When it comes to queer representation in mainstream media, there are only a handful of scripted TV series. You have your Marc St. James of “Ugly Betty,” your Grant Gustin of “Glee.” White cis male characters reintroduced over and over, with new names and haircuts, as no more than accessories to their straight best friend ― who the story is really about. Queer Latinx people are starved for an accurate representation of ourselves, and the drought needs to be addressed.
Hollywood’s problem with queer people ― frankly, queer people’s problem with queer people - is never being able to look beyond the formatted cis white gay best friend and explore the stories of queer Latinx people. They exist.
I first realized this at age 13, when I saw Antonio Banderas in 1993’s “Philadelphia” as Miguel Alvarez, a loyal, supportive romantic partner to the character played by Tom Hanks. I was attached. Like so many others, I was starved for representation of myself in a movie or scripted series. But with Miguel, queer Latinx people found ourselves in a well-rounded, three-dimensional characters who wasn’t a “Sex and the City” accessory.
We’ve also found ourselves in Luisa Alver from “Jane the Virgin” and Oscar Martinez from “The Office.” I, especially, found myself in Richie Donado from “Looking,” a character many Latinx people have become attached to because of his consciousness, relatability, and uniqueness in being an ordinary, out, queer Latino.
Though the HBO series had a short run from 2014-2015, it was easy to fall in love with Richie, a Latino club bouncer and barber. He navigates a typical life of love (with his partner Jonathan Groff), relationships, and expression. That is what makes Richie so unique: by living such an ordinary life in modern San Francisco, he’s taken radical action in showing queer Latinx people ― like myself and other viewers ― that ordinariness and familiarity are achievable, which never quite feels true for many of us. When thinking about San Francisco, you might think of a nuanced, formatted way of queer living. You’ll imagine cis, male, white gay man with his cis, male, white gay friends attending pride, enjoying walks down Castro Street, and looking confused if you ask them who Marsha P. Johnson is.
But Richie, played by Raul Castillo, is is a flirty, humble, charming stranger when we meet him. He’s someone you don’t know, but you want to know. He is fine example of the queer crisis: do I want to be him or be with him? For me, a seventeen year old when the show was airing who came out only four years prior, Richie was someone I ― and many like me ― latched onto and never wanted to let go of.
How does Richie become a central character to the viewers? How does he become so important? Why is he so important? Richie is a rarity on a network with shows historically about white stories. Contrarily, he is among the main cast, and he influences the story throughout the two seasons. Second to the plot, that influence is done in a wishful way. The Latinx viewer who doesn’t often see themselves on TV sees Richie and they want the life that he’s living: the life of an unapologetically out and queer Latinx man. You’re inspired to meet people in a way that doesn’t involve an app, you want to have a large circle of diverse and queer friends, you want to live in a big city doing what you do best, and this all seems a lot more possible since meeting Richie. His presence in the main cast is not just a fixed plot device ― like his on-and-off relationship with Groff ― he’s also a figure to us viewers. He’s a character so rarely seen that because he is seen, he’s become someone to tune in for, someone to root for, someone to write for.
Queer Latinx people have found an authentic reflection of ourselves in Richie. We see ourselves in his insecurities, in his self-doubt, in his identity and even in his slight accent. It’s with this that the character has stayed among viewers, and with this that the character is remembered long after the series closed. The more queer Latinx characters are welcomed to television, the more queer Latinx people will continue to hold onto them.