Professors at the University of Indianapolis are required to research and serve in addition to their role of teaching students. Assistant Professor of Global Languages and Cross-Cultural Studies Ana Maria Ferreira has a different opportunity to serve. In addition to her duties at the university, Ferreira is currently consulting on writing and character creation on a children’s TV program that focuses on Latin American culture and Latino heritage.
According to Chair of the Department of Global Languages and Cross-Cultural Studies Dan Briere, getting faculty involved in the community and outside programs and activities not only helps them grow, but also gives the university publicity. He said that Ferreira had a great opportunity and that she was more than qualified for the position.
“When she [Ferreira] told me [about the opportunity] I thought, ‘Well, she’s qualified. Definitely qualified,’” Briere said. “She has degrees from Georgetown University…. Georgetown has a number of international programs. She obviously has caught that contagion to go out there and help the public understand better and to get the image of Latin American culture…so that reflects a genuine culture.”
At the end of October, Ferreira spent a long weekend in Miami, Fla. with writers, the CEOs of the production company, animators and others involved in the program to discuss the show and share her knowledge of Latin American culture with the team. One of the things that they focused on was Latino representation in the United States and in the media.
“So, they were saying that sometimes when TV shows now are thinking about diversity, they just want to have one girl and one boy, one black character, one Latino character, one Asian character and that’s it,” Ferreira said. “But they all act the same. They don’t have things that make them real Latino or real Asian. They are just racially different, but they all act the same. [For us] it’s not just to put a girl as a character, but we were going to make this girl special because she is a girl and she is Latina.”
Natalia Becerra, a former student of Ferreira’s from Colombia, is also involved in the program and recommended Ferreira for the position. Becerra currently works as the Art Director for Mundo Lanugo, a preschool entertainment company.
According to Becerra, the company’s focus is to create characters that children can relate to and connect with their Latin American culture and heritage. Becerra said she suggested Ferreira for the consulting position because of her personal and educational knowledge of Latin American culture and her continuous work with it through teaching.
“We’re really good friends and I think she’s awesome to work with,” Becerra said. “I learned a lot from her in school, so I figured that she would be a perfect fit, not just because she knows about the culture but because she’s just overall a cool person to work with.”
According to Ferreira, the creator of Little People, a writer from “Grey’s Anatomy” and Bob Peterson, who voiced Roz in Monster’s Inc., are also involved in the show.
Ferreira said that the program will be geared toward children between the ages of five and eight and will feature a cast of Latino characters from different parts of Latin America. The show will be in English, but will also feature Spanish words and important values in Latin American culture, like multigenerational homes and an emphasis on the importance of extended family.
The creators of the show are also going to feature characters from different countries in Latin America to show the diversity within the culture based on local and geographic traditions. Ferreira said that exposing children to these cultural differences is important.
“So, I think the importance of this project is bigger than the show itself,” Ferreira said. “Of course, the kids will learn…not just learn about the cultural difference and diversity but also about geography. The other characters may have names in Spanish. We are going to use a lot of words in Spanish, like grandma [will be] ‘abuela.’”
In February 2018, the program will be pitched to representatives from major networks and companies such as Netflix, Nickelodeon, Hulu and Amazon, according to Ferreira. Only a few of the people working on the program will attend, and they will have about 10-15 minutes to pitch their idea, characters and importance of their show to the executives.
If the show is selected, Ferriera’s involvement could continue, depending on how much input the network wants from the original team of writers, animators and consultants. Ferreira said that she hopes to continue to be able to work on the program because it is so different from what she does on a day to day basis.
“Normally, as a professor and as a researcher, it’s [creative work] a very lonely process,” Ferreira said. “I work on my syllabus, I work on my classes and I don’t ask anybody’s help for that. I’m by myself. With the syllabus, I prepare my class and then I teach the class and I can see if it works or not, but with the research it’s even worse because I’m always at my computer by myself and no one is going to read anything I write until I’m finished, and it could take years. Normally the creative part of my job is very lonely… So, it was very interesting to work in a very creative and collaborative environment like that.”
Ferreira said that she liked working on the TV show because it helps spread cultural awareness, which is also one of her goals as a professor. She also said that she looks forward to a project that will represent Latin American children in the United States and their culture.
“I think it’s very, very important for the kids to see their own race on the TV show, their own culture, their own values,” Ferreira said. “That will not only help the Latino kids grown in the states, but any kid who has different views or ways to see the world….the more diverse the better. I think it’s important and I would love to see—even if it’s not this show—as many shows showing that.”
Ferreira said that she hopes the show will offer an opportunity for young viewers to embrace the Latin American heritage they have, or to learn about a culture they may never have appreciated before.