On the importance of Manny Santos and Abby Vargas

If you knew me in middle school, you would know from our conversations that I really, really liked Degrassi: The Next Generation. I realize that this is somewhat embarrassing, and that I no longer follow the series as closely as I used to, but my love of Manny Santos still stands.

This photo features a DVD cover with a young Manny Santos with a goth Ashley Kerwin held by a college-aged Justher Gutierrez

Given the fondness I show for my Asian-Americans in the Media class (the class that is a part of my in-progress honors contract), my love of this Filipina-Canadian representation should come as no surprise. I repeat, Cassie Steele played a Filipina-Canadian character. Not a character of Costa Rican descent, like Camille Cresencia-Mills as Daisy Valero in the short-lived Skins (US). Not a Hispanic-American character like Lalaine as Miranda Sanchez in Lizzie McGuire.

No, Cassie Steele played a Filipina-Canadian character. Manny had Filipino parents (accents and all), a Debut, a kitchen with Jufran ketchup… it was really exciting for me to watch, given the limited representations of APA/API youth in teen and tween television programs. Not only that, but given the amount of time she was on the show (nine years?), her character experienced so much growth – something that is hard to come by given the way in which many television shows have taken to keeping minority characters in the second-banana position, not experiencing as much growth as the main characters who tend to be white. Or if they aren’t white, they are almost never APA/API.

And now, Cassie will be gracing our television screens once again as Abby Vargas on The L.A. Complex. The show makes its US debut April 24th on The CW. I believe that Abby is a Filipina-Canadian character like Manny was. It seems to be alluded to in two instances from the first six episodes of the series. In the second episode, a man calls her “A curvy Mila Kunis meets, like, an Asian Jeanne Tripplehorn” and suggests that she could play Vanessa Anne Hudgens’ sister (and Baby V is part Filipina as well). Later on in the series, she asks her friend-but-possibly-more-than-friend if he’s going to take her to Jollibee again. Jollibee. Oh, and her boyfriend in the pilot? API dude.

In summary, thank you, thank you, thank you Epitome Pictures. I expect The L.A. Complex to be huge, and I would like to believe that the show’s success (that hip-hop and homosexuality storyline is going to create quite a buzz in the mainstream media) will also allow for more API representation in mainstream television. I look forward to the day where I don’t have to play Spot the API Character as often as I do now.

Representation with depth is important. It may seem like a small thing, especially since a fair amount of people tend to be dismissive of the impact of television shows, but representation tells viewers that they matter. Not only does The L.A. Complex present us with an interesting API character, but it also benefits from being decently written, acted, and produced – something that tends to be rare in shows with a large teen audience. That’s something worth watching.

The L.A. Complex makes its US debut April 24th on The CW at 9/8c.


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