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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Science Fiction and the Latino Audience--What's Up?

-->Stereotypes of Latinos don't usually include laserguns or the walking dead--I was hard-pressed in my pais amado Paraguay to find anyone who cared about my R2-D2 hat. Yet Latino sci fi fans have remotes and bookmarks at the ready, and businesses and film industries have begun to take heed. La Ultima Muerte, a futuristic medicine thriller, just hit theaters in Mexico a few months back, and should see limited release in the US on February 10th, according to IMDB. The new independent zombie movie Juan of the Dead, set in Cuba, made a large splash at a California film festival recently, and even as far back as 2003 we saw the release of an international Latino sci fi literature anthology. Hispanicbusiness.com recently jumped on the sci fi band-spaceship and provided coverage for the University of California's newest sci fi youtube program.

What about novels? In academia, Charles Ramirez-Berg theorized even as far back in 1990 that American sci fi affects or reflects changing views of Hispanics, but Latino authors haven't paid as much attention to niche science fiction. Sci-fi publishing giant Tor recently posted a blog by Brian Slattery lamenting this lack of Latino interest; he questions if the vacuum's driven by lack of industry support, as in many Southern and Central American nations, or market disinterest.

Blogger Rudy Garcia attributes the lack of Latino sci fi to shortage of science-knowledgable Latino authors--a shortage he thinks is due to the low number of Hispanic graduates in math and science. I wonder if the publishing industry has actually given many Latino authors the marketable option of science fiction in the first place. Many publishing house submission guidelines specifically target Latino writers, but want them to market themselves and their work as Latino-interest writing. I won't point out any agents or editors in particular, but sometimes the tone in calls for submission comes across as if publishers just want Hispanics as P.R. trophies to show off their own open-mindedness. Don't get me wrong: Latino cultural stories feed an essential need in US publishing, but sometimes publishers treat Hispanics (and other minorities, for that matter) as if a Latina can only write about amor and tacos dorados.

Yet one could argue that at this point in American history a Latino adult audience dealing with migrational changes needs culture-stories much more than he or she needs explosions in space. Some sci fi fans might argue it's a shame the Latino market doesn't adapt to science fiction, but I say there's no right or wrong in what genres we enjoy. Sure, the science fiction book industry wants in on Hispanic pocketbooks--Latinos now hold $1 trillion in US buying power, according to National Journal Statistics--but maybe it's the industry, not the market, that needs to change. Maybe the often extremist sexual and moral norms in much adult science fiction turn Latinos away. Latinos divorce less frequently than whites and blacks, and the Hispanic population in California voted 61% against gay marriage--that's not the population likely to buy a quantum penis or an alien three-some. Children's movie sci fi doesn't suffer from the same thematic controversies, and maybe enjoying a more tech-charged childhood ups the appeal of sci fi to the next generation. After all, Ben 10, the popular cartoon show about a boy who turns into different aliens to save the world, rakes in millions from its international audience of Latino kids. The future market for Latino sci fi might be those 8-11-year-olds still watching Cartoon Network. Will science fiction still appeal to them as they become teens and adults? It may depend on whether or not the sci fi industry adapts to their ideals. Or it may not.

Whatever the future of the Latino science fiction market, it's good to know I'm not the only one who wears robots on my head while I fold empanadas. What's your favorite sci fi movie/book/video game? Post in the comments below.

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