'Desperate' for Latino programs.

Byline: ESTHER J. CEPEDA

The highest compliment I can pay ''Now En Espanol,'' a new documentary about the actresses who dubbed ''Desperate Housewives'' into Spanish, is that you don't have to even like the Wisteria Lane melodrama to be fascinated by the women who brought the characters to life for Spanish speakers.

Premiering April 24 on ''VOCES,'' Latino Public Broadcasting's arts and culture series on PBS, this film allows us a peek at the ups and downs of five Hispanic working actresses as they try to make it in a Hollywood culture that has very specific ideas of what Hispanics in this country are, and are not.

The five are a representative microcosm of the Hispanic population in this country. They are U.S.- and foreign-born, light-skinned and dark-skinned, blond and dark-haired, accented and flatly American in their speech as well as younger/older, single, married, childless and mothers.

Filmmaker Andrea Meller deftly illustrates what each of their stories has in common: not fitting into the neat little box that casting directors have in their minds when looking for women to fill roles.

Natasha Perez, a Venezuelan immigrant and the youngest of the artists profiled, speaks of the frustration she faces in being limited to roles as a tattooed girl gangbanger in get-tested-for-STDs public service announcements or crime dramas.

She sighs: ''Can't I play a college student?''

Marabina Jaimes, a self-proclaimed ''Mexi-Rican'' (half Mexican and half Puerto Rican) speaks pointedly about her frustration in learning that there are limits to what she is allowed to do in the entertainment industry:

''I never really realized there could be any stereotyping or racism until I started doing TV,'' Jaimes lamented, recalling the many times she's been told ''it's too bad that you look the way you do'' or to straighten her hair or change her name to something less ethnic-sounding.

But the diversity of this group's experiences yields different viewpoints, even based on similar observations.

Ivette Gonzalez, a successful actress in her native Mexico, disagreed with her group about the availability of roles. ''There are many people who complain that there aren't enough Latinos in entertainment. It's not true -- every show now has Latino actors,'' she said, as the film showed a montage of maids, gardeners and gangbangers. ''For me, having dark eyes and dark hair has helped me. And if I had blond hair, I think I'd dye it brown.''

Gabriela Lopetegui, an immigrant...

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