Racialized Sexual Politics on ABC’s One Life to Live

David Fumero who plays Cristian Vega on ABC's One Life to Live


What can thebibliophile say? It is true. For years, I’ve been a watcher (for both academic and prurient reasons) of soap operas. And I’ve watched with interest as ABC has “diversified,” its casts – most notably on OLTL through the Vega family. The family originally joined the cast through the matriarch Carlotta Vega, who was very literally a housekeeper/domestic. Later ABC tried to clear this up by having Carlotta serve as a confidante. Then admittedly in the ’90s ABC made a leap – Carlotta became a business owner and her sons began to take center stage on the show. Antonio as a gang member turned cop, then detective; Cristian Vega as a talented artist.

Renee Goldsberry (as Evangeline Williamson) with costar David Fumero (as Cristian Vega)

But taking center stage involved an interesting play on sexual politics – meaning that the brothers seemed always to be linked to every kind of womyn – mentally unstable, conniving, wealthy, not so wealthy, down on their luck, or trapped in a death match to determine her maternity, but the Vega brothers never seemed to be permitted to be with womyn of color. That is until Evangeline Williamson came to town….

But the story arc with Evangeline was incredibly disappointing, as it ended abruptly with Goldsberry leaving (understandably) to pursue acting on the stage (she is a phenomenal talent).  Her character is in a coma – and what’s more the two characters never generated any real heat or believable attraction – what brought them together was about a savior complex – Evangeline saved Cristian from prison, not once but twice (or maybe even three times). The departure of the Evangeline’s character left the Vega brothers without a womyn of color to have a really romantic interest in. It was as if for 15 years, the brothers had never met a womyn of color they found attractive.

I mean literally, the Vega brothers never dated womyn of color; as if the payment for participation in the (yes I know fictional) world of Llanview could only be  (uncomfortably) accomplished by literally sleeping their way to the top. The Vega brothers seemed only to be involved with the wealthy denizens of the town, and that bought their connection and status in the diegetic world of Llanview. But from the perspective of gender, it’s both an old and new representation of gender and race – and I think could be seen as having a potential for the subversive. It is an old trope because men of color and their sexuality are featured in situations and in roles in which men of color’s ethnicity is heightened, in this case into the  old stereotypical “Latin lover,” at the same time that their imagined masculinity is enhanced by race and then used to gain purchase/status among the anchor families of Llanview.  As a result, at least in Llanview – a matrilineal diegetic world, that’s meant that men of color are very rarely if ever connected to identifiable womyn of color – and in which white womyn control the familial lines. It’s an updated trope that puts me in the mind of something more classic: I Love Lucy, which revolutionized gender roles on television, but reified many racial stereotypes.

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz

 But recently OLTL introduced a new arc: Cristian in love with his former lover’s sister, Layla.  Given the recent postings and release of data from OKCupid about race and online dating, I find the Vega romance on OLTL something to ponder about – and watch….Feiminist academics have long looked at soap operas as a site for contested (and in some cases liberating) meanings of gender, age, and racial/ethnic identity. I’m intrigued by how the writers may develop the relationship between Layla and Cristian, particularly because Cristian first realized his attraction to Layla while she was dating a police officer, Fish, who was in denial about being gay, and dating Layla though he was in love with someone else. So the relationship has the possibility and foundation to have deeper conversations and conflicts about their relationship – not least of which will in part stem from the fact that Cristian’s former lover is her sister, who is in a coma.  

 Nevertheless, the relationship has an opportunity to show the Vega brothers in a successful (and by successful I mean drama-filled) relationship with a womyn of color, that may also touch on pertinent issues of race and gender. 

Cristian and Layla, May 2009


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