What Cammy Did On Her Summer Vacation: Summer of the Telenovela

We’re baaaaaaaaaack! Estamos aquí!

Among other things that have taken me from the blog this summer has been my continued efforts to re-learn what little Spanish I ever knew.  Despite having grown up in Texas, I’ve never been fluent in Spanish.  In fact, if not for the kind assistance and interminable patience of Kristy and Mary, I would not have managed the C I got in our shared Spanish class at William and Mary (the one semester I dared to take beyond the additional semester of Spanish required to fulfill my language requirement–it’s also the class that resulted in Kristy and I really meeting Mary, so even if I’d have failed, it would have been a win).

Kristy has long been telling me I should be watching telenovelas (and providing adequate guidance and support for exploration) both for entertainment and to strengthen my knowledge and understanding of the language,  and, years later, this message finally made its way through my thick skull.  I had started with an impulse purchase of Soy Tu Dueña on DVD.  Though highly edited from its original airing*, it was totally addictive.  I was beyond amused.  I’ve sampled others since, particularly those featuring the actors I became familiar with through that first novela.  The edited DVD thing was a downer, though, so when I heard that Televisa had a new comedy telenovela starting Lucero, star of Soy Tu Dueña, I thought it would be a great way to start watching a telenovela in its full run, no edits.  Sadly, you get geo-blocked from watching episodes on the Televisa website, but I was delighted to find that in July, the US Spanish language network, Univision was set to start airing the show.

Even though the Univision station in my area (literally the only Spanish language, over-air broadcaster in my state) is low power and just barely pulls in on the rabbit ears at my home, I was set to start watching in July.

It’s called Por Ella, Soy Eva. The literal translation is “For Her, I’m Eva” though apparently when translating to English someone thought it would be better to call it “Her, Me, and Eva” which is kinda stupid–I think the literal translation was A-OK, so why fuck with it, I ask?  I’ll give you my summary first:  Jaime Camil, cross dressing to clear his name and win (back) the love of his life.

The more “official” version is that womanizer Juan Carolos Caballero (the aforementioned and HIGHLY attractive Jaime Camil) is forced to live a double life as a woman, Eva, in order to clear his name from a theft he was framed for committing, and, more importantly, to win back the love of his life, Helena Moreno (played by the always- awesome Lucero–who incidentally is also a fantastic singer with some great music)–the single mother he had originally intended to dupe out of her project (to develop a particular community in the state of Guerrero into a family-and-environmentally-friendly tourism destination).  Along the way, his time in Eva’s pantyhose teaches him many valuable lessons about sexual equality and the impact of machismo on women (honestly, if sticking men in pantyhose were that effective at curing men of being macho assholes, Leggs would be worth more than Apple).

At this point we’re still early in the series (the Mexican run is estimated to be around 140 episodes*).  Not too late for you to jump into the funny if your Spanish allows.  Hulu Plus has the whole series so far (and also, all of Soy Tu Dueña–in its original, un-edited form) if you’re a member.  If not, there are some sites with summaries available to get you caught up.  And if the strength of your Spanish is worrying you, don’t let it.  You really will be amazed at how much you can follow without the benefit of understanding the language, and more amazing is how much it’s possible to pick up through viewing.  Sites like the blog Caray, Caray!! have some fabulous English language recaps of the episodes (if you read them, BE NICE and leave a thank you for the recapper…).  I have only read one of their recaps for this particular series (been too busy to read others), but I’ve read recaps in the past for series that are completed and they were highly entertaining and informative in and of themselves (SNARK!), as well as being a great way to ensure that you get the important elements even if your Spanish fails you.

And it IS funny.  I had my fears about how amusing I would find the show.  Humor can be so closely related to a culture that it just evades outsiders.  I can’t be 100% sure I’m finding the same things funny that a Mexican would, but I’m definitely amused.  There’s still a dramatic drive to the show (I’ve yelled at characters not to be stupid as much as I’ve laughed, but this is to be expected because in the end it IS a telenovela, not an episode of Sabado Gigante).  Jaime Camil, as I’ve mentioned, is hot, but he’s also great at this comedic role.  He also makes a strangely nice-looking woman (to the extent that I ‘m qualified to judge).  And Lucero continues to make me think she’s the Reba McEntire of South of the Border as she is pretty damned funny herself in the more comedic moments given to her character***.  The supporting cast is also great (another lesson I’ve learned about telenovelas is that the supporting characters and cast can be even more entertaining than the leads, though in this case it’s balanced nicely).  I’m just as invested in their outcomes as I am in watching Juan Carlos learn how the world works when you’re stuck wearing heels.  Mimi de la Rosa is awesome (“La vida es color de rosa! La vida es felicidad!  Llueven flores!  Llueven flores!“), and the whole family dynamic with the Fernando and Marsela and their kids is great (though, it’s hard not to snicker at how 80s names arrived late to Mexico:  the teenaged Contreras kids are named Jennifer and Kevin…).  And Eugenia?  I’m completely touched every time she’s on-screen.

Humor, characters and language lessons aside, it’s also kind of educational to see what it is that other countries are tackling through their media.  In this case the over-arching theme of the impact of male-dominated sexist behavior is a definite reminder that for as far as we still have to go with women’s lib up here in the States, gal’s south of the Rio Grande are fighting some of the cultural norms we ditched by the 70s.  Not to say that all of Latin America is stuck in the 50s as far as women’s rights are concerned, but their pockets of machismo are more widespread than ours.

You also get weird cultural lessons like how absurdly bad some of the product placement is in these shows (if you’re just starting, the further you go, the more blatant it gets), and just how popular spandex appears to be in Mexican fashion (I think it must be the national fiber down there).  And if you’ve got good ears, you can have fun trying to spot the differences in accent (I’m convinced–based on how bad my own Spanish is–that noticing accents is more about having an ear for musical sounds than anything….I’ve been able to note several regional differences for certain characters, even though I couldn’t actually translate what they’d said).

As a linguistic and cultural education exercise, this series is one of the most humorous and entertaining ways you could go.  If Juan Carlos can learn to understand women by wearing their shoes, I’m happy to learn to understand Mexico by watching its comedies.

*Check that:  Between the time I drafted this and my check of the Wikipedia article this morning, apparently it’s up to 150 capitulos according to the Mexican airing schedule.  ZOMG, I’ve got SO FAR TO GO! REVISED AGAIN: Now Wikipedia is showing it will run to 155…
**I am VERY pissed to find out that just about every telenovela you can find on DVD has been heavily edited.  There’s no such thing as a DVD or DVD collection of a Mexican telenovela as it aired originally. According to the primary outlet for the telenovelas produced by Televisa in Mexico, their take is that such a collection would be so expensive, no one would buy it.  To this I say BULLSHIT.  I would TOTALLY fork over for a full copy of Soy Tu Dueña and even though Por Ella Soy Eva isn’t finished yet, I already know it’s more than awesome enough to justify purchase..  If you look at the full run of US TV series that many of us have, the number of episodes from, say, the full run of Babylon 5 or Battlestar Galactica, is approximately the same as an entire telenovela, and many of us paid the $150-200 involved in those investments.
***For the record, I totally want to see a concert line up of Lucero, Reba and Claudia Jung.  Three languages, three countries, a whole lotta awesome.

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