My wife and a large portion of the population of Puerto Rico are fans of telenovelas, the Latin equivalent of soap operas. At one time, they were produced locally. One in particular, “Cristina Bazán,” nearly brought the island to a halt during the hour it was broadcast every weekday in 1978.
Local production eventually waned and novelas made in Mexico, Venezuela and Colombia replaced them. They were not much different than the soaps that preceded them or from those that dominated daytime television on the mainland: love, sex, avarice, jealousy, intrigue, fame and fortune, unhappiness and joy — the rocky romance of life.
They shared a similar culture and language. Spanish, as spoken in the Americas, is understandable by all. You can easily distinguish a Cuban from a Mexican by their accents, but the differences are not really much greater than, say, between English spoken in New York and Alabama.
The settings were somewhat exotic (think Chicago versus Miami), but the essentials of daily life are easily transferrable or at least recognizable. A jilted lover or a homicidal boyfriend in one Hispanic country acts and reacts about the same as in another.
I am not sure why, but these serial sagas have also begun to disappear. They have been replaced by soaps that were made in Turkey, translated and dubbed into Spanish. They have thousands of followers in Puerto Rico — including the one I am married to.
Turkey? They are dubbed in Spanish so the language is not an issue. The settings are certainly exotic — Istanbul is not Caracas. But then Lima isn’t Havana.
Language and setting are only a small part of culture. Aren’t the situations different? Doesn’t a Muslim paterfamilias (or materfamilias) interact differently than, say a Roman Catholic machista? Isn’t love, sex, avarice, jealousy, intrigue, fame and fortune, unhappiness and joy — the rocky romance of life — different in a country halfway across the world, one that straddles Europe and Asia?
“Nope,” my wife answered when I asked her. “No difference whatsoever.”
“Ninguna,” she said. “Now don’t interrupt me again. Mustafa is about to propose to Fatima.”
During the next commercial, I persisted. “Is there really nothing different, nothing at all?”
She thought about this for a moment. “Many of the novelas are based on true stories. That’s different. They drink a lot of tea in small glasses, not coffee. Oh, and they say ‘Ay, Alláh,’ a lot, instead of ‘Ay, Diós.” Now go back to your writing.”
What an amazing lesson is being learned through a popular soap opera that happens to be Turkish! Muslims — at least in Turkey — look, feel, act, suffer and interact just like us! Astounding!
If only more people (including certain Republicans in the north) could tune in! What a better world this might be.