One of my favorite movie quotes comes from the movie “Selena” and has always resonated with me. In the film, Abraham Quintanilla (played beautifully by Edward James Olmos) is explaining to Selena and A.B. the very real challenges of being a Mexican-American and says :
”We have to be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans, both at the same time! It’s exhausting!”
I’ve never heard a better description about what it is like to be a Latino-American.
I once had a co-worker, an older Anglo lady who liked to point out that she was ‘native’ Texan, say to me during a conversation that she was so impressed with how well my parents spoke English. I was puzzled by the comment and shrugged it off thinking that perhaps she misspoke. The conversation continued and she spouted off so many stereotypes that I couldn’t keep track of them all. She commented on how impressive it was that my family and parents were college educated (“and your brother is a doctor! That’s incredible!”), that it was so unusual that I came from such a small family, that it was nice that we didn’t play that loud Spanish music in our cars.
At the time, I felt a need to defend my family (although it really wasn’t necessary). I pointed out how long my family had been in Texas (as it turned out, longer than hers had been in the United States), that my grandparents were determined to have their children and grandchildren obtain college degrees because they realized the value of an education beyond high school, and that everyone in my family spoke English as their first language. I then made a crack about us being able to pronounce the work “creek” correctly (she said “crick”).
I was mad. Who did this woman think she was to say these things to me? Didn’t she know that not all Latinos were like the ones that she may have been exposed to before? I took a step back and realized that what she knew of Mexican-Americans had been learned through societal stereotypes of Latinos.
Recently, the news has been flooded with stories of Latino stereotypes. One such story involves a Target store in California that came under fire for an internal memo stating that not all Mexicans eat tacos or wear sombreros. Latino employees were subjected to working with managers that used derogatory comments and slurs in reference to them.
Even celebrities aren’t immune to being stereotyped. Look at the incredibly talented salsa singer, Marc Anthony and the complaints received because he sang “God Bless America” at the MLB All-Star game because he wasn’t “American.” If his critics would take a minute to know a little bit about him, they would know that Marc Anthony is a native New Yorker and all American.
I’ve heard it said that stereotypes are born of truth and to an extent, I agree. Traditionally, Latinos did have large families, weren’t always able to be college educated, ate tacos, and wore sombreros. Sure. That is part of our heritage, our roots, but that is not who we are now.
The only way to shatter stereotypes is to educate others about our ethnicity. Yes, stereotypes are the offspring of truth, but the other parent is ignorance. Continuing to elevate ourselves, making our contributions to society more visible, being advocates for those who have no voice, and being more involved in our country’s government and politics will ensure that Latinos will be viewed as more than what we were.
Valeka Cruz (@runningonheavy) is a freelance writer, blogger, and artist living in Austin Texas.