March 5, 2012
by Theresa Delgadillo
The February 7, 2012, episode of Glee, titled “The Spanish Teacher” features Ricky Martin in a guest appearance as David Martinez, who, as a Latino teacher of Spanish, becomes a rival to Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison) for both the affections of the Glee students and a tenured spot on the teaching staff. The episode opens with Mr. Schuester recognizing that his annual rendition of “La Cucaracha” on “Taco Tuesday” has been an embarrassingly tired class lesson. Alerted by the principal that a tenured teaching spot is opening up yet facing complaints over his glaring inabilities in teaching Spanish, Mr. Schuester tries to quickly improve his chances by taking Martinez’s Spanish class in night school, and recruiting Mr. Martinez to assist him in teaching the kids Spanish through Glee Club.
The students quickly become enamored of Mr. Martinez’s language teaching skills and knowledge of Latina/o popular culture, and they demonstrate this learning in bilingual performances of Gloria Estefan’s “Si Voy A Perderte (Don’t Wanna Lose You)” and a mash-up of the Gipsy Kings “Bamboleo” and Enrique Iglesias’s “Hero.” Student Santana Lopez (Naya Rivera) calls attention to the contrast between, on the one hand, Martinez’s sophistication and savvy about Latina/o culture and language and, on the other hand, Will Schuester’s hackneyed, stereotypical representations of Latinas/os and Latina/o culture in his Spanish classroom. Santana engineers a showdown by challenging Mr. Schuester to defend his Spanish teacher honor in performance, and he accepts Santana’s challenge to produce a Glee Club number that demonstrates his competence, “coolness” and masculinity. In the Spanish teacher showdown, Santana joins Ricky Martin as Mr. Martinez in Madonna’s “La Isla Bonita,” a performance that seems to call into question the heteronormativity of the song given the sexuality of both fictional character and actual performer. Schuester does a Mariachi inflected performance of Elvis Presley’s “A Little Less Conversation” in Spanish, wearing a full matador costume. Santana’s role in this episode is interesting. Her anonymous complaint, though it eventually leads to the right spot for everyone involved, is taken by Schuester as a betrayal, and in a concurrent storyline in the episode Coach Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) also accuses Santana of betrayal on the false assumption that it was Santana who complained about Sue’s teaching. The notion of Santana as Malinche is upended, however, when both Will and Sue are shown to have been wrong about Santana. The episode thereby heightens its focus on a Latina/o student making an apt critique that hints at unspoken levels of discrimination, as it plays with notions of masculinity and norms governing gender and sexuality.
Jeremy Wetzel, who writes regularly on Glee, addressed the characterization of Schuester as incompetent, taking seriously the fictional show’s setting in Ohio: “However, such hiring practices have not been realistic in Ohio, or almost any other state, in quite some time. There is no way that Will would be hired to teach a foreign language without majoring in it in college and passing tests. The educational process in Ohio is pretty strict and he could not teach a subject he knows nothing about. As such, the entire episode is completely ridiculous.” (Jeremy Wetzel’s TV Review of Glee episode “The Spanish Teacher” on Gleekonomics web site, February 8, 2012). Wetzel overlooks the real issue in the episode, which Santana highlights when she tells Schuester: “you don’t even know enough to be embarrassed about these stereotypes that you’re perpetuating.” The issue is language but it’s also cultural competence when Latina/o students are in the classroom (or in our increasingly Latina/o future, as Mr. Martinez notes in his first lesson). Santana objects to what scholar Ana Celia Zentella calls the chiquita-fication of language. In this way “The Spanish Teacher” seems relevant to the recent ban on Ethnic Studies courses in Arizona K-12 education and the Tucson Unified School District’s banning of books by renowned Chicana/o, Latina/o and Native American authors. Could this be a pro-ethnic studies twist? Or is it about evaluations of teaching? What work is popular culture doing here?
Santana’s critique of Will Schuester is one that students in Arizona are now leveling: you don’t know our history here, our cultures, our languages, our literatures. Santana asks to be taken seriously as a Latina/o student in her school and asks that Latina/o studies be taken seriously. In the end, Schuester gets it, ceding his post to Mr. Martinez who he recognizes as the real expert (this is fictional, folks) and taking up teaching in his true passion – history (hmmm, what’s the subtext there?), while fiancée Emma Pillsbury (Jayma Mays) is awarded the tenured spot for her steady and dedicated work in health education (which Schuester previously derided as silly and gimmicky). A happy ending even for Latinas/os in this fictional Ohio school.
Theresa Delgadillo is Mujeres Talk Moderator. She is on the faculty of Ohio State University.
Between The Binaries March 5, 2012 at 9:52 PM
Brilliant! I had seen the preview for that episode but missed it when it aired. Can’t wait to catch up now ;D
Anonymous March 6, 2012 at 8:14 PM
love it! i’ll be passing it on. thanks! :-)))))
Francisca James Hernández, Ph.D.
Anonymous March 6, 2012 at 8:17 PM
FROM: Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, Associate Professor, Seattle University
Love your piece Theresa, right on in your criticism. I know that in reality high school teachers need to be credentialed in their area in which they teach, however, I have seen this type of thing happen, where someone in Social Studies is given a couple of (leftover) classes in Spanish, that is, that language classes oftentimes are put in the category of PE classes, also wrong, but yet it is done, administrators feel that anybody can teach those classes.
What was unrealistic about the episode is that if you have followed Glee all along you have seen a competent Spanish teacher in Will Schuester, and all of a sudden he does not know anything in Spanish. Also the torero outfit, is a bit much, yet I like what they have done by empowering Santana, but she also comes short in her Spanish, which is not addressed at all. Many of my Latina/o students are always complaining that people assume they speak Spanish because they are Latinas/os, which is not of course automatic, as we all know, that stereotype is perpetuated in the piece. It has it’s faults, but yet I find this type of pop culture program addressing these types of issues, and introducing these discussions to the mainstream viewer are absolutely timely. Thank you Theresa!!!!
Anonymous March 7, 2012 at 1:17 PM
FROM: Jordan Kelsey, student at OSU
Dear Dr. Gutierrez y Muhs, I agree that the episode does address these issues, but I think that it perpetuates just as many stereotypes as it seeks to discredit. In Theresa’s class we watched a documentary called The Bronze Screen. The film followed Latina/o depiction in American film from the early 20th Century on. One thing that the film discussed was the recurring patterns of Latina/o personas in film (the greaser, the Latin lover, etc…). This episode (perhaps unknowingly) contributes to that pattern in their depictions of Santana y Señor Martinez. The hypersexualized Latina/o appears throughout the film. The writers also make it a point to announce that Señor Martinez’s parents were undocumented immigrants. The way in which they do so seems very unnecessary and unrelated to any of the main concerns of the episode. It’s little things like this that perpetuate stereotypes in the episode. In class we also discussed an article by Luis C. Moll and Richard Ruiz that talked briefly about the underrepresentation of Latina/o students in comparison to faculty demographics in public school systems. Although the authors were specifically talking about school in LA County with an overwhelming Latina/o majority, this episode speaks to the issue with the (in this episode at least) incompetent depiction of Will Schuester.
Mujeres Talk Moderator March 22, 2012 at 7:59 AM
Thanks all for your comments! Gabriella, I’m glad that you noted that Will Schuester has not been portrayed as falling short in his teaching earlier in series, which adds the question of why now. I thought Santana’s singing in Spanish showed that it was not her first language but that she was bilingual, which tempered the stereotype for me a little. Jordan, I’m not sure I agree. In the episode, people are falling all over Mr. Martinez, but he isn’t acting that way, except for the performance of LMFAO song, which highlights the fact that it is a performance! I like the connection you make to Luis C. Moll’s and Richard Ruiz’s work — because the episode seems also about valuing the cultural resources of a community. Thanks all!