By June Carolyn Erlick
As I think back on our conversation, I hear myself babbling about telenovelas. First it was reminiscing about how Sandinista Nicaragua had come to a total standstill every night during La Esclava Isaura (the Slave Isaura). And then about how the telenovela Cafe con Aroma de Mujer (Co ee with the Scent of a Woman) had sparked an innovative tourist industry in Colombia’s lush co ee-growing region. And then I breathlessly charged on to talking about how I got hooked on Betty la Fea, and how even though I and a lot of my feminist friends hated the Ugly Duckling ending, went on to get hooked again on the U.S. adaptation Ugly Betty. And how just when I swore I would never watch another telenovela or a hybrid adaptation, I found myself entranced—no, I should probably say “hooked again”—with Jane the Virgin, a delightful hybrid series that both spoofs telenovelas and is one.
I felt I had been talking forever. And all this outpouring was merely in response to a casual question by my friend Michael LaRosa, who had told me that he had started a new series on Latin American topics for Routledge. The idea was to develop accessible and interesting topics that would attract beginners of Latin American Studies. Knowing that ReVista covers diverse themes, he’d asked me for suggestions. And that’s when I started to babble.
“Someone should do a book on telenovelas,” I concluded.
“You should,” he said.
“But I don’t know anything about telenovelas,” I protested. “I hardly even watch television.” He pointed out that I had just spent the last half hour or so talking about the subject.
And so, dear readers, that is the origin of the book Telenovelas in Pan-Latino Context, which will come out this fall.
For more than a year, I watched and read, read and watched, and watched some more. And I discovered that beyond Betty and the somewhat guilty pleasures of sharing characters’ loves and hates, romances and intrigues, night after night, there was a world of scholarly thinking that had devoted time and energy and countless pages to analyzing telenovelas.
As Omar Rincón explains in his First Take, the rst scholar to understand the cultural importance of telenovelas was Jesús Martín-Barbero, a Spanish intellectual based in Colombia. As I read the work of these thinkers, my own ideas began to emerge about telenovelas and identity, telenovelas and social change. My book centers on telenovelas as a source of identity and a catalyst for social change regarding race, class, gender and sexuality—and even the impact of drug trafficking.
As I nished writing, I realized that over the course of a year, the intellectuals who write about the impact of telenovelas had become as familiar to me as the telenovela characters themselves. So why not ask them to write for ReVista?
Ah, but the story does not end here, dear reader. Thinking back on my experience in researching telenovelas, I realized that that it was not only a matter of reading and watching, but also talking to people about their own experiences with telenovelas. In this issue of ReVista—and in Telenovelas in Pan-Latino Context—you will nd many vignettes of how telenovelas in uenced people’s lives, how they made (or make) up part of the daily fabric of life in Latin America and Latino USA.
And that’s when I understood that no contradiction existed between my fascination with telenovelas and my general apathy about all (well, most) things television. Telenovelas are a social and shared experience that permeate Latin American culture. Read on, dear reader. Or perhaps I should say, stay tuned.