by a cop and tries to play the race card with the (fair complexioned) officer... but realizes that the name on his uniform reads 'Martinez'. Otherwise the show played this trope totally straight.
- Grimm: Averted. Fair-skinned, redhead Juliette is Spanish, bonus as she is fluent in the language as well.
- Probably 1/4 Spanish, as she mentions that her grandmother was Spanish, but doesn't say anything about the rest of her family.
- For reference, the actress is 1/2 Spanish and 1/2 Scottish.
- George H.W. Bush once referred to some of his grandchildren (the children of Jeb, his second son and former Governor of Florida, and Columba Bush; Columba is Mexican-American, and she and her children look it) as his "little brown ones." Saturday Night Live spoofed this statement by having Dana Carvey, portraying Bush, call Elian Gonzalez "the little brown one." Problem is, the Gonzalez family was from Cuba, and most Cuban-Americans (as opposed to Cubans who remained in Cuba) are of unmixed Spanish descent.
- Averted in That '70s Show with the character "Fez", played by Wilmer Valderrama (of Colombian and Venezuelan ancestry) but who might or might not be Latin American at all. Languages spoken in his unnamed home country include Spanish, Dutch, English and an unspecified native language. In one episode he is visited by his "best friend from back home", Andrew Davis (Justin Long) who is paler, lighter haired and speaks with a British accent. Fez explains this as one being from the northern part of the country and the other from the south (without saying who). Common fan speculation is that Fez is from Guyana, Suriname or the Dutch Antilles.
- Averted in SVU. Rafael Barba is a Cuban man, played by light-skinned Cuban Raúl Esparza.
- Also averted in an episode of Leverage, though with a twist. In North America, Italians, along with other people from the Mediterranean, have a lot of the same expectations of "brown" as Latinos. This didn't stop con woman Tara (played by blue-eyed blonde Jeri Ryan) from successfully pulling off a con as an Italian fashion designer named Caprina.
- In Arthur, Arthur's Ecuadorian neighbors have medium-brown "skin"note .
- In X-Men: Evolution, Magma was Race Lifted into being a dark-skinned Brazilian, rather than a white Roman who lived in a secret city in Brazil (it's complicated), like in the comics. However, someone with pale skin and blue eyes (which is how Magma looks in the comics) wouldn't be out of the ordinary in Brazil anyway, since a large portion of the country is technically white.
- The episode of The Simpsons entitled "E-I-E-I-D'oh!" begins with the family going to a movie theater to see The Poke of Zorro, a take-off on The Mask of Zorro. On the screen, the actors playing the characters based on Zorro and Elena are brown-skinned, even though their real-world portrayers (Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, respectively) are both Europeans.
- Averted in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012)—Xever has a Spanish accent but is clearly black. (Well, originally.)
- Aversion: Red-headed boxer Saúl "Canelo" Álvarez is Mexican through and through.
- Louis C.K. is also half Mexican, but he is very light-skinned and has orange hair.
- Fidel Castro has a very light skin, since he's from Spaniard ancestry.
- Ditto with many Mexican presidents, especially the former president Vicente Fox, who, like Castro, has Spaniard ancestry as well.
- Gina Torres is Afro-Cuban, and very rarely plays Latino characters. In an interview, she even stated she usually plays African-Americans because Hollywood likes its Latinos to look like Italians (straight black hair, tan skin, ect.) rather than the diverse group they actually are.
- Few things show better how much this trope is off reality than Bolivia's president Evo Morales (full blooded Aymara) and his vice-president, Álvaro García (full blooded Spaniard, who nevertheless had no trouble joining an indigenist group in the 80s).
- As noted in the Modern Family example, Colombian actress Sofia Vergara is naturally blonde. She had to dye her hair brown because of Reality Is Unrealistic in order to get parts.
- Blue-eyed blonde Cameron Diaz is half Cuban.
- Alexis Bledel has a Mexican mother, Argentinian father, and considers herself Latina, but is also white and typically plays white roles. When promoting The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, America Ferrera was surprised to hear Bledel speaking Spanish. Bledel also showed off some of her Spanish-speaking on Gilmore Girls.
- A lot of the racial controversy surrounding the shooting death of Trayvon Martin was complicated by news outlets fighting over what ethnicity George Zimmerman was. Zimmerman identifies himself as Hispanic, and he has a very mixed ancestry including Afro-Peruvian and German-American family, but many early news reports just identified him as white.
- Which is Reality Is Unrealistic, as any Latino/a has dealt with first hand: the US Census Bureau considers Latinos of every ethnicity to be racially white, ethnically Hispanic/Latino, no matter what skin color. It's also the problem of Multi-Ethnic Name: Zimmerman is not the last name one generally expects of a Latino, no matter if said Latino does not identify with the ethnicity of the name.
- Count every fictional portrayal of Catherine of Aragon. Now count how many of them depict her as pale skinned, blonde haired and blue eyed. The same goes for her mother, Isabella of Castile, as Catherine was among her children the one that resembled her the most.
- Lots of East Asian Latin Americans. Alberto Fujimori, a former president of Peru, Bruce Chen, a Chinese-Panamian major league baseball player, Jorge Cham, another Chinese-Panamian engineer-cartoonist famous for Ph D Comics, and Franklin Chang-Diaz, a Chinese Costa-Rican American astronaut and scientist.
- Averted to hell and back with Argentinian actors Facundo Arana, Juan Gil Navarro and Luciano Caceres. The first 2 are natural blonds, with Facundo having blue eyes, and very tall, and the last has blue eyes.
- Brazilian models Gisele Bündchennote and Anna Hickman, Argentine models Luisana Lopilato and Valeria Mazza, Chilean models Josefina Montane and Maite Orsini, Uruguayan model Laura Prieto. All of whom look very Northern European. Of course, all these countries took in huge numbers of immigrants from Northern Europe (although there are enough Italians, Spaniards, and Greeks with Northern European features anyways.)