A personal obsession of mine is Freddie Prinze. Not the multihyphenate heartthrob of early-aughts cinema. I mean the other one: his father.
Freddie Prinze Sr. was a comedian and an actor who was once—for a brief moment, while he starred in one of the hottest shows in America, Chico and the Man—a household name. It was the 1970s, when there were only three national broadcast networks on television. And, week after week, Freddie Prinze—a Latino man—had a starring role on one of them, through both his sitcom turn as a Chicano mechanic in an aging white man’s auto-body shop, and his regular appearances doing stand-up or filling in for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. A man so funny and so famous, his face was plastered across major magazine covers and he was invited to perform at the White House. And then he died tragically in 1977 at age 22, and was quickly all but forgotten. Despite the success and popularity of Prinze, it would be more than 25 years before a primetime-network TV show hit the airwaves explicitly as a vehicle for a Latino star.
The George Lopez Show was a huge hit for the Mexican American comedian, a major pop in what became known as the “Latino Explosion” at the turn of this century. It was in this era that J. Lo and Ricky Martin and Marc Anthony entered the mainstream, and one of the most highly anticipated books to hit shelves—The Dirty Girls Social Club—centered on a gaggle of Latina girlfriends grappling with post-college life. It was, the media kept proclaiming, a cultural revolution for America. The beginning of a sea change for Latino representation in American culture.
Until it wasn’t.