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Representing when you are the only Latino in the room

Scott Olsen, Getty Images

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.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

Comments

  1. Maricely Burgos Diaz says:

    Mario I so agree with u. I don’t need to show I’m a know it all, as any American I do my job right & period bcuz that’s how I was raised.

  2. Jorge says:

    Yessenia, to even acknowledge that you feel insecure about yourself is to give power to people who would want to exclude you. You don’t have to prove anything to anybody except that which you have agreed upon. Be grateful of those things that you like about being Latina, but don’t be proud, because you did not have a say in the matter, don’t be like those chauvinists who feel they are better than others because they were born into something, that betrays foolishness. Speak English where others are speaking English out of politeness and good manners, not a feeling of obligation. Don’t feel like you have to apologize for your background, either. When a coworker gets in my car for a ride between offices and looks surprised when he/she hears loud salsa or Latin jazz, I just pretend he/she doesn’t mind, after all, they’re in MY world then. Neither do I abstain from speaking Spanish among my Latino friends when we go to a restaurant or other public place, because, it’s supposed to be good manners not to want to eavesdrop on other’s conversations. Just be yourself, Yessenia, and if someone doesn’t like you for who you are, bueno, ellos se lo pierden.

  3. Just in that position this AM.

  4. I say WHO CARES…..I LOVE KNOWING THAT IM THE SEXIEST MAN IN THE ROOM…AND THE MOST COLOURFULL AND FLAVORFULL….we latino’s are an exotic bunch

  5. Felix, it’s humbling when we find ourselves in this position. Let’s hope we find wisdom and patience.

  6. Not at all.

  7. Who cares! Like being a Latino was some kind of sickness! I hate to break it to you but it’s not all about you Latinos! Talk about an inferiority complex!

  8. ^Yes Bibi, when we are alone in the room, we always need to draw strength and speak in ways that will allow others to garner insight and while not diminishing the completeness of the message.

  9. Interesting article…I agree with most of the points. But what it all boils down to is ones self confidence and self awareness, regardless of whether or not you your white black or Hispanic. I know exactly what it feels like everyday to be the only Latino in the room. I do it everyday. But I have learned that people will always judge you on the color of your skin. But they can never misjudge you if you have strong character and integrity….

  10. This is spot on and I totally can relate! Thank you!

  11. Great article- I’ve been the token Latino pretty much majority of my professional life. Honestly, I really don’t feel the pressure of representing all Latinos until I am approached with a general question- as if I represented all Latinos. It’s annoying- especially when it’s assumed we eat the same things- act the same way- think the same way. It’s as though they see my ethnicity first before they really see me. Not always the case- but I am consciously aware when it happens.

  12. And as a wise Cuban madre once told me, if they don’t like you for being whoever you are – mandalos pal carajo!

  13. Yes, in many of my classes at Rugers University (1979-1982).

  14. I’m not Latino but have been in places where I felt like the middle of an oreo.

  15. en pocas palabras Mario jajajaja!! :)

  16. I mean I can see if you show up to work in a low rider wearing a zoot suit wearing chola make up and speaking like Rosie Perez blowing bubble gum.

  17. Your circle, professional or otherwise often influences this feeling. As a lawyer I am often not just the only woman but the only Latina in the room…I used to let it bother me and often direct the way I spoke or even dressed so as not to fit into the expectations of others. Now I could care less if some white lawyer or judge thinks my Brooklyn Latina accent is “interesting” or my way of arguing makes me sound “spicy”…in the end if I win it just doesn’t matter.

  18. I spent my childhood and high school years that way. In later life, not as much. America’s changing.

  19. Don’t we always feel this way?

  20. I been in this situation plenty of times and what i do is my”BEST”.What reflection will they get on a Latino.

  21. I don’t look at it that way anymore… I felt that way growing up in a room full of other Latinos. Like we ALL had something to prove.. I carry with me the words my father told me: “you are no better than anyone, but no one is better than you”…… I humble myself in the presence of anyone with true heart and sit proudly in the presence of those who consider themselves superior.

  22. @ Nidia — I totally feel you on being approached with questions as if I am the sole torch-bearer of all things Latino (as in, “Tell me, what’s the Latina perspective on this?”) Yeah. Because we all get together on a morning conference call to decide what the agreed-upon Latin perspective of the day is.

  23. @ Nidia — I totally feel you on being approached with questions as if I am the sole torch-bearer of all things Latino (as in, “Tell me, what’s the Latina perspective on this?”) Yeah. Because we all get together on a morning conference call to decide what the agreed-upon Latin perspective of the day is.

  24. no. no i don’t. I am more than my ethnicity.

  25. no. no i don’t. I am more than my ethnicity.

  26. I lived in Seattle and had no latino friends. No one ever pointed it out, I was just another person.

  27. I lived in Seattle and had no latino friends. No one ever pointed it out, I was just another person.

  28. That’s silly. We’re all more than our ethnicity.

  29. I see what this article trying to say. yes we are obviously more than our ethnicity but we are at times in certain situations reminded of just that, our ethnicity.

  30. And if you are a Latino who has an inferiority complex because you think that Anglos are judging you, you should not really blame the Anglos for that attitude, blame instead all the crazy Latinos and their insane and illegal thug like behaviors that actually have created and perpetuated the “stereotypes” that give us bad names in the first place.

    The same thing happens in the African American community and its brave people like Bill Cosby who gets criticized by other blacks when calls out black youth for the thug like behavior that’s almost become acceptable in that community!

    More adult Latinos need to grow a pair of cojones and go after the culture, parents, and thug kids in the Latino community that give decent Latinos a bad name by the default of just having a Spanish surname! Illegal aliens also play a large part in bringing decent hardworking Latinos down the rabbit hole too!

  31. Claritafs says:

    I live in the UK where there is such a mix of nationalities that most people are learning to look past colour and I think that if we carry this with us, not to hold our colour or nationality as our defining feature, then no one will judge us in that way. There is a fine line between pride and self-exclusion. If you don’t see it as a big deal why should anyone else?

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