When someone utters the word “Latina,” what comes to mind? I started thinking about this question a lot lately. Recently, when I would meet, talk to, or go on a date with anyone and they would find out that I am in fact a Latina—of Puerto Rican descent—I would get a lot of this:
Almost everyone I meet: “You’re Puerto Rican? But you don’t look it.”
- Yes, because we all look like Jennifer Lopez.
On a date: “I’m surprised your Latina because you’re not crazy.”
- Well, no but I can be if you keep going.
At work when a Latino needs assistance: “Don’t you speak Spanish?”
- Yes, but I just asked if they needed help and they answered in English, so...
A man I was having a conversation with at a lounge bar: “Is that all you got? In my country Spanish girls are supposed to be sexy and know how to dance.”
- I forgot I am here to entertain you. Sorry for being so inconsiderate.
We have heard it all before. Latinas are sexy with hourglass figures. We all have dark long hair that falls in waves to our waist. Oh, and we all have accents and live to please our men in the kitchen, as well as in the bedroom. We will fulfill your every desire. A Latina actually taking a stand for something, or stating their opinion? Oh, she just has that Latin pride. So spicy, so fiery.
To make sure I wasn’t crazy and just assuming that this is what is thought of us I started asking friends of mine—Latino and not alike. When I asked friends that are not part of the Latino community what made a Latina desirable, I got these responses: accent, food, dance, music, look, style. And as to how Latinas act, the answer was one word: fiery. When I asked if there was anything else about Latinas that they liked—you know, like a brain or a good heart? —One said, “It’s like asking me why I think pizza tastes good?”
So from the outside looking in, Latinas are marginalized so much that we are desired like one desires food. All of our humanity becomes non-existent and we are left as objects.
When I asked my Latino friends, the responses I got were a little different: power, beauty, and sex appeal. I wasn’t 100% happy with these answers, but I did agree a little more simply by the Latina women that I grew up around.
The most important woman in my life, my mother, fit into these categories. I have always seen her as, and she has always been a powerful woman who is Queen of her domain, never bending to a man’s will. Beautiful on the outside? Absolutely. No hourglass figure or long wavy hair needed. Imagine that! However, she is beautiful on the inside for all that she has done for my sister and I, her intellect, her passion, and her drive. Ok, to be fair she does have a fiery temper, but only when you push her to that point. But isn’t that every woman when you piss her off? Exactly.
Now, I am not saying that being thought of as sexy, beautiful, desirable, or even fiery are the worst stereotypes ever. It’s only when Latinas don’t have to be is when it becomes a problem. I have curves, but I’m not an hourglass. My hair does not cascade down my back, but curls up and out into a fro. Does that mean I’m not sexy? I try to have a conversation with you when music is playing, but all you want me to do is dance for you. I am not fiery all the time, but if I get mad or passionate about something, or God forbid state my opinion, all you will see is a result of genetics. Spanish is not my first language. Am I not Latina enough for you because of it? And by the way, I am not proud because I’m Latina. I am proud to be Latina.
Another danger of these stereotypes is that we start to put them onto ourselves. Straightening out our curls. Always having outbursts because we think that’s how we should act, or we do the opposite of that, holding our tongues because we don’t want anyone to assume we are behaving this way because we are Latina. We are idolizing women like Sofia Vergara or Jennifer Lopez, the ideal Latina, only to be left feeling inadequate because we do not all look like that. But it is not what these women look like that make them amazing, it is who they are as people. We need to stop looking on the surface and see the passion, drive, and mind that put those women where they are because that is something that is attainable.
One thing that really resonated with me was when actress, Gina Rodriguez, won a Golden Globe for her starring role in television show Jane the Virgin, which shows the multi-faceted life and personality of Latinos. She exclaimed, “This award is so much more than myself. It represents a culture that wants to see themselves as heroes.”
Well, Ms. Rodriguez, I couldn’t agree with you more. Ahora es el tiempo! Now is time!