Queering Ugly Betty’s nephew

Curator's Note

Justin, the young nephew of Betty Suarez, is on the subway with his parents on their way to a Broadway musical. Justin is anxious; the subway is running late; he is certain that they will miss the curtain. He is anxious because his father, absent for most of Justin’s life, is there with him and his mother, and he doesn’t want his father to miss anything. As the train stops in between stations, Justin realizes they will miss the first act and he decides to perform for his father, to allow his father to follow the story.

Justin can sing and dance. Justin has created his own Christmas ornaments, baked gingerbread cookies, commented on his mother clothes and attentively followed the fashion world… But Justin is still a boy, a pre-teen, and not yet a man.

He is a Hispanic boy living with an illegal immigrant grandfather, a loud, mamacita-like mother, an “ugly” aunt, and an absent drug dealer macho father. Justin operates in a liminal space where he sometimes functions as the comic relief, the exotic emasculated other, the JJ Walker of Ugly Betty, the popular ABC network dramedy adaptation of the popular Colombian soap opera Betty, La Fea.

However, as Justin danced and sang in the subway he was queered. As he described the othering in Hairspray, he was called fairy by an older surly Hispanic man. His mother jumps to his defense. But Santos, his father, confronts the name caller. Santos queers his son, accepts him and reconfigures the sacredness of the Mexican-American family. But it was Justin, through his embodiment of the othered in Hairspray, who framed himself for his father’s gaze.

Santos’ reservations towards his son’s behavior dissipated with the realization that his child was the other; not only as a Latino boy who couldn’t play ball, but as a boy who is queer.

In queering Justin, Ugly Betty establishes his character as an other, but one that fits into the Latino family, unlike his predecessor Rickie Vasquez in My So Called Life in the mid 1990s who was rejected by his Latino family because he was queer.

Comments

Mary Beltran's picture

Great food for thought;

Great food for thought; thanks for raising this topic. I definitely agree with your point that Justin is embraced as a part of the Latino family in a way that Rickie Vasquez clearly was not on My So Called Life, a big step with respect to television representation. I find it interesting also that Justin’s acceptance in the family is all the more poignant because Santos was initially written as limited by his need to behave in emotionally detached and stereotypically macho ways. His growing acceptance of Justin marks his recuperation in a number of respects.

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