Thursday, April 15, 2010

Good bye Ugly Betty

It's been 4 years since we first heard and began watching the weekly escapades of Betty, the "ugly" assistant to a high fashion magazine, played by America Ferrera.

It's hard for me to put into words what this show means to me. I kind of see America and Betty as synonymous. First, America starred in Real Woman Have Curves (a movie that spoke to me on multiple levels), then she continued on a road of independent and commercial success (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Under the Same Moon.) So it is hard to disassociate her from my love for Betty Suarez.

You see, growing up a Mexican-American girl a white suburb of Portland, Oregon wasn't necessarily hard but it also wasn't that great. I was the only Mexican/Latina girl around for years. Everywhere I turned, no one looked at me. To an extent, I didn't even look like my own mother, who's light skin and dark hair set her a apart from other dark skinned Mexicans. To further put the space between us, my brother told me I was picked up from the garbage, so that didn't really help my sense of feeling a part from everyone.

Now, I do know what its like to be in the majority, rather that the minority and that feels weird too. I lived in Mexico for 2 years when I was younger. Everyone around me looked like me...but I was American and it was almost like they could sniff it out. Something about the way I walked, talked, carried myself, was different from those Mexicans.

Finally back in the states, it was more of the same for me. There was no one on tv, at my school, in movies or even in history books, that I could identify with. No one looked like me, and I think people really underestimate the power that can have on a child. I think this is why I love history so much. It's a constant investigation on looking for myself.

When I went to college, I finally began to meet more Latinos who came from a variety of backgrounds. Those who were recent immigrants, first-generation, or sixth generation and in all honesty, the ones I could identify the most with was with the first generation: our parents spoke Spanish, we were bilingual, we tread the waters between our two cultures with a heavy heart. We don't want to make one feel less...

So years after middle school, high school and even college (a few years that is) comes Betty, this Mexican-American pretty, but dorky, fashion senseless, smart, confident and hard working gal on the television screen. I was blown away. I finally saw myself. I kept thinking "how can I look up to a gal that is 3 years younger than me?" but I did. I looked up to Betty as I look up to America.

The story had multiple layers to it: young woman making it her professional career, Latina woman, ugly duckling, immigration, etc.. but for me, what really struck me was that a family that finally looked like me, was made to seem normal. A family that had their oldest daughter still living at home, was normal. Sitting around the family table chatting and eating, normal. Being so close to your family, normal. All of this was always seen as a joke in other shows, something to be made fun of, but the truth is, this was very much how we grew up. My brother had to move back in and live with us after his divorce. Numerous time my other brother and I moved back in with my parents after college or lay offs...Normal, regular, fit in was all I ever wanted. I guess I just wanted to feel part of this country that I love so much. And that's a bit of what Ugly Betty did for me.

But now its time to move on. I've had her Bettyisms buzzing in my head for four years now. I've had examples of her confidence, and vulnerability taking her to places she wants and deserves to go. Now its my turn. Now its my turn to find my inner Ugly Betty and figure out what life has set out for me.

And for all of this: the "ugliness", the laughter, the vulnerability, the doubts, the love, the warmth-I thank you Ugly Betty, I thank you for making me feel like I belong.