Many hellos in America

I know there aren’t a lot of Top Chef watchers reading here, let alone Top Chef watchers who also follow it on Television Without Pity. Call me a coward for not posting there, I suppose. Mostly, I just want to see if I’m the only person bothered by a habit that seems ubiquitous on the forum boards, which I believe has even slipped into the official Bravo blogs at points.

The contestants this year are almost all American, but one of them, Elia, grew up in Mexico. She speaks English fluently, though with a Spanish accent. Frankly, though some contestants (Mia comes to mind) work to link their cultural/ethnic/regional origins with their cooking style, Elia very rarely does so; she was trained in France and tends to show the most culinary influences from there.

However, when people talk about Elia, positively or negatively – but especially negatively – they parody her accent. One typical example: “In the first episode, she wouldn’t shut up about the “deeleecous” American cheese (aka “thees funky product that shouldn’t exeest”).” Not everyone does it, but it’s a consistent feature when people quote her, and nobody seems bothered by the habit.

It’s a bit like, oh, for example, electing the first Democratic Speaker of the House in over ten years, and rightly celebrating the fact that the highest echelons of political power are no longer closed to women, then filling your newspaper articles and photo captions with descriptions of her clothing. It’s not cute. It’s demeaning. It’s a reminder in her moment of triumph and achievement that she is still different, a curiosity, a reluctantly-admitted guest.

I’m forced to conclude, from the online silence on this subject, that I may be reading too much into the common online tendency toward caricature. Feel free to tell me so. However, it does disturb me to see the assumption that, as long as we’re not saying that a trait is bad, it’s okay to consistently paint it as other. If reality-show fans transcribed black contestants with an exaggerated, phonetically-spelled AAVE dialect, we would rightly protest; why should a Latina be treated differently?

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