Fans of the popular comedy sketch show “Saturday Night Live” are in for a treat. The show announced the addition of three new cast members on Sept. 12, about a month after the departure of cast favorites Jay Pharaoh and Taran Killam. While all three comedians are highly commended, Melissa Villaseñor’s arrival to “SNL” is a huge win for the Latino community. The 28-year-old comedian from Whittier, California had already had her fair share of success before becoming “SNL’s” first Latina cast member. She maintains a popular YouTube comedy channel that has amassed over five million views and over 50,000 subscribers, was a finalist on “America’s Got Talent”—where she showed off her hilarious voice impressions—and has worked on popular cartoons such as “Adventure Time,” “Family Guy” and “Trip Tank.” Not only is Villaseñor well known online and on television, but she has performed at over 100 clubs and colleges around the country.
Villaseñor began practicing her talent for voice and singing impressions at a young age, showing off her best Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Shakira impersonations at her high school talent show. Realizing that making others laugh could be her passion in life, a feeling of purpose overwhelmed Villaseñor with happiness and inspired her to work hard and to achieve her aspirations.
Landing a spot on “SNL” has been a lifelong goal for Villaseñor—she started auditioning at age 21, sending in tapes every summer in an effort to get a response. The strength and patience she had while applying year after year comes from Villaseñor’s true love for her work. Each of her impressions holds a personal connection to the comedienne, and she has grown with each character.
Although the past seven years have been difficult—she fell short of winning “America’s Got Talent” in 2011 and suffered some setbacks in her stand-up career—her spirituality and persistence helped Villaseñor reach the highest point of her career so far. Perhaps what Villaseñor did not realize is that her success is shared with the entire United States Latino population.
While we have undoubtedly seen an increase in diversity in the media, a huge gap in Latino and Latina lead roles remains. Although there are around 55 million Latinos in the U.S., only about four percent of TV directors are Latino, one percent of TV producers are Latino and two percent of TV writers are Latino.
Not only is there a severe lack of representation, but the widespread stereotypes of Latino characters bears a great disadvantage to many Latinos. Due to these disappointing statistics and unrealistic depictions, Villaseñor’s role in “SNL” means much more to the Latino community. A Latina woman in such a widely celebrated show helps with visibility of the Latino culture in America, as well as increases diversity in the media.
As the media continues to diversify, typecasts of different minorities are starting to decrease and opportunities are arising for members of minority groups. Villaseñor’s role in “SNL” is not only an inspiration to the Latino community, but it will have a positive impact on removing cultural stigmas in the creative industry, breaking the stereotypes one step at a time.