For years, Latinas have worked hard to break beauty barriers in the U.S. Now that we have managed to forge our own identity in American society, a part of me is thrilled with what Latinas have achieved and the role models that are now available for many young girls. On the other hand, I can’t help to think that this progress is not enough.
Through women like Jennifer Lopez and Salma Hayek, Latinas have won Hollywood over with their sexy curves and most importantly their undeniable talents. They have redefined Latina image all over the world. At the same time, their images have formed a stereotype of Latinas as all having dark hair, golden skin and sensual curves. However, this image does not necessarily represent every Latina.
Alyssa, age 22, does not fit this stereotype. Her blond hair and light eyes make her stand out in her Hispanic community of El Paso, TX. Even though her entire family is Mexican, people often mistake her for Caucasian. “I am an image of being different. You don’t have to look a certain way. You don’t have to fit a certain stereotype,” she said.
Despite the fact that Alyssa does not fit the “typical” Latina image, people still try to place her within the Latina stereotype. At times, people have attributed her curves to the fact that she’s Latina. When she was younger, some of her friends would call her names because she looked “white.” “It was frustrating because they defined me based on my skin color,” she remembers.
Because of this, she embraced her Hispanic culture and was inspired to educate people about it. She wanted people to get to know her, so that they might be able to make “more precise judgments.”
“Every individual defines who they are. It doesn’t matter what type of skin, body. It matters what’s inside,” Alyssa said. “I could choose to be Hispanic and not tell anyone else, but I choose to embrace it.”
There are many Latinas in the media who are not associated with Latin American culture because their complexions do not fit the classic Latina stereotype. Like Rosario Dawson, a black Latina who is part Puerto Rican and Cuban, does not fit this stereotype. Actress Zoe Saldana, who recently appeared in the blockbuster hit Star Trek, is also a black Latina of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent. Despite the fact that she is proud of her Hispanic heritage and that she is a Spanish speaker, she is mostly cast in African-American roles.
Another example is Alexis Bledel who is Mexican-Argentinean-American. Bledel starred in the show Gilmore Girls as a Caucasian teen. Hardly anyone is aware that she is a Spanish speaking Latina, and she has not been cast in any Latina roles.
These young actresses are successful Latinas in Hollywood, but their ethnicity goes unnoticed in the media. Consequently, these examples of diverse Hispanic women go unnoticed by the public as well, limiting the role models available to them.
In her book Hijas Americanas, Rosie Molinary dedicates an entire chapter to Latina beauty, titled “Maria de la Barbie.” Molinary recognizes the need for diversity in the way the Hispanic culture is shown in the media. “Latinas need to see that we do not all need to look like Hollywood’s Latina trendsetters to be compelling and influential,” she writes emphasizing that the best way to show Latinas that “there is no perfect prototype is to show women the range of possibilities among us.”
We should keep in mind Latinas come in all shapes, colors and sizes. We cannot be defined by a generalizations or ideas of what we should or should not look like. If we learn to love ourselves, flaws and all, we can teach other women to do the same through our example.
Molinary writes something everyone should keep in mind about Latino culture:
“An important point to make is that there is no typical anything. Just like there is not one typical white, Asian, or black girl, there is no typical Latino — and no typical Puerto Rican, Colombian, or Mexican either. Having just one image of Latinos — when there are twenty-plus countries and immeasurable amounts of culture mixing — is impossible.”
What is special about Latinos is our different cultures from different countries with different histories. Despite the efforts to limit our image, but we come in all shapes, colors and sizes. We are diverse and cannot be defined. As Molinary recommends, we cannot assign generalizations to any ethnicity. The beauty of being human is that we are all unique and that there is only one of you.
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This post originally appeared at Latinitas, the First Magazine By and For Latina Teens. Cross-posted with permission.
More on the topic: The Curious Case of the Ambiguously Mexican Red Head