This Brooklyn Professor Uses ‘Selena’ & ‘Sin Nombre’ to Teach Lessons on Latinx Issues

Lead Photo: Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla
Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla
Read more

Students at Baruch College in New York City interested in Latinx cinema were in for a treat this last semester. Professor Rojo Robles offered the course “Latinx Screens” where students studied feature films, documentaries, TV episodes and music videos made by or about Latinx people.

Lessons that stemmed from these screenings included talking about issues important to the Latinx community like gender, sexuality, race, social class, immigration, urban life, access to citizenship, colonialism and representation in the media.

Although Latinx people represent 25% of all movie ticket purchases (pre-COVID-19), Robles says the mainstream media does a “consistently poor job representing us in stories” and giving Latinx talent a chance to shine in front of and behind the camera.

“This resistance is driven by corporate negligence and anxiety over racial and cultural differences,” he said in an interview with the Initiative for the Study of Latin America (ISLA) at his college. “If we do get represented, it is through stereotypical roles such as the gang member, the domestic help, or the temporary love interest of a white protagonist.”

In Robles’ class, he took a different approach and used films and TV series like Selena, Raising Victor Vargas, Sin Nombre, Gun Hill Road, Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child and When They See Us to “look at how Latinx people represents themselves in more nuanced and dignified narratives and roles.”

Robles says he enjoyed teaching the course because it shows students how to “recognize the cultural legacy” of their communities.

“I would have loved to take this course during my undergraduate and graduate years in Puerto Rico and New York,” he said. “These films make me feel pride about how my people have navigated, survived, and created in this, many times, hostile country. With this class, I’m proposing to fill a gap in the curricula. I’m looking forward to putting Latinx audiovisual works on the academic map.”

“Latinx Screens” will be offered again at Baruch College in the fall of 2021.