Sci-Fi, Comedy, and Serial TV Drama Explore the Immigrant Experience

Despite numerous studies concluding that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States, the depictions of some immigrants in the media historically have defied this reality. As recently as 2016, Latino, black, and middle eastern immigrant characters were portrayed as engaging in criminal activities at exponentially higher rates than their white counterparts, according to a study conducted by the social justice think tank Opportunity Agenda. And in addition to being frequently rendered as dangerous scofflaws, undocumented immigrant characters are often the source of comedic story lines that exploit their precarious legal status and diminish the struggles of hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants currently living and working in the U.S. [See Contrary to Trump’s Claims, Immigrants Are Less Likely to Commit Crimes, by Richard Perez-Pena, The New York Times, 26.Jan.2017.]

But in the age of Trump, the television industry seems to have realized that the stakes are now higher with regard to how immigrant stories are told and how these characters are crafted. Recently, ABC News profiled the influx of immigrant-centered shows that are scheduled to debut in the upcoming 2018 pilot season, and the offerings are refreshingly complex and diverse. Gone are outdated stereotypes of immigrants as criminals and clichéd comedic plot lines featuring an undocumented immigrant who marries a U.S. citizen to escape deportation. Instead, viewers can look forward to the CW’s reboot of the cult classic sci-fi drama Roswell, featuring a lead character who is the daughter of undocumented immigrants, or Fox’s adaptation of In the Country We Love, a memoir written by first generation American actress Diane Guerrero.

Streaming services are also delving into stories that examine the immigrant experience with a fresh perspective. Last year, Netflix premiered a reboot of the beloved 70’s sitcom One Day at a Time with a CubanAmerican family at the center of the story. While much of the sitcom is lighthearted, it also tackles current issues facing the immigrant community, including an episode in which the parents of a recurring character are deported. [See “As Politicians Feud Over Immigration, TV Writer’s Rooms Find a Teaching Moment, by Traci G. Lee, ABC News, 01.Feb.2018.]

The consensus among those in the entertainment community is that programming with a compassionate and empathetic lens into the immigrant experience is long overdue. In an interview with ABC News, Guerrero expressed hope that the adaptation of her memoir will create awareness about the specific challenges that immigrants, particularly undocumented immigrants, face in a political climate that is currently hostile towards them. “The more that we are informed about this issue and the more that we care enough to fix the problem, I think the better. I’m not just talking about people who are undocumented or people who have immigrant parents. It’s for all of us to get involved.”


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