If you’re going to use stereotypes, at least get the stereotype right.
Linguistically speaking, the accents in this awful sitcom were all wrong. The Mexican-American characters, Papi (Fernando), Cheech Marin’s character, claims to have migrated from Mexico, but he sure sounds American – specifically Chicano, from East L.A. Diana María Riva’s character, Mami (Rosa) has somewhat of an accent, so maybe she came over as a teenager. Her “m’ija”, however, comes out more as “mi hija”, which is not how Mexicans refer to their daughters. Maggie, (Claudia Bassols, from Spain), their U.S. born daughter, is supposed to be a “smart book translator”. Being fully bilingual in Spanish and English would be a testament to her parents’ tenacity, but in the U.S. educational system any foreign accent would have been erased from her English by the first grade.
As the show opens, she’s at her new husband’s house, no discernible accent at all in English. After the first commercial break, she’s at her parents’ house, speaking in full-on soft consonants and open vowels, as if being there makes her tongue revert a couple of generations. Her grandmother, Abuelita, played by Lupe Ontiveros, does not speak any English, and therefore is mute during most of the show.
Cheech Marin gets the most laughs, but his presence and demeanor seem forced. Why would actors of the stature of Cheech Marin and Lupe Ontiveros stoop to the low level of sexual jokes and sloppy writing in this show?
Maribeth and Cheech Marín at the "Chicano Visions: American Painters on the Verge,"
Smithsonian Institution, July 2002
The most offensive scene has Rob in Abuelita’s room, straightening the image of her deceased husband, causing the church candles to attack his genitals. During the ensuing confusion, he tackles the grandmother in his boxer shorts, ending up with her in a sexually suggestive position. Not content to “show, not tell,” he has to repeat (and repeat) that his genitals were burnt by the falling candles. Later he doesn’t serve his in-laws any food at his house, and gives a big gringo speech to make it all better. And Schneider’s maternal grandmother was Filipina?
As for the crazy uncle stereotype, who in the world was Eugenio Derbez playing? Is he supposed to be gay? A drug addict? Is he monocultural white America’s worst dream? “I’m your best friend.” “Lend me $7200.” “I’m staying here f-o-r-e-v-e-r.” Really? Who is this guy and what is he smoking? Maybe Cheech knows.
A clue to the dismal writing comes from the writers and producers of the show, some of SNL fame. Didn’t Rob Schneider run the script by his Mexican-American wife? He and Lewis Morton co-wrote it, and were executive producers along with Eric and Kim Tannenbaum. Adam Sandler and John Schneider produced. Short-guy jokes and sexual humor just don’t translate. Those kind of guys usually stay single, and don’t marry into tight-knit Mexican American families. What was she thinking?