I’m not your “mamacita” or how to break 5 Latina stereotypes
A man approaches me: “What’s your name?, “where do you come from?”, “do you speak Spanish?” So, he launches a few words in Spanish by adding “mami” and “mamacita.” Let’s be honest, a man rarely asks me these questions because of his interest in my culture and to really get to know me.
In our way of perceiving people from an ethnic group, we tend to put them into a box. Indeed, we generalize how they act and what they look like. Some stereotypes may seem flattering or funny when you do not live them, but I do.
“A Latina who dances well! It’s in your blood!”
It’s true that I LOVE to dance and that I have a sense of rhythm. In fact, it is what embarrasses me the least. I feel free and connected with my body. I do not need a moment or a specific place. Moreover, I’m not limited to Despacito or other reggaeton songs. I grew up listening to as much Latin music as other genres. I like dancing to electro, house, afrobeat, dancehall, pop, and so many other styles, including classical music.
Despite this, I never learned to dance salsa and merengue. My choice is personal. I do not want to learn dance steps or a method. It never interested me, even though I was called “not a true Latina” many times. Even worse, I do not like dancing with a partner. Never mind!
“You must know how to cook well!”
There is apparently always food to eat at home. I do not like people expecting me to cook because I’m a woman (and Latin). For me, cooking for someone is something special, just as holding hands is for others.
It is, also, because cooking reminds me of my ancestors. I grew up eating Latin American foods like beans, avocados, potatoes, and corn. They are still an integral part of my diet even though I eat simple meals. Forget about meat and cheese. I am vegan! Oops, I disappointed more than one!
“But Latinx drink a lot of alcohol!”
I drink zero alcohol. No beer, no wine, no cocktails, no tequila, no rum. It’s still funny because I am often asked if I was drunk or if I had taken any substance when I’m dancing. I can dance like a top, alone or in front of a crowd of people, without a drop of alcohol and without complexes.
“Apart from your looks, you have nothing of a Latina.”
I know that physically I correspond to what is expected of a Latin woman: a tanned complexion, long wavy hair, big breasts, a voluptuous silhouette and everything else… Growing up, I confess to being glad that my body grew like that. I felt sexy because of my “exotic” appearance until I realized that it did not say anything about my personality.
It must also be known that Latin America has a multitude of countries and ethnic groups that are not at all homogeneous. When you look at telenovelas and variety shows, almost all women are tall, have a fair complexion, and long dyed hair. I wanted to keep my appearance as natural as possible to stay true to myself and to value the physical traits of my native ancestors.
“Talk to me Spanish, it turns me on.”
The highly sexualized “hot and spicy” vision of Latin women is a model we know well, as it’s the one we see on television and in music videos. Child and teenager, I saw women with their breasts and buttocks accentuated by low-cut and tight-fitting clothes.
A Latina is expected to be sexy (and be good in bed). I feel good with my body shape and I like to wear little shorts and show cleavage, no matter what the bad language says about my breasts. Am I encouraging this stereotype? I had to question myself…
To tell the truth, I feel that my culture and my body are fetishized. I’ve known guys who dated only Latinas because of that. I dated one who even asked me to speak Spanish during sex. No, I will not do it. I want to be myself without being expected to say or do anything. Being interested in me, foremost, because I’m Latina does not make me feel special at all.
“You are not a real Latina.”
All these comments are summarized in this one. I don’t meet those expectations, nor many others. This comment has been said to me so often for all kinds of reasons that I wondered if I had my place in the Latin community, no matter what city or country.
I realized that these stereotypes are damaging psychologically and socially. Way beyond dating, there was a time when it made me feel like I did not have a relationship with my own culture, but not anymore.
My parents are both Nicaraguan, and I grew up in Montreal in a very multicultural environment. With my social and cultural background, I can not have an identity defined by white and straight lines. There are women who will exactly match what some men are looking for in a Latina and some not.
I look like my parents and my ancestors. My Latin American environment has, of course, shaped the person I am today. However, I do not have to adhere to a stereotype, or to prove that I am not. Every day, I learn a bit more about Latinx people’s history. I hope to celebrate my legacy in a realistic and respectful way.
Do you like the creations by Jen Zeano Designs that I wore in this photo shoot? JZD is a Texas-based company whose mission is to showcase and encourage Latin American women. Discover their collection here.