In a few very tangible ways, Latinas have it rougher than other folks. Not only do we often find ourselves in an ethnic/cultural/linguistic/racial minority, cuing others to pile on stereotypical expectations, but we're also female. Often we might be the only woman in the room, and so we also bear the brunt of an entirely new set of stereotypical expectations.
And one of the most well-known and perpetuated stereotypes is that of the spicy Latina, which makes it, in effect, impossible for a Latina to express anger in our society. If she does, her anger is not an emotional problem, but rather a genetic one. Latinas can't help but be angry - it's in our DNA, right? This stereotype strips away any sense of human individuality and replaces it with something less human, and easier to manage. When the gesticulating and raised voice and bright colors and verbal sprints into Spanish surface (in any incarnation), folks no longer have to preoccupy themselves with addressing your actual concerns, but simply have to "handle" you until your "condition" passes.
It ends up working out for everyone - unless you happen to be Latina.
We end up being the victims of the kind of exoticism that assigns fiery traits to an entire group of women, regardless of individual or personal characteristics. Whether or not there are shy and calm Latinas in the world, we are all viewed as ticking time bombs. I do speak Spanish and I do like bright colors, but that doesn't make me a sex kitten. That doesn't mean that, at any moment, I'll become a Salma Hayek, Sofia Vergara, Carmen Miranda: the sultry, seductive, sex-crazed, quick-to-anger woman who, as we see in the movies, is easily placated with money or sex. But thanks to these stereotypes we buy into, anytime I move my hand, I'm "doing it." If I emphasize my words, I'm raising my voice. If I say anything in Spanish, I'm talking about you.
Why is it "okay" for men to be angry, or blow off steam, but when women do it - especially Latinas - somehow, it's just not acceptable? Racism and sexism only go so far as to explain away these stereotypes, what's really at issue is how we buy into them as a culture. The spicy Latina stereotype is attractive in its stereotyping, it's sexy and cute, and so it's an easy purchase. The truth is, though, Latinas are not slaves to their anger, anymore than men or other women.
In real life, there are no quirky one-liners that leave everyone content within 23 minutes; these stereotypes have real consequences. It's never as cut-and-dry as when we see the stereotypical process play out with the ridiculous-yet-lovable Sofia Vergara on TV: stimulus, overblown emotional response, earnest and slightly condescending placation, happy resolution.
Instead, real women - like yours truly - end up having to continue to bear uncomfortable working conditions, uncooperative co-workers, being passed over for promotions, being ignored when they have good ideas or generally being treated like a thing, not a person. It's like being invisible. When you feel like you have something of value to say, and instead of being taken seriously, are dismissed as someone who doesn't know themselves well enough to have feelings in the first place, you begin to question yourself.
Am I overreacting? Was it such a big deal? Maybe he's right and I am getting too emotional. Was my voice that loud? Am I really embarrassing my "race?" Do I have a problem with anger?
It seems like the easier it is for others to "deal" with Latinas via their stereotypes, the harder it becomes to simply be a Latina in the first place. You begin to wonder whether it's worth it to stand up for yourself if you're going to get a lecture on bringing it down a notch every single time. When everyone around you is telling you that you need to take a chill pill, it seems incredible that it's not just you. The weight of your own self-doubt can become very heavy on your chest, and you wonder if you are embarrassing just yourself, or also your family, your culture and anyone who's ever been mistaken for a Latino at any given time. Isn't that a lot of pressure for one gal to take on?
Sara Inés Calderón is a journalist and the editor of NewsTaco.
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