Originally published in Medium.
After nine years living in the United States, it’s still difficult for me to call myself a “Latina.” First, I thought it was because I’m a first-generation Colombian immigrant and the demonym didn’t play any important part of my vocabulary or identity. But then I thought it was because I didn’t fit the “ideal” perception of one.
The image of the exotic, curvaceous, salsa dancer of shiny red lips was followed — ironically— by that of the immaculate, soon-to-be childbearing wife. Both stereotypes were constantly perpetuated in novelas and film, and although I wasn’t yearning or demanding a more suitable representation, it began to bother me once I got to New York.
And this is where it gets upsetting.
I understand the myopic Hollywood perspective and the effortless — not to say mediocre,— process of character development in television shows. That’s their area of expertise. But the portrayal of Latinas in U.S. Hispanic media is shameful. Mainstream media does a superb job in reinforcing stereotypes by sexualizing the Latino woman every chance it gets, from magazine covers to pageant contests. The message appears to be:“be sexy, be racy, show all you’ve got, because if you don’t, you probably won’t make it.”
But if I write about this topic is not because I care that much about media portrayals. I avoid Latino television channels as much as possible, and I advise you to do the same. (Seriously, Mun2?) But what I really want to do is to encourage female filmmakers, writers, artists, professionals, students and readers to challenge the stereotype.
To the book-enamoured, geeky bilingual, indie ecologist and free spirit soul, I can only advise to ignore peer and family pressure. Tell your abuelita you are not looking for taco-eater Prince Charming, and that you don’t expect to have kids anytime soon — probably never. Tell your parents you don’t want a cousin-filled and over-the-top quinceañera but a trip to New Zealand. Tell that blanquito flirting with you to stop babbling words in Spanish just to impress you.
Write, criticize and let the world know that you are far better educated than those pechugonas in the movies. Finally, say no to stereotypical friends — they do exist, — and surround yourself with smart and open-minded people.
You don’t need to be the “Latina” on screen, you need to be the Latina that makes the difference. Ask Sonia Sotomayor.