Do you ever find yourself looking around and saying to yourself, “I’m the only Latino here”? Do you suddenly find yourself feeling anxious, as if your every action is a reflection of your entire ethnicity?
It happens to me a lot. I frequently count in my head the number of Latinos in the room. If there are many others I suddenly feel more comfortable, like I can sit back and let others talk. However, if I spot no others, I instantly feel on edge, as if I have an obligation to represent all things Latino. I have to show I can speak Spanish and have a mastery of English, that I deserve to be at my university, and that I am also proud of being American.
Latinos have been assigned a number of stereotypes, many of which have been discussed here on Being Latino, from being perceived as hyper-sexual, to being of lower intelligence when we have an accent, to our apparent and universal love of tacos. It’s natural to assume the pressure of combating these stereotypes, but this shouldn’t be the case. Why should I feel uncomfortable if I’m with a group of Latino friends who are speaking loudly, as if we are a reflection of our entire ethnicity?
If a group of white men are together and several of them have particularly loud voices, does one of them begin to worry that they will be judged as an indication of white men everywhere? White men have their own stereotypes to battle against, mostly stemming from their supposed blandness, or the so-called “vanilla” stereotype. If there is only one white person at a party, should they feel the need to showcase their dancing abilities lest they be thought of as boring? If they speak with a Southern accent, should they feel judged as less educated? Of course they shouldn’t, and Latinos shouldn’t feel the need to prove they possess a sufficiently large vocabulary either.
Not everyone feels this pressure. Some people don’t count their ethnicity as the main, or even one of the main parts, of their identity. Some people are lucky enough to live where there is no need to serve as the example of their ethnicity or race.
But some of us are or have been in situations where we know that our every move is being scrutinized, because we are the token Latino, the person meant to stand in what we all know is unrepresentable by a single anything.
Not everyone has to serve as a role model, but even if we do, we shouldn’t have to represent 24/7. We are allowed to take a break from being Latino, to just be a Latino, or better yet, to just be.