Deconstructing the “Crazy” Latina Stereotype
I have chosen to address you out of a disheartening amount of frustration. I am tired. I cannot speak on behalf of my hermanas, but perhaps I can request a general dose of respect for us all. I ask that you reflect, and try to understand.
Upon first encounter, you will learn that I am a proud Latina. That I am a proud Colombiana. Because I want you to understand from where I come, and be aware and sensitive to my idiosyncrasies, I will immediately share with you this ethnic and nationalistic information, which is an integral aspect of my identity.
Frustratingly, I cannot count how many times after revealing that “yes, indeed I am Latina,” and more specifically, “I was actually born in Colombia,” I have been met with this reply: “Oh, I hear Latinas are wild,” “I hear Colombian women are crazy,” “I hear you shouldn’t make a Latina mad,” or even more dehumanizing, “caliente,” by both Spanish-speakers and non-Spanish-speakers alike, as if I am a sizzling piece of steak on a plate. These characteristics are used interchangeably to describe both the Latina and the Colombiana, which perpetuates the beliefs that Latin America is a monolithic region; and that women born in this region are representations of irrationality and promiscuity. Unsurprisingly, it is mostly men who declare this ‘axiomatic’ statement.
How was this stereotype even conceived? How is it that within the first ten minutes of meeting me, you assume I will confirm and/or prove this stereotype? Do you expect me to say “why yes, that is certainly true, I’m a crazy one” ? Would such an affirmation suddenly make me a more interesting conversation partner, more attractive, or worse, a potential one-night stand candidate? Or would agreeing with your ludicrous statement make you want to steer clear of me, and the cloud of supposed illogical drama looming over my head?
This reductive image of the Latina has been exacerbated by the media. The Latina is frequently sexualized, and found in roles with temperamental characters. Rarely do we hear of JLo and her talent; we talk of JLo and her behind. We hear of Penélope Cruz’s and Salma Hayek’s ‘sexy’ accents. Of the Latina actresses who come to mind: Eva Mendes, Jessica Alba, Zoe Saldana, and Eva Longoria, I cannot think any who has not been hyper-sexualized. In fact, I googled “famous Latinas” to name drop a few in this essay, and all the resulting links had adjectives such as “sexiest” or “hottest” in the titles. In my case, when I mention I am Colombian, people are quick to shout out Shakira or more commonly, Sofia Vergara, two incredibly talented and gorgeous women. Sofia Vergara’s voluptuous body is constantly a topic of discussion; as is her accent, which is often described as over-exaggerated so she can better fit the role of the immigrant Latina, and therefore, conform to Anglo-American conceptions. While I have never watched Modern Family, I know that Vergara’s character is prone to overreact, sometimes aggressively, such that she is not funny but rather, laughable. Further, I cannot begin to count the number of times I have scrolled through Instagram and found memes warning men of the Latina’s wrath and violent jealousy.
The adjective of “crazy” renders the Latina incapable of being loved. Because she is depicted as being “crazy” in bed, she is only good for a night of fun. Her melodramatic behavior would make her an unpleasant long-term partner. But don't we deserve to be loved, too? A happy ending is not only made plausible by the presence of a partner, as Hollywood tends to tell us. However, as my grandma once told me, the experience of being loved by someone outside of family and friends is an experience worth having, and one no one should be denied by oppressive narratives.
Why have we been reduced to nothing more than our bodies and our emotions? We have been denied our humanity, and stripped of our ability to think. We have been rendered a spectacle for the voyeur’s eye. We have been rendered a limited-time offer, fetishized commodity to be consumed for male pleasure, and viewer entertainment.
And what if we do not fit this stereotype? Are we then considered ‘not Latina enough’? Is our beauty only measured by the width of our curves? Is a belligerent reaction the only source of our strength? Some of us are so proud of our roots, we succumb to these essentializing stereotypes, because we do not want our identity to be negated. Because beauty norms are so pervasive, and because beauty has been constructed as a powerful source of feminine validation, some women are forced to work within these constraints. There are Latinas who are coerced into seduction by blades and silicon— molded into the prototypical Latina, a product of Latin-centric as much as U.S.-centric media. There are Latinas in the U.S. who feel as if they cannot be considered beautiful by any norms— not curvy enough for Latin standards, and not skinny enough for U.S. standards. While I work to dispel the notion of the wild—read sexy—Latina, I cannot blame some women for feeling as if they have to prove this notion in order to be accepted as Latinas, and as beautiful, in order to then perhaps have their unique personalities appreciated.
And I want my unique personality to be appreciated. When I speak, I want to be heard. I want my story, my ideas, my accomplishments and my goals to be listened to. I want my hermanas to be heard. I want to mean more than what you think I should mean. I want my hermanas to deconstruct your narrow, pre-conceived definition of what they are supposed to symbolize. The body that you are so quick to dehumanize does not fit into your tiny categorical box. We are not the butt of your joke, or children to be disciplined, or bodies to be exploited and policed.
We are strong. We are intelligent. We are independent. We are beautiful. We own our minds. We own our bodies. We determine our own sexuality. We decide what we should and should not feel. We decide how we should and should not behave. We decide with whom we want to be and with whom we do not want to be.
If you refuse to see me for who I really am and what I have to offer, I will no longer waste my time and breath. I urge my hermanas to do the same because above all, we deserve respect for and recognition of our humanity.
A strong, intelligent, independent, beautiful Latin