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  • Writer's pictureJudy Lee

An Interview with Hank Olguin on Combatting Latine Stereotypes in the Media

Book cover of Who Let the Mexicans Play in the Rose Bowl

"I could have stayed in the voice business and probably been a little richer than I am today. But I just began thinking, I want to try and make a difference. I want to try and put my talents to work."


In 1959, Hank Olguin and Joe Kapp were star athletes who took their team, the California Golden Bears (Cal), to the Rose Bowl. It was rare to have players of Mexican heritage, which they both were, on the field at that time. Hence, Hank decided to title his book Who Let the Mexicans Play in the Rose Bowl: Navigating the Racial Landscape of America.


During our interview, Hank spoke briefly about his time at Cal and experiences with racism, which he explained wasn't bad, "Things weren't perfect, of course. My family and some of my friends suffered discrimination here and there but I think that Joe and I going to Cal as star athletes, we didn't." One notable experience Hank did share was how everyone Americanized the pronunciation of his surname to "Olgwin" rather than the proper Spanish version of “Olgeen,"  which he accepted and went by until the 1960s Chicano power movements inspired him to return to its proper pronunciation.


While Joe Kapp went on to become a professional football player, Hank began working in Hollywood as a voice actor, which then led to work at Pacific Artists talent agency as the voiceover director representing actors and actresses. He knew that Latines were poorly represented in movies as demeaning stereotypes, which led him to begin thinking about casting. He recalled one particular experience of one of the actors at the agency, Emilio Delgado, who eventually played the beloved character of Luis on Sesame Street,


"Before he joined Sesame Street, the roles for Emilio were really limited just simply because of his dark complexion and his Spanish surname. I remember him telling me about visiting one casting director. The guy was really very nice but at one point he looked at Emilio and said, 'I'm sorry Emilio but I know I don't get many calls for Mexicans.' And then the casting director pulled up a call sheet and said, 'For example, I got a call here for an American father.' Emilio answered that in his perfectly enunciated English by saying, 'Well, I guess being an American and a father doesn't qualify me for that one.' So it was those kinds of situations that just started getting me interested in doing something about it."


Eventually the two became friends and joined Nosotros in 1970, started by Ricardo Montalbán, also a Mexican American who starred in the show Fantasy Island, to counteract Latine stereotypes in Hollywood. After working with SER Jobs for Progress, a Department of Labor program to provide job training and support for Latine workers, Hank ended up in Hispanic advertising where he continued to make a positive difference,


"Being in communications and advertising and marketing, you're dealing with images and labels and all that sort of stuff. So I found it the perfect place to try and make a difference and hopefully I've done that. I certainly have tried to do that over the years."


Hank understood the importance of representation in film because when he was growing up, his parents regularly exposed him to Mexican cinema. Hank explained how that influenced him,


"In the 50s, it was not exactly fashionable or cool to be Mexican. I'm aware of the discrimination...you didn't have to say 'dirty,' you just said Mexican. I mean, it was bad. But every Thursday, my parents were completely bilingual, we used to go to the Victory Theater to see all the Mexican movies. So I grew up watching the great movie stars...It was wonderful. So not only did I like John Wayne, I liked Jorge Negrete."


In addition, Hank was exposed to other positive role models throughout his childhood. His mother exposed him to music from Mexico, Argentina, Afro-Cuban, etc., He also traveled to Mexico at the impressionable age of 10 for two months to spend time with his mother's wealthy family where he met prominent family members, as well as some of the movie stars he idolized.


"We're America's best kept secret and I think one of the things about Latinos, Latinas in this country is that we're so diverse that I think people have trouble knowing what we are, what we look like...we go from Black to blonde and everything in between," Hank explained.


This is why he believes sharing stories about his experiences is an important way to combat racism and discrimination. He believes that people, in general, don't intend to be harmful but just have a misunderstanding learned through harmful representation in the media.


With the publication of his book, Hank has begun public speaking to continue his work to help change attitudes. "Unfortunately, the studies are out there. The misrepresentation by Hollywood and other Latinos is dismal. We're 20% of the population and get about 2% of the roles both in front of and behind the camera...They're making some inroads but we're a long ways off."


 

Hank Olguin is a former advertising executive, award-winning author, and successful college athlete. Referred to as the 'Energizer Bunny' by his friends, Hank brings a surprising vitality to the subject of the Latino/a experience.


Having served as a creative director in Hispanic advertising for many years, his award-winning work required that he explore the brand image of Latinos/as and the impact of the entertainment and news media on the perceptions of Hispanics. For years, he has been a strong advocate for changing the negative image and public perception of Latino/as and is available to address a variety of groups on the subject.


For more information, visit his website Mexican American Stories. For public speaking engagements and more, email Hank at hank@hankolguin.com.






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