There’s a look people get when they learn that I am Latina—a narrowing of the eyes, a slow glance up and down my body, and almost every time, a purred “oh…really?” It doesn’t matter that I’m an accomplished creative. It doesn’t matter that we’re discussing politics, or culture, or science, or history, or art. The hypersexualisation is almost always instantly there.
“You’re Latina? Really? You don’t look it—you must be great in bed,” and its codicil, “Man—remind me not to piss you off!”
I don’t look the stereotype, and I’m sure you know what it is: dark skin—but not too dark. Curves. Push-up bra. Or slick hair, slicker attitude. Wild. Needing to be tamed. And always, always, up for anything sexual—especially if we initiate it.
The various stereotypes and objectification have long been around for Latinx. The suave and flirtatious Latin lover. The macho gangster. The hot and spicy, super sassy domestic worker. The heat of passion, whether it be for anger or for amor.
Suddenly, in conversation, I’ve gone from being a person to an object, an object being evaluated solely on supposed sexual prowess and proclivity.
Latinx stars dealing with stereotypes
Modern Family star Sofia Vergara—who physically fits the stereotype thanks to skin color, make-up, and wardrobe—plays a trophy wife to a rich, older, white man. Gina Torres, who has darker skin, never gets Latina roles. Lana Parrilla plays an evil queen on Once Upon A Time.
No one remembers that actress Cameron Diaz and original Wonder Woman star Lynda Carter are Latina women. Carter was born Linda Jean Córdova Carter to a Mexican mother and is of Mexican, Spanish, and French descent.
Oscar-winning actress Rita Moreno has said, “If I played a Latina, I always had to be too sexy and too easy. I hated that.” And this is just a small gloss of some of the more public, diverse, faces of Latina women.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong—in fact, there’s everything right—with Latinx women being themselves, just as every other human gets to be—sexual, non-sexual, feeling, non-feeling, happy, angry, sad, celebratory. The issue is the stereotyping—the imposition of how we’re supposed to look, how we’re supposed to act, the erasure of our histories, our gorgeously varied culture and ethnicities, and our abilities.
Not just tacos and hotness
Those of Latinx origin and/or descent can be of any ethnic and cultural mix, whether they’re from lands where native peoples were colonized in the Americas, immigrants brought in as labor (such as the various Asian cultures present also in the South Americas), the slaves (again, the New World), and the marauding Europeans.
Latinx cultures embraces and infuses people of every ethnic origin, religion, and every other “difference” you can think of, all under the umbrella of being Latinx. We are Caucasian, African, Indigenous, Asian, and Arab. But you wouldn’t know this from what gets seen (and many times read, too) in media.
Despite our vast diversity, it still seems that most people who aren’t familiar with our culture know only two things about us: tacos and “hot”.
No, not hot as in “spicy,” (though that may be there, too), but hot as in “overly emotional” (a phrase used so often to dismiss legitimate expression of grievance), and as “hypersexual.” Which is why I get those looks in a conversation.
We are international by history and circumstance. We are people, with just as myriad qualities, sorrows, and joys, as anyone else. And we are tired of this little box.
PS: My response to folks when I get those statements above are usually the following: a) thanks for showing me who you are and b) I was born in Brooklyn and raised in NYC—it’s usually a good idea to not piss us off!
Artist-musician, award-winning author, and Lambda finalist JD Glass provides powerful stories that allow the reader to rejoice and wonder, stumble and fall, then rejoice again at the amazing experience of being human. JD has just published Drawn Together with Ylva.
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