Conversation with Henry Puente: Hispanic Hollywood

By: Maddie Barsch, Dana Del Rio, Janine Hernandez, Mikayla Orozco-Pedroza

Dr. Henry Puente

First of all, we would like to thank Dr. Henry Puente for taking the time to speak with us regarding his qualitative research study on the Hispanic Hollywood. He was extremely helpful and provided us with insight that allowed us to have a better understanding of research methods and approaches.

Dr. Henry Puente is a Professor of Communications at CSUF. He has experience in the entertainment industry and specializes in researching the areas of U.S. Latinx Entertainment. We began this interview with Dr. Puente by asking him what inspired him to conduct this research. He explained how he worked for a Latino film distributor while also completing his Ph.D. He realized there was little research regarding Latino audiences and felt inspired. He decided that he could be the first to conduct this kind of research.

What question do I want to ask?

Once Dr. Henry Puente decided on conducting this study, his first step in approaching this project was creating questions to ask his interviewees and deciding what questions he wanted answers to. He explained how this was a difficult process because having questions is basically the entire basis and outline of the research. We can relate to this difficulty because likewise, we had to create questions for Dr. Puente to get our answers.

While on the topic of interviews, we asked Dr. Puente about the process of interviewing people for his research. He said that one aspect that surprised him was the fact that some people just did not want to talk about this subject. He said he was especially surprised because the questions he asked were not too personal or invasive. We think that this was very insightful information because organizing interviews plays a huge role in research. Without interviews it is hard to receive vital information that one needs for academic research. He also explained how this made his process much longer than he wanted it to be. He also introduced to us the idea of the IRB. It is a type of certification one has to have before interviewing people. He understood why the University makes this necessary after this experience. We found this interesting because we did not know about this concept beforehand.

Dr. Puente mentioned that research methods depended on the study in which was being performed. So, when asking him what method he used for this specific research, he had said he used a mix of both qualitative and quantitative studies. Quantitative studies were the easiest part since all he was looking at were numbers. The qualitative part was the hardest because of having to transcribe the information given by people. When interviewing people, it became hard at times to get the information needed from them. He had to be able to read people and navigate what was fact and what was fiction, which is only learned from experience.

With all the time and hard work he put into his research, he didn’t think it would be innovative but he more so did it because it was a topic that was never really brought into question. Being in the industry, he noticed there wasn’t much attention on latino culture, let alone films. He wanted his research to make an impact on the industry and to focus on better promotion and advertisement with latino films and to push to make more

In response to a question about the most effective research methods, Dr. Puente explained that the approach that works best depends on the study in question. He explains that much of his skill is derived from experience. 

 “People are complicated.” 

According to Puente, one of the skills he has acquired over the course of his research career is the ability to read people. When interviewing folks, you have to be able to discern whether they are saying what you want them to; “sometimes they don’t tell you enough” so you have to judge how relevant the information is. Puente goes on to explain that you can determine if a person is telling the truth by reading their body language and crosschecking it with other sources of information.

“Navigating fact and fiction is just a skill you have to learn, I think you can learn it but I don’t know if you can teach it” 

During the course of writing and publishing his research, Dr. Puente reveals he had no great ambitions. “Best case scenario, It might be helpful for people who are going to be promoting Latino culture or even reaching Latino audiences…you don’t necessarily write things because you think everyone is going to read it, you just want some people to read it.” In retrospect, he expressed hopes that it would have crossed over to the industry a little more. In spite of the fact that the work he conducted was kept under wraps, it continues to inspire young Cal State Fullerton researchers.

Navigating through the research was a process for Dr. Puente. When it came to choosing which films will be included in the research, he came up with a criterion that each film needed to be classified as a U.S. Latino film. To help with that process he used periodization. When talking about what is included and what is not included, he asked the question: “What is Hispanic Hollywood?” He determined the best way was to say when Hispanic Hollywood started and when it ended. With those determinations he also made a justification for his reasoning.

“Most of the cast had to be latino, director had to be latino, the writer latino, had to be produced in the U.S.,” said Dr. Puente.

In that short period that Hollywood was making Hispanic films, Hollywood will use English/Spanish print and advertising, as well as Hispanic language and subtitles. Knowing that fact defined Hispanic Hollywood according to Dr. Puente.

Although Dr. Puente was the first one to research Hispanic Hollywood, he did not feel overwhelmed. He felt that there was no pressure because the research simply did not exist yet.

“This research did not exist, so whether I don’t do it or do it do matter that much, so I just kind of saw it as something of tiny little contributions of knowledge and not as something more than that,” said Dr. Puente.

After a year and a half worth of work Dr. Puente’s discipline helped him finish his research on “Marketing and Distribution lessons from Hispanic Hollywood.” and is available to read online.

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