Watching Star Trek in Latin America

I first realized I had watched Star Trek “wrong” one night in college. I was with a group of friends when someone started a discussion about the best captain. I felt my pulse race, my hands shake, like I was about to admit something dirty.

I loved Star Trek.

And I’d never talked about it before.

“Honestly,” one boy said, “you can’t call yourself a fan if you don’t have a favorite captain.”

I did have a favorite captain. My favorite was Janeway.  “Partly because she’s determined/fierce/intense/brilliant/ruthless,” I said. “And partly because I’ve only ever seen all of Voyager.”

I laughed at my incompleteness. The boys didn’t.

“I’ve also seen a little Deep Space Nine.” I added, thinking it would help.

It didn’t help. There was an awkward silence.

Clearly, this wasn’t how you are “supposed” to enjoy the franchise, although I wasn’t sure what the “right way” was.

The conversation was dropped, the subject was changed, and I looked at my feet. I felt like I had made a mistake, like I had talked without really knowing.

Looking back now, I can see that the boys were being snooty. I’ve now watched all of Deep Space Nine and The Next Generation and still think I’m right:  Janeway is amazing.  But that night I didn’t feel authorized to argue. I’d never talked about Star Trek before. I didn’t know the rules, the community, the culture.

I grew up in Quito, Ecuador, a small country in South America. Quito has no Star Trek culture. I was the only person I knew who had watched the series.  Want to know what it’s like to watch Star Trek in Latin America? At least in Ecuador, it was pretty lonely.

——

My relationship with Star Trek was weird from the start. The first episode I saw was a rerun on TV where Captain Janeway fights against the Malon. It’s a strange episode: Voyager is stuck in a radiated stretch of space where you can’t see any stars to potentially trek. Tom Paris and Seven of Nine play “Captain Proton” in the holodeck. Neelix has panic attacks. Chakotay tries to keep the peace. And Janeway is hiding in her room, with a raging depression.

I was 14 years old. And I was hooked.

Here’s what it’s like to watch Star Trek in Latin America:

  • You will watch reruns in Spanish and in disorder. So, you will lose some longer story arcs but you will also (thankfully) not have to deal with the Kazon.
  • The only Latinx character in the main cast is also half Klingon. Still, she will strongly remind you of your cousin.
  • It will take you a few weeks to realize that the episodes are dubbed by the same Mexican voice actors as other shows and movies. So, you will now associate Tom Paris to Ross Geller, Harry Kim to Niles Crane, Seven of Nine to Galadriel, and Tuvok to Fozzie Bear.
  • Your world will never be the same. You will become obsessed. You will not share this obsession.

I watched Voyager and later Deep Space Nine on a channel called SyFy. It also showed terrifying horror movies and commercials for products sold only in Argentina. At that time, my dad traveled to the United States for work and he brought home DVDs so, eventually, Kathryn Janeway sounded like Kate Mulgrew.

Star Trek became a family tradition, a form of comfort when someone was sad or sick or sleepless. As an overexcited 14-year-old, I wanted to spread the word.

But Ecuador does not know Star Trek. There were no conventions and there seemed to be no fans. I tried to share Voyager with my B’Elanna-like cousin. Like B’Elanna, she was unimpressed. I also tried and failed to explain Star Trek to some friends at school. It’s hard to talk about the Delta Quadrant with distracted teenagers.

Once, a classmate came over to work on a group project and found my growing DVD collection. He had older brothers who lived in Buenos Aires and somehow that made him recognize the name. He mocked me incessantly. He didn’t know the series but he knew it wasn’t cool. It was too weird, to nerdy. Too foreign.  I hid the DVDs.

The mocking didn’t define my relationship with Star Trek; The indifference did. No wonder I loved a show about a lone ship lost at the other end of space.  For years, Star Trek became my secret. I started dating and my mom would ask whether I had told the guy about Star Trek. It was her way of seeing how serious the relationship was.  The answer, until very recently, was always “no.”

——

I came to the United States for college. I met snooty boys and hid my opinions. I caught up on The Next Generation. At this point I liked that Star Trek was my secret. It made the show more personal, more familiar.  But now we are living a Star Trek renaissance. There are new movies, TV-shows, podcasts, and blogs like this one. Also, more women and minorities are joining the conversation. Many a listicle now agrees that Janeway is the best.

For most of my life, I have felt like a Star Trek outsider. I’d seen all of Voyager but none of The Original Series. I knew more about the Vorta and Jem’Hadar than the Vulcans. But as the world of Star Trek expands, it makes more room for outsiders. Slowly, tentatively, I am joining the community.

So, here’s what it’s like to have watched Star Trek wrong:

  • You are less nostalgic and therefore less patient with TNG’s depiction of women.
  • You wonder why people complain about hammy acting on DS9, have they seen Q? (I love Q).
  • You are weirdly fixated on the different religions in space.
  • Doctor > Data. Photons be free!

  4 comments for “Watching Star Trek in Latin America

  1. Mark Rodriguez
    May 23, 2019 at 10:46 am

    Isabel, what a great post! I am Cuban/Puerto Rican, but I am from NYC, where I have watched Star Trek since I was 6 years old. I watched the series in order, so I found your experience fascinating! I would love to discuss with you, your feelings on Latinx characters in Star Trek. Feel free to email me or find me on FB. There are so many aspects to talk about! My wife is Brazilian & I introduced her to Star Trek & now she looks forward to the conventions. Thank you for sharing Isabel!

  2. Mayan
    May 23, 2019 at 4:52 pm

    Omg I loved this post. I grew up on tng because that was what was running in Israel when I was 13. I actually preferred Babylon 5 to ds9 and would debate on this with random geek boys back in the day. (I love ds9 nowadays).

    But I never had to come out about my love for star trek but I also didn’t tell anyone either… It was kind of my personal thing as a kid…

    Thank you for sharing this blog post, hilariously written and very endearing to my geeky heart.

    PS: I wish I could have saved you all that trauma. 🙁

  3. Susan Bowers
    May 23, 2019 at 5:06 pm

    Wow, Isabel, this hit so many buttons in my experience with Trek fandom, and I am quite a bit older than you! You are in an exciting time where “nerds” are now cool, sci-fi is “in”, and Trek particularly has survived to this new era of renaissance. Looks like you’ve finally found your tribe!

    It wasn’t until I was entering my teens when I really noticed Star Trek– my family would occasionally watch TOS (early reruns at the time) but it really got me when I started reading the Blish novelizations. My parents decided to move us to Australia for a couple of years, and so I missed a lot as it was just starting syndication there, but eventually caught up with TOS back in Canada and was hooked. Fortunately, I was able to connect with two good friends in high school, but it wasn’t “cool” to our peers, so we submerged our love, with brief surges when the first movies came out. Eventually, “real life” took over and I it would take me decades to properly reconnect. My career as a teacher took me to different countries, most of them in Latin America. Ironically, each of the iterations happened as I started a new job in another country where cable or satellite was spotty– ST TNG in Mexico, DS9 in Ecuador, Voyager in eastern Europe, Enterprise in southeast Asia. It seemed like the show and I were never to meet! Occasionally a friend or colleague might make a Trek reference, but nothing deeper. There was always an undercurrent, but never a spark, until family responsibilities kept me home and suddenly I could catch up on all of it! I threw myself into fandom and made wonderful connections (thank you, internet!). As you noted, there is a serious dearth of Trek in Latin America, and this would be something to investigate. It says a lot about your love for Trek that you were able to move past incongruous voices and watching shows out of order and still crave the fandom.

    I’ve always been interested in the effect Trek has had on other cultures. Clearly, it has been deeply embedded in our Western one on so many levels. At a small convention a few years ago, I met Denise Crosby, who talks about the impact of the show in the documentaries Trekkies, and I asked her if there would be a third doc from a more international perspective. This is what we are lacking, information about the influence in other countries. It might answer your question!

    You are not alone. Welcome to exploring your obsession!

  4. Carlos
    May 23, 2019 at 9:11 pm

    If TNG’s treatment of women upset you, you won’t like TOS at all. It gets horrible too fast and too often.

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