|WARNING: The article below contains a couple of major spoilers, but nothing that has not aired on Star Trek: Discovery or After Trek.|
The death of Dr. Culber at the hands of Ash Tyler/Voq shocked Discovery fans. For those fans who saw themselves in the character, who is played by a gay Latino man and who represents one half of Star Trek’s first canonically gay couple, the loss was felt even deeper. Immediately after the show aired, however, the showrunners were quick to explain on After Trek that Culber isn’t “100% dead” and that we will be seeing him again soon.
With Culber’s return, another Star Trek first?
With Culber’s impending return, Discovery writers have a chance to deliver yet another first for diversity in Star Trek through this character: they could make him Latino. Although Culber is played by Wilson Cruz, who is Puerto Rican, his heritage has never been established on screen. With a couple lines of dialogue, Hugh Culber could become the first major Star Trek character to be explicitly Latino, according to the rules of canon. I mean, really, after 700-plus hours of Star Trek, can we get a hermano (or hermana) to boldly go, please? There’s never been a better time.
Cruz is no stranger to the role he plays as an LGBT Latino on television. As he told TrekMovie in an interview this August:
“I think it’s a powerful message to send that in the future we will have same sex couples and little brown people in space who are doctors and scientists discovering the universe.”
Latino characters have boldly gone in Trek before… just barely
Star Trek has flirted with Latino actors and characters, before, but their on-screen heritage is muddy at best.
Star Trek Voyager’s Chief Engineer B’Elanna Torres, for instance, played by Latina actress Roxann Dawson, has a name that calls out Latina ancestry, but to the best that I could find, it was never addressed on Voyager. In the episode “Lineage,” for instance, we see flashbacks to a camping trip with B’Elanna’s father, but the discussion of her cultural background is limited to her father’s conflict with her Klingon mother.
Canonically then, Torres’ human heritage is a gray area — and she’s the closest Star Trek has come in seven TV series (counting the cartoon) to having a major Latino character, who is also played by a Latino actor. Notably, Trek has had a number of minor characters with presumably Latino roots, including Captain Erika Hernandez on Enterprise or Enrique Muniz on Deep Space Nine.
No better time to show a brighter future for Puerto Rico
Following Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico itself is facing the aftermath of its worst natural disaster in modern history. Latinos of all backgrounds are hungry for for their culture to be accepted into mainstream America’s, particularly during a time when our nation is so divided. The nation’s climate now is rife with parallels to the civil rights movement era, when the presence of characters like Uhura, Chekov, and Sulu on the bridge made a statement.
Cruz himself said he wants his character’s Puerto Rican heritage to become canon. In a recent Twitter exchange, I asked CBS, “is Wilson Cruz’s Dr. Hugh Culber canonically Puerto Rican in #StarTrekDiscovery?”
“He is as far as I’m concerned!” Cruz tweeted back.
(Admittedly, if you read the Twitter exchange, I gushed a bit after that. Hey, I was having a fan moment, and my extended family’s Puerto Rico homes had just been leveled. Cut me some slack, here?)
He is as far as I’m concerned!
— Wilson Cruz (@wcruz73) October 10, 2017
Will Discovery Make Culber Latino?
Star Trek has come close to canonizing Latinos in the final frontier, but Discovery has the chance to really cross that line.
To move a step forward past what Star Trek has already done, Discovery would need to acknowledge in the show that Culber is Latino. It needn’t be much — a signature dish he cooks for Lt. Stamets, passed on from Culber’s abuela, or a family story told in an endearing moment, would do the trick. (Just please, no mystical craziness like Chakotay’s spirit journeys, please?)
Fans of TOS may remember Ensign Pavel Chehov’s repeated Russian tall tales, an easy way to canonize heritage through dialogue. Captain Sisko’s ties to Louisiana took a step past that, and he even called out the legacy of American discrimination when invited to Vic’s Las Vegas nightclub in Quark’s holosuite.
And hey, now that Discovery has been renewed for a second season and with Culber’s imminent return to the show, there is plenty of breathing room to #MakeCulberLatino.
At the end of our Twitter exchange over whether his character would in fact be canonically Puerto Rican, Cruz tweeted to me, ¡Hecha le pa’lante! It’s slang that means, roughly, to “go forward.” Bringing Latinos into the 23rd Century would do exactly that.
Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez is an Irish, Italian, and Puerto Rican political journalist living in San Francisco, CA, in a neighborhood directly 2.3 miles south of the future site of Starfleet Headquarters.