When I saw Take the Lead the day it came out (back in 2006?), my mom was the first to point out that Ramos had Dominican flags in his room, but I didn’t believe her until we bought the DVD. There’s even a little Puerto Rican flag at the bottom which is PERFECT because while everyone likes to assume all Latinos are Mexican, we’re actually so mixed. If you meet a Latino in America who has parents from the same country, that’s abnormal. So it’s always fun to throw in different countries when writing Latino-Americans.
I don’t know if the directors/casting folk or whoever did this on purpose, but I love that an Asian actor was chosen to play someone from the Dominican Republic because the Asian population in DR is actually pretty notable. I didn’t even know that until I went to DR as a teenager, and damn I met family members from the Philippines, Vietnam and Laos. I met more Asian family members in one day than I did living in North Carolina for 8 years. America likes to pretend that it’s the only diverse country in the world, but people who say that have probably never been to more than two countries.
Now, while it would have been nice to have an actual Dominican/Puerto Rican actor play Ramos, I am so glad it was Dante Basco. Because Asian-Dominicans actually exist. The media likes for Latinos to look like Italians. We do that on our own channels too. The media ignores indigenous Latinos. The media ignores Afrolatinos. It’s damaging for anyone who doesn’t look like Cameron Diaz or Disney’s new Hispanic character, Princess Sophia.
My little sister and I like to play “Find the People of Color” in every show and movie we watch and in every magazine or book we find. In teen magazines it’s especially a low number. It’s not fair that trying to find our people has to be a treasure hunt. My mom basically jumped out of her seat when she saw these Dominican flags. There shouldn’t be so much hype just in finding someone who represents you. So America likes to brag about diversity? Why not get America’s media to be equally diverse?
But I don’t have to tell Dante how hard it is to get representation in media. He is doing a fabulous job getting Asian actors more spotlight (buy Hang Loose, everyone!). He doesn’t just ignore racial issues in American media or play really problematic stereotypical Asian roles. He wants to be a part of the solution. I respect that so much because it’s what my folk and I have been trying to do with The Hispanic Heroine. He may have a louder voice than us, but he’s still taking part in the struggle to be seen and heard.
Having Dante represent my island in Take the Lead was an honor.