How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

The year of the ethnic reality TV series

nortesur

Photo courtesy of Levi's


The cast of "Norte a Sur" at the start of their trip earlier this summer, stylin' in Alaska


It's turning out to be the year of the ethnic-group reality show. First there was MTV's "Jersey Shore," the show that introduced the world to a party-mad group of Italian-American stereotypes (though they're not all Italian) with names like The Situation and Snooki, offended the heck out of Italian-American groups, prompted advertiser boycotts, and became must-see television in the process.

The formula is being copied in Los Angeles, where a show tentatively dubbed "K-Town" - bluntly labeled by TMZ as "Like 'Jersey Shore,' But with Asians" - has been in production in recent months. TMZ, ChannelAPA and various bloggers, including Phil Yu of Angry Asian Man, have been following the show's progress. In The Daily Beast today, contributor Joyce C. Tang compares the two shows, character by obnoxious character, and speaks to a producer, who says that unlike "Jersey Shore," the idea is to break down the model-immigrant sterotype.

The story quotes Mike Le, one of the show’s producers.“We’re smart, we play the violin or piano, we’re hard workers, great at math. Our cast is like that, too, except they’re also sexy, stylish, and have swagger." The cast includes an ex-stripper and a gay porn actor, per the Daily Beast story. The show has yet to be picked up by a network.

But it doesn't end there. A much tamer Latino reality travel show, "Norte a Sur: Una Ruta, 5 Experiencias" (en inglés, North to South: One Route, Five Experiences) is set to air in September on Discovery en Español. Filming is wrapping up in Argentina, the last stop for the five cast members before they return stateside. The show is underwritten by Levi's as part of a marketing push to reach younger Latino consumers, with the mostly 1.5-generation Latino cast outfitted in Levi's garments during their trip from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego.

The cast "will wear key pieces from the Work Wear collection throughout their journey while they explore style/fashion, art/design, and musical influences in each of the cities they visit," a news release reads.

The bilingual cast members - two born in Puerto Rico, one born in Mexico, one born in Colombia, and one from Venice Beach who is of Mexican descent - are in their twenties. A spokeswoman for the show said it is being filmed in Spanish, but because some cast members speak more Spanish than others, there will be subtitled English, too.

Marketing-driven wardrobe choices aside, it does sound like a great trip: Flying along the route of the Pan-American Highway, with pit stops that have included Mexico City, San Salvador, Lima and Buenos Aires. As an ethnic-group member who has been lucky enough to travel, I'm envious.

But unlike with "Jersey Shore" or "K-Town," no wild parties here. The "Norte a Sur" cast members set out on their trip as do-gooders, tasked with participating in community service projects in each destination they hit. I say this with a smile: Cue "Al Otro Lado del Rio."

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