Growing up, I always considered myself Latina. The word itself seemed almost natural to me, and I couldn’t help but feel pride when I told people I was Nicaraguan. My mother passed her Central American blood onto me, and with it, came generations of culture that I identify with today. The smell of my grandmothers gallo pinto, helping my family flatten the tortillas to eat with cuajada, or even attending Purisima celebrations in December where kids like me were showered in gifts and food.
My culture, a large part of who I am, is something that no-one can take away from me. Unless someone hijacks my own DNA, I’m still in touch with my identity. Although I carry this pride with me, I’m still a fair-skinned girl with a less-than-curvy body. Along with green eyes, light brown hair, and facial features that reveal the Spanish and French origins running through my Nicaraguan blood, many people have taken the liberty to question my identity.
“But… You don’t even look Nicaraguan.”
Comments such as these are almost perplexing to hear, considering Latinx individuals don’t conform to a “carbon-cut” copy that everyone adheres to. Even in Central America, there is a large melting pot of individuals inside the seven countries the continent runs through. According to the World Population Review, Central American contains high populations of Spanish, Mayan, and Indigenous populations. There are millions of individuals in Latin America with African, Spanish, indigenous, and even Portuguese origins. I’ve grown up in Miami, a city where you find diversity on every street corner, so naturally, I see this as a normal. However, some individuals continue to sit in their own ignorance.
So when I’m told I don’t look Latina, I can only respond with a simple question: what does a Latina look like to you? Do they have the voluptuous, smooth curvature that guides their hips like a wave? The kind that moves from every angle during any song with a Latin beat. Possibly, this imagined woman has tan skin. The honey-sweet, brown one that glistens in any sunset. What about their body? From most stereotypes, every Latina is ‘gifted’ with their set of large breasts and butt, but is any of it an accurate depiction of a Latina? Not quite.
I like to think of the Latino population as a melting pot of different races, ethnicities, and even backgrounds. Each one just as different than the rest. The same could be said about demographics within the U.S– there isn’t a set archetype of what an American should look like. We all have different backgrounds, accents, and regional differences that make our country complex, yet we somehow identify under a single country built on diversity.
Understanding this simply, yet easily ignored concept is detrimental for any Latina that don’t fall under these glorified standards.
The “Perfect” Latina
When you think of a Latina, what comes to mind? —
Did you think of celebrities such as JLo or Shakira? Maybe even Gloria Estefan, if your mind can take you through past decades.
What color is their skin?
How big are their hips?
How well can they dance?
What is their hair like?
Most likely, you have an automatic visualization of what this means to you. It happens to all us because, at the end of the day, it’s basic psychology. However, our ingrained perception of what Latinos look like in modern society also affects how we feel about these individuals, and holding onto these stereotypes can lead to judging other individuals that don’t fit this mold.
Seeing Latinas through a single lens can lead to a sense of ‘tunnel vision’ towards women that don’t meet your expectations. Essentially, it’s the same ignorance behind: Oh, you can’t be from [insert culture]. You look nothing like them. Hearing those constant, annoying phrases, each one said differently but with equal sentiments, can create self-esteem issues for the individual.
Suddenly, the person you insulted for not sounding like a native citizen of her country doesn’t want to embrace her own language out of fear that she’ll be ridiculed. She isn’t the “ideal” Latina.
But does she embrace her culture?
Does she wave her country’s flag with pride?
What constitutes an authentic Latino?
We should be allowing women to explore the cultures they come from, and not judge them for not appearing ‘authentic’.
Am I Latina Enough?
I still remember the time in my life when I felt that I needed a spray tan. (Spoiler Alert: never got one.) However, I can’t say it wasn’t on my mind. Most of the women that are portrayed as Latina in both the media and my everyday life looked nothing like me- let alone looked like a girl with Central American blood. I was raised to be proud of my blood, but my sensitive, thin-skin is no match for their foreign judgement.
However, let me set the record straight, I didn’t feel the need to get a spray tan because I was insecure about my complexion. Throughout the years, being scrutinized for not looking like an authentic “Latina” became a side effect of my Hispanic heritage and complexion. I was proud of my blood, however, at some point, I wanted to assimilate to what society told me what an ‘authentic’ Latina looked like. It’s hard to be told that I’m not really from ‘there’. As a result, I refrained from talking to people about my heritage. Stopped wearing my Nicaraguan flag pin on my shirt to school. Told myself I wasn’t Hispanic. I locked myself inside “You’re not good enough” trap that made me insecure of my background. Even when I felt excited to tell people of my heritage, I couldn’t help but feel like a liar. More importantly, instead of my placing my identity right next to my heart where everyone could see, I began to hide it.
I’m not writing this article because I’m a fair-skinned Hispanic woman. Instead, I want to help readers understand how many young, Latina women are often judged or even excluded from the Hispanic community based on their features, accent, culture, etc. This ‘criteria’ can even be harmful to other nationalities, such as Afro-Latina’s.
One situation that explains this issue best is a viral video featuring Afro-Latina singer Amara La Negra on Love and Hip-Hop: Miami. Amara is always known for being proud of her roots, but in a particular episode, one man questioned her identity as both black and hispanic, with his argument stating that these two identities cannot mix. If you’d like to see the whole video, click here.
The reason I bring this issue up is because it is a prime example of Latina’s being scrutinized for their features, the same ones they’ve inherited from their Hispanic families and bloodline. That’s why it is so important to embrace the Latin diversity, and allow other individuals to be proud of their culture, even if they don’t ‘look the part’.
So, if you know anyone that has ties to another culture, help them take pride in their nationality! Tell them how cool their culture is, ask their favorite traditional foods, and most importantly, help them understand that it is ok to be proud of their own bloodline. Or, if someone ever questions your own identity, be sure to question them back. Many times when individuals question the identity of someone else, they root their argument on ignorant stereotypes. If you keep asking someone to explain why they think this way, at some point, they’ll have no choice but to blurt out their misinformed opinion. Always wave your flag with pride, even if others judge you for it.
You own your identity, so own it.