From the perspective of a Latina, The Walking Dead’s spin-off, Fear the Walking Dead, feels more in touch with the current cultural and racial make-up of not only the United States, but the American continent as whole. In the debates on what it means to be “American” we too often (or nearly always) forget that America is a continent, not a country made up on only a part of that continent, and that it is a continent originally populated by the Spanish crown. Therefore, the majority of the American continent is made up of countries that were former colonies of Spain and NOT England, but also including some French and Portuguese possessions (Guyana, Brazil, etc)…so, Latin America. But focusing on the fact that the majority are former Spanish colonies and Spanish-speaking, it is for me, personally, much more engaging to watch Fear the Walking Dead than The Walking Dead. The Latin American characters are, of course, secondary protagonists and much less in number, but we also see an African American, a Maori-American, and a mixed Latin/Maori American (representing the large and growing numbers of ethnically mixed millennials).
The background given of the Latin American characters is truly compelling and mirrors one of the main reasons that we immigrate to the United States; political violence in our countries of origin. What is not mentioned is that many times this political violence is a result of United States’ intervention in our countries’ politics; toppling democratically elected leaders that are anti-United States economic interests to impose dictators that support United States economic interests to the detriment of citizens. But that’s another essay altogether. Focusing on the positives, it is heartening to see roles for Latin Americans on TV because, despite making up about 20% of the country’s population, only 1% of television characters are Latin Americans. Even worse than the lack of Latin American characters are the stereotypical portrayal seen in a variety of series. However, Fear the Walking Dead’s Latin American characters are real people with real stories and complex familial and psychological situations.
Daniel Salazar and his daughter, Ofelia Salazar, are engaging and dynamic characters with multiple dimensions. In the first season we saw the generational tension between immigrants and their children; the demand to maintain tradition and the desire to branch out on one’s own. We also saw the language barrier that exists in a single generation; at one point Ofelia reminds, but also accuses, her father that it was his decision not to teach her Spanish so she has a limited vocabulary with which to communicate with her own mother, who knows barely any English. We also see the strong familial bond play out throughout this season and the next, as well as the secrets that immigrants often keep from their children of life back in their home country. The background of what it means to be Maori for Travis Manawa and Chris Manawa is also briefly explored in an episode this season; the bond to the earth and to tradition.
Victor Strand also represents another sort of portrayal of an African American; he is intelligent, suave, and determined. He comes from a rough start in life ,but managed to make something of himself until he lost everything in an economic recession. A lucky string of events leads to him establishing a business relationship with a man from which he stole in order to begin investing again. This man, Thomas Abigail, is also his lover. So we see, on-screen, a biracial relationship between gay men. In the short amount of episodes produced thus far, this relationship has been given a depth that some developed over multiple seasons in The Walking Dead still don’t have (yes, I am referring to Michonne and Rick). Although we see people of different races throughout The Walking Dead and two of the core protagonists are minorities (Glenn and Michonne), the writers do not explore the implications of what it means to be Asian American or African American. In Fear the Walking Dead there are multiple hints of Latin American cultural signifiers; the overlap between the Catholic religion and santeria, language as a way to identify one another and set up walls, the motivations behind immigrating that are often hidden, the fear of being discovered as an illegal immigrant, etc. And just seeing a deeply loving biracial gay relationship is powerful on its own. But we also receive a hint that Victor Strand is not welcomed at Thomas Abigail’s home by everyone (whether this is due to his race or not isn’t made clear but as a Latin American it would not surprise me if this were the reason, since racism is still very deeply entrenched in out culture).
It is my hope that as the current season progresses we will continue to see multiple ethnic backgrounds explored as well as the implications of these backgrounds on the characters’ reactions to the current situation and others’ perceptions of themselves. It is interesting how on a post-apocalyptic zombie show we get to see more diversity than a family sitcom and it begs us to answer the why. We may never know, but I do recommend sitting down and watching Fear the Walking Dead.