For some Latinas, second-guessing whether or not to wear a red dress or a low-cut bright and flowery top is something that happens on the regular. It's not because we lack confidence, it's mostly because we don't want to be seen as a walking stereotype. You know: There goes that fiery Latina! Ugh.
The notion of the Latina spitfire is so ingrained in our culture that Apple even created an emoji for it. Let's be real: Most of us have used the flamenco dancer to represent ourselves when texting. But that stereotype didn't just spring out of nowhere. It's been embraced and reinforced by popular culture for 100 years! Exacerbating the misconception that all Latinas are loud, emotional, sexy, and love to dance. The perplexing thing is that some of us are actually loud, or emotional, or sexy, or love to dance — and we feel self-conscious about letting our true selves show in fear of feeling trapped by the stereotype.
Dr. Clara E.
Rodriguez, professor of Sociology at Fordham University and author of Heroes, Lovers, and Others: The Story of Latinos in Hollywood,
says one of the very first actresses that portrayed a feisty Latina was
Lupe Velez, who began her career in the '20s.
"Many blame her for the term, but I think her spitfire character was in many ways different from what evolved subsequently. For example, she headlined the movies that she appeared in, and they were a series (of films), so they were very popular in her time. She was also comedic, in the Lucille Ball sense, and she got the guy, who happened to be the white-collar, middle class guy."
Rodriguez adds that Velez's first role involved being married to a guy who had been engaged to someone else, and a feud ensued between her mother-in-law and his ex to undo their marriage, which obviously is major drama, and is also a trait that has had us pinned for decades. "But Lupe wins in the end," Rodriguez says. "She had spunk and achieved her goals in the end, and was not just a spitfire that was sexy and hot."
Brazilian entertainer Carmen Miranda was trotting all over Hollywood with her sultry attire and signature fruit hat by 1940, and she also happened to be one of the highest-earning women in Hollywood. Another crucial persona to the Latina spitfire perception from Mexico who gained global notoriety was Maria Felix. The actress represented something more than just bravado and sex appeal — her enormous talent encouraged the perception that Latinas could do it all on their own.
Other actresses like Rita Hayworth (Spanish)
and Sophia Loren (Italian) played saucy ethnic women in several
Hollywood films that enhanced the notion that dark-haired women were not
only voluptuous, but also fueled by passion and drama. American audiences also fell in love with a Latina spitfire in 1961's West Side Story.
Rita Moreno's Anita, a hard-working Puerto Rican who loved to dance and
prove her man wrong, was also passionate about being an independent
Today, one of the most recognized and successful Latina spitfire characters is Sofía Vergara as Gloria Delgado-Pritchett on Modern Family. Though criticized as stereotypical, Gloria's spunky and loud ways do represent some Latinas, including Vergara herself, who seems to identify very much with her character in real life.
We know what the Latino stereotypes are, but if sometimes we are those things, does that mean we are perpetuating characteristics that people already assume about us? We asked several women in the Facebook group Wise Latinas Linked and heard a variety of responses regarding playing up or playing down their Latina-style.
Rubith Quezada said the main thing she paid attention to on a daily basis was her accent. "I will play it down and be very aware of it not showing through in professional groups," Quezada said. "I usually play up my big curly hair because I think it's attractive in any group and gives us a competitive advantage. I never wear provocative clothing or hoop earrings around professionals or to work. I just go for a more conservative look all in all to be viewed as a serious professional."
"I once wore hoop earrings and a braid to my business casual office and felt uncomfortable the rest of the day, but I think it was mostly in my head," Sarah Ramírez Ortiz said.
Julieta Favela said she can't relate to the typical Latina look at all. "I will never wear colorful attire, low-cut blouses, big earrings, heavy makeup, strong perfume, or long fake nails. It is just not my style," Favela said. "I have been accused of trying to 'look white.' I work in finance, so I'm somewhat conservative with my clothes."
At the end of the day, Latina vibes or not, it all varies, and comes down to basic issues that pretty much all women can relate to, regardless of our background. "There is so much pressure to look good and hot forever and ever because that's what women are valued for," Alisa Rivera said. "But then we're treated disrespectfully when we do look like that. You can't win."
The problem isn't how we want to look. The issue is that there is not just one kind of Latina, and Hollywood and the rest of the world needs to recognize that.
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"It is the absence of diverse Latinas that hurts Latinas," Prof. Rodriguez says. "There have been some recent changes, but the change is slow."
Until then, we can only do what we've been doing since the beginning of time: Be ourselves.