photo: Daniela Vesco, Vivala

When Jane The Virgin actress Gina Rodriguez was criticized in August for not being "Latina enough," we all felt her pain. You know, it's that annoying notion that if you don't speak Spanish fluently or look a certain way (brown skin, dark hair, hourglass body) that you're not a "real Latina." The sad thing is, not only is this the farthest thing from the truth but it can take a toll on a young woman's self-esteem.

"When Latinas don't fit in any of the stereotypes for Latinas, they receive messages that they are not Latina enough," says clinical psychologist Dr. Karen Caraballo, who specializes in Latino families. 

"These messages are detrimental to their self-esteem, sense of identity, and mental health. This can create an identity crisis where they feel they don't belong anywhere."

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Latinas who don't speak Spanish, like actress Gina Rodriguez, many times get ridiculed for their lack of fluency. This is particularly common among second and third generation Latinas who grew up more assimilated in American culture or Latinas of mixed backgrounds.

"Growing up I was never Latina enough to hang with the Latino kids," says 30-year-old Jacqueline Fardella from Long Island, New York. 
"My mom is Puerto Rican and my dad is Italian but I didn't grow up speaking Spanish. I can't tell you how many times people have told me, 'You're not really Latina. You don't speak Spanish.'"

What's unfair is that for many Latinas that don't speak Spanish or fluent enough Spanish, it's not their fault. Many of them grew up in households where they weren't raised to speak the language. So in a sense they are being reprimanded for something they had no control over.

"Growing up my parents never spoke Spanish to us because they were just used to speaking in English," says 28-year-old Arisa Guilin Cuevas, a Mexican American from California. "All my life I've been told that I'm not a real Mexican because I can't speak Spanish and it gets me upset because if I had been raised with it I would be able to speak it. I feel like it's not my fault."

"Latinos are constantly judged and measured by these images and stereotypes," says Caraballo. "If they do not fit in any category they will likely hear these messages from their parents, extended families, peers, and media."

Cynthia Almodovar, a 30-year-old Puerto Rican and Dominican woman from Queens, New York, didn't hear it from family or peers, but surprisingly at work.

"I've had a few encounters with clients at work that get so annoyed that I don't speak Spanish. They'll say things like, 'You're Spanish and don't speak Spanish. What a waste. You should learn and be proud of your heritage.'"


Language isn’t the only factor says Caraballo.

"Many Latinos also feel removed or disconnected from their peers because of their appearance, different customs, values, education level, social class, and or affiliations," she adds.

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For Massiel Consuegra, a 34-year-old Dominican and Ecuadorian paralegal from the Bronx, it was all about her looks. She was constantly ridiculed by her Dominican peers for her slim and tall figure.

"I was always picked on for being too skinny. They would say things like, 'how come you don't have an ass like a Dominican or why are your hips so small?" she says.

And for others, it’s the way they carry themselves or the fact that they’re “too Americanized” that’s triggered comments of not being Latina enough.

"I've gotten it more as an adult than growing up," says 29-year-old Melanie Tran from the Bronx. "They'll say I talk like a white chick or that I act like a gringa because I'm not as immersed in my culture as they think I should be."

For Latinas born and raised in the states — especially second or third generation — it seems there’s always going to be a struggle to balance both cultures. And, while there are perks to living bi-culturally, it also comes with the pressure to be equally assimilated in both. But Caraballo says the first step is not allowing that pressure to impact your self-esteem or identity.

"How you navigate your Latinidad is entirely up to you," she says. "You can definitely connect with your heritage on your own terms. Do not allow anyone to tell you that there is a right or wrong way to do this."

At the end of the day none of us are defined by anyone's standards of what's considered "Latina enough." Your Latina-ness runs in your DNA, so don't feel like you have to prove anything to anyone. You are always enough and that’s what counts.