Q&A: The problem with Latina Stereotypes

by Paola Bedolla Garcia

A couple months ago, I talked to a friend about Latina stereotypes. She told me how she didn’t know anything about them. I assumed everyone knew about them. I spoke to my friend Jasmine Moreira Cortez , a sophomore in high school, about her experiences as a Latina. I am Paola Bedolla García, sophomore in high school.

Did you notice any stereotypes about Latina women when you were little?

One of them is the stereotype that Latinas aren’t strong. Latinas have to stay at home, make dinner, and do all the house chores while men go out and work. That made a big impact on me because we live in the Bay Area, a very open-minded and diverse place. To think that I had to stick by what my parents were telling me hurt me. But as the years went on, I learned to use my voice. I learned to speak to my parents about why I thought what they were making me do was wrong. 

How do you think the machismo in Latin American cultures affected these stereotypes?

Yeah there’s a lot of machismo in my family. We’ve always [been] made to believe that men are physically and mentally stronger than girls and Latinas. It sucks because if you think about it, women are so phenomenal. They’re intelligent, they’re beautiful, they’re anything you can imagine. Imagine going through childbirth! A man could never do that. 

In my opinion, no disrespect to my dad, but my mom is ten times stronger. My mom has taught me that I should not accept machismo, that I can be a boss. Women are bosses. Their voices deserve to be heard. So the way I think it affects a lot of Latin American culture is that it teaches young girls that they can’t speak up, and that men are the boss, but it’s just a matter of speaking up and using your voice.

How do you view yourself compared to how you think stereotypes or society or other people view you? Are they different? Are they similar?

From my perspective, I view myself as a very intelligent person, as a very hardworking person. And I think that other people when they first look at me, they wouldn’t be like, “Oh, my God, she’s so smart, she gets all A’s.” They would look at me like, “Oh, look at the Latina who is going to go out and get pregnant.” I hate that and it’s so frustrating to me because I’m intelligent. I want to be a girl where people look at in the future, and say, “I want to be like her.”

I experienced this a lot in my elementary school, where my math teacher would get mad at me when I wouldn’t understand a problem. Then from there, she thought that I was off track with my grades when I got into middle school. Mind you, in middle school, I was doing fairly well. I feel like a common misconception is that Latinas aren’t strong or intelligent.

Do you think the stereotype about Latina women being curvy is a good thing or a bad thing?

I think that it doesn’t happen just with Latinas. I think it happens with women in general. People say Latinas have to be curvy, but then there’re other people who are like, “they don’t have to be curvy,” and it’s really confusing. There’s a lot of beautiful women out there, but that’s what people make it about. People pay more attention to how you look physically on the outside than who you are on the inside. That’s what bothers me. There’s nothing wrong with being curvy, or not being curvy. 

As long as you’re happy with yourself and the way you look, nothing else should matter. I feel like social media plays a big role in this situation, because we see people like Kylie Jenner, and a lot of girls want to be like her. So a lot of girls think “I’m not pretty enough, because I don’t look like that.” That’s the problem that I have; a lot of social media and celebrities make us feel like we need to look a certain way to be beautiful.

How do you think living in the Bay Area has affected interpersonal racism for you? 

I do get some of those comments once in a while. But I feel like the Bay Area is such an open-minded place that people won’t usually go up to you and say that. Obviously, there are places where they do. But I haven’t personally experienced much of that. We’re in such a Bay Area bubble that we don’t see the things that are happening outside. But I think the Bay Area is a wonderful place because you don’t see as many people going up to you and saying, “you speak English so well.” 

But I have experienced it in the past. One of my mom’s bosses actually; she came up to me and she’s like, “are you a Dreamer?” I wasn’t going to take that as offensive, but then she proceeded to ask me, “are you undocumented?” and, “Wow, you speak English so well.” I was like I know I’m Latina, but for you to assume something like that? I explained to her, “No, I was born here in the United States. I go to school in Berkeley, where they taught me English.” 

Yeah, it kind of feels like they’re asking you, “are you stupid?”

Right, exactly.

So what are some ways to change the narrative, flip the script, or go against the stereotypes?

Well, there’s a lot of negative parts to social media. But if it were up to me, using social media should be a place to spread positivity; to show girls that they are so much more than just their body. I don’t know if you’ve heard of the saying, “calladita te vez mas bonita”, which means “if you stay quiet, you’re beautiful.” That teaches girls the opposite, that they don’t have to speak up. So I feel like using social media for positive things could really make a big impact on changing the stereotypes. 

But I also feel like it comes down to the people who raised you. For example, for me, even though I try to make my parents understand that certain things are wrong, they’re not going to change their mindset. They’re older than I am, and they were raised in a different place. So they’re not going to change as much as I would want them to. But having a conversation with your guardians and letting them know what’s wrong about what they’re doing could probably help. If not, be the change, go out there, use your voice, and show other girls that you can use your voice and spread positivity.