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Sex, Lies & Money Tips on a Spanish-Language Soap

A scene from <i>Nuestro Barrio</i>, a new Spanish-language soap opera airing on English-language TV stations in the United States.
A scene from Nuestro Barrio, a new Spanish-language soap opera airing on English-language TV stations in the United States.

A sexy new Spanish-language mini-series recently hit the airwaves. Nuestro Barrio (Spanish for "our neighborhood") has more than just love triangles and deceit: It's an educational effort meant to teach financial literacy to first-generation immigrants

Modeled after telenovelas, or soap operas, the show is produced in Durham, N.C., and -- in another twist -- it's being shown on English-language TV stations. Producer and director Dilsey Davis doesn't speak Spanish, so her scripts are translated, and assistants help give direction to those actors who don't speak fluent English.

New loves, dark secrets and heartbreak accompany plot lines that have characters figuring out how to open a bank account, establish good credit and avoid predatory lenders. Those are the issues near and dear to Nuestro Barrio's production company -- the Community Reinvestment Association of North Carolina. Executive Director Peter Skillern says the soap is set in a sleepy southern to reflect the boom in the region's Latino population.

"What is it like to get a divorce? Buy a home?" Skillern says of some of the issues his show plans to address. "We think it's going to speak to people... more so than the colonial-set romances in Central America, which are a primary fare of telenovelas now."

The final product features beautiful people in tortured relationships. Some scenes feel a bit didactic, but romantic twists pull viewers in. English subtitles help those who don't speak Spanish follow along.

The show's marketer, Martina Guzman, says she first pitched the soap opera to Spanish-language networks. But they wanted more control, and the producers of Nuestro Barrio worried that their educational mission would be watered down. So Guzman has traveled the country, persuading program directors at English-language TV stations to add this to their lineup.

"I think it's a new time for American television," Guzman says. "At the rate the Hispanic community is growing, I think managers and program directors are sort of visionary... and they're taking a chance."

In Durham, Neal Davis at WB-Channel 22 says public service is great. But the show's also good for business.

"A lot of our advertisers have budgets set aside specifically for Hispanics," Davis says. He says adding the show to its lineup may help the station attract advertising dollars it might otherwise have missed out on, he says.

"Nuestro Barrio" is to be broadcast across the south by July; its producers hope it will be on the air in the Southwest and select Northern cities by fall.

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Jennifer Ludden helps edit energy and environment stories for NPR's National Desk, working with NPR staffers and a team of public radio reporters across the country. They track the shift to clean energy, state and federal policy moves, and how people and communities are coping with the mounting impacts of climate change.