Shortly after the 2016 election, while many of us were in mourning over what could have been the first woman elected president of the United States of America and instead turned out to be a dumpster fire, I noticed a disturbing trend.
As resistance of the then-impending Trump administration rose, images of the “angry feminist” were on the rise too.
Although I had combed my friends list long before the election and got rid of anyone who, ahem, didn’t believe that protecting marginalized peoples such as women, Latinxs and LGBT folks such as myself was a critical issue, I still saw many comments on the internet from those who felt I was one of the people overreacting on November 9, 2016.
People (yes, mostly men and yes, mostly those who are white and cis-gendered) argued that we should give the incumbent president a chance first. These comments often stated that it “wouldn’t be that bad” and that I have nothing to worry about, despite it being a well-documented fact that Trump didn’t have very high opinions of Latinos (“Mexicans are rapists”), women (“grab them by the pussy”) or LGBT people (his running mate and now Vice President Mike Pence supports “gay conversion” therapy).
As a bisexual Latina immigrant, I was worried. And I was angry.
But what was scarier than my anger and scarier than those who told me to calm down and tried to warn me against being characterized as an “angry feminist” were those who (again, mostly men) called me a “spicy Latina.”
This trend didn’t start in 2016, however. The image has a long, disturbing history.
Being a “spicy Latina” has long been a television trope in which a woman of Hispanic or Latin background is portrayed as a “scantily clan, olive-skinned, raven-haired, red-lipped, curvaceous woman,” according to Everyday Feminism. She’s also often “loud, bombastic, and seductive (insert sexy latin accent here)” who “must also be hot-blooded, quick-tempered, and passionate.”
As I know many of my Latinx friends have experienced, I too have been the subject of “spicy Latina” comments or, even worse, confusion when I do not seem to display any of the Sofia Veraga-esque characteristics of this stereotype. Men I have gone on dates with expected me to display maximum cleavage from the start, expressed concern over ever getting into an argument with me for fear of my “passion” coming out and complimented my curves at every turn.
Whenever I wear red lipstick (my favorite color), I feel powerful and strong but I also wonder about the message I am sending. Am I just playing into the stereotype?
Before the election, I was very aware of every little thing that I did which accidentally played into the Latina stereotypes that many Americans have. I have curves, which is something that I can’t help. I enjoy wearing sexy clothing sometimes. And, most of all, I am loud.
When my best friend from college came home with me for Christmas one year, he was astounded by the way my family communicated with each other. I didn’t know what he meant.
“Everyone is always screaming!” he told me. But to me, it was just normal.
Growing up, being loud never bothered me. My voice allowed me to be heard in class, to fight with my parents like every normal teenager (even if those occasions were few and far between) and yell across the house when I needed to communicate. Whether it was borne out of laziness or not, I didn’t see the big deal about shouting to my little brother across the living room from the kitchen because I needed him to get something for me. It’s simply how things were.
As I began to date and meet those outside of my family and intimate group of friends, however, I became more aware of these stereotypes and the fetishizing of the “spicy Latina.”
Some days, I felt like it was no big deal. Other days, it drove me crazy the way people expected me to be a cartoon version of Charo or the Chiquita Banana lady. It felt as if my anger and passion were taken as a joke because it’s simply an expected part of my personality to be “passionate” like Sofia Vergara on the April 2012 cover of Esquire magazine and “angry” like Michelle Rodriguez in the Fast and the Furious movies.
It’s unfortunate how many Latinas are subject to these stereotypes. What’s worse, if you ARE any of these things – like, curvy, sexy, passionate or angry – (as I sometimes am), you’re only justifying these stereotypes further. There’s a certain guilt that comes with that, quickly followed by anger that these labels exist in the first place. Why can’t I just be a human who happens to be curvy and is passionate, sometimes angry, occasionally loud and rarely sexy?
It seems as if I can’t ever be fully myself without feeling like some weird stereotype that’s the subject of fantasies and sometimes fear.
So I have decided to put a stop to it. I’m not down with the meme-fication of the “spicy Latina” because it is a damaging, dangerous stereotype that needs. to. STOP. already!
Every time I hear someone call me a “spicy Latina” because I express some sort of anger or outrage over the latest Trump news, I will look at that person in the eye (or, you know, on the screen) and tell them in a clear, calm voice that this is not okay. I will let them know that they are making my Latinidad into a fetish that is creepy and completely inappropriate. I will say this to men and to women, to people of all colors and races, because it’s not just a white cis-gendered male problem.
I will also let the (hopefully) well-meaning person know that my expression of outrage or anger is not to be taken as a joke or used as a stereotype to further their ideals of the way that Latinx people are. I am my own person and I am not a stereotype, even if I occasionally look like or do something that resembles that “spicy Latina” image.
So to everyone who has ever felt bad, guilty or otherwise complacent in that stereotype, don’t fret. Remember that you are yourself and that it is not your fault that others view your red lipstick or naturally big booty as either a negative or a huge, creepy positive. Express your passion and your anger. Or don’t. Just do you and do it proudly.
Oh, and maybe next time someone calls you a “spicy Latina,” give them your best Aubrey Plaza stare to remind them this is totally NOT okay.