SNL welcomes first Latina cast member

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0921 SNL latino cast member

Lauren Rathmell

After 41 years, “Saturday Night Live” will have its first Latina comedian join the show.

Melissa Villaseñor is set to join the cast for the premier of SNL’s 42nd season Oct. 1.

Viewers may remember Villaseñor from her time on season six of “America’s Got Talent,” where she showcased her impressionist skills and was a top 16 finalist. Villaseñor has worked around the country for nearly a decade, traveling and performing her comedy.

“My first reaction to hearing that Melissa Villaseñor would be joining the cast was just pure joy,” said Rachel Mason, president of Kent State’s Spanish and Latino Student Association and a senior psychology. “I read that there have only been two other Latinos featured on the show in its 42 seasons on air, so I was very pleased to hear that a Latina was finally chosen to be apart of a show that will allow and even encourage her to play diverse characters.”

Villaseñor auditioned for SNL once before in 2009 saying, in a Facebook post, that SNL was the main reason she got into comedy.

The attempt to diversify the show comes after a 2013 letter from the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, addressed to director Lorne Michaels, scolded the show for its lack of Latino representation.

In the letter, signed by the foundation’s chairmen, Felix Sanchez and Hector Sanchez, the chairmen welcomed Michaels to meet and discuss the matter. The men explained that no Latina comedian had ever been featured on the show, and cast member Fred Armisen was never presented as a Latino character.

“There appears to not be very much thought given to Latino characters in mainstream media,” Mason said. “Generally, these characters will fit into stereotypes, such as a maid or a drug dealer.

Mason said Latinos in media are restricted to a prescribed “aesthetic,” but in reality Latinos don’t have just one look.

“Latina women come in all shades of the rainbow, but often times we want to validate the lighter shade of that rainbow which begs the question, is it really progress,” said Amanda Paniagua, a graduate student of higher education and student personnel.

SNL is not the only show lacking representation. There is a deep history of colorism, the belief that lighter skin is more desirable, in the media.

A study by Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative found that out of about 11,000 speaking characters in film and on TV, only 5.8 percent were Hispanic.

“There is a long history within popular culture that excludes people of color or the tendency to cast roles that fit within stereotypes,” Paniagua said. “I value visual representation (of the Latino culture), so I’m happy that SNL has taken a step into the direction.”

Last year in an interview with The Kent Stater, Sonia Manzano, best known for her role as Maria on “Sesame Street,” spoke on her experiences as Puerto Rican child.

“I turned to television as a child,” Manzano said. “But what I was watching, I never saw myself represented.”

Manzano recalled seeing an episode of “Sesame Street” on a television in college where Susan and Gordon, an African-American couple, were going through letters of the alphabet. That was the closest thing she saw to herself being represented.

The new season of SNL airs Oct. 1 at 11:30 p.m., which coincidentally happens to be during Hispanic Heritage Month.

Lauren Rathmell is a features correspondent, contact her at [email protected]