As a Latina, I’m all too familiar with the stereotypes that are associated with being a “Loud Latina,” and as a Dominican American woman, I experience them far too often— especially when I’m the only person of color in the room. I grew up being constantly told to shhhh or lower my voice— pretty much since I started speaking. It’s difficult for me to express the amount of shame I’ve experienced whenever someone refers to me as loud and that’s partially because of the politics that come with being both a woman and a person of color that speaks at a loud volume. When it comes to respectability politics, there is nothing good about being a brown person that speaks loudly but trust me when I say— this is an oppressive mentality that I refuse to continue to accept.
“Muchacha baja la voz! No hables tan alto!”my Dominican mother — who also speaks loudly by the way — would constantly tell me growing up. “Los hombres no les gustan las mujeres que hablan mucho. Pero especialmente no les gustan las mujieres que hablan tan duro,” my abuela would say.
In Latino culture— Dominican especially— loud women are usually called things like Plebe a.k.a a poorly educated loud mouth, Chusma (which basically means low life), or Escandalosa— what they’d called me. Escandalosa is someone who speaks at a loud volume regardless of their class or education. Keep in mind, it’s still not a compliment to be called this. A loud woman particularly in the states, has never been considered something positive and it’s time we started to ask ourselves why.
You can call a man loud and it’s normally not perceived as the worst thing in the world. He might not even hate you for it because a loud man many times is considered assertive, commanding— a leader. Call a woman loud and it’s almost never used as a compliment. A loud woman is many times perceived as obnoxious, offensive, dramatic, overly aggressive (but in a bad way), and some might even call her a bitch. Society has taught us that being a loud woman isn’t feminine, isn’t graceful, and isn’t lady-like. Add Latina to the mix and be prepared to experience a shit ton of negative stereotypes.
When a person calls me out on my loudness, I want to shut my mouth and disappear. That’s how much shame it brings me. It’s almost as embarrassing as if my boob were to slip out in the middle of a work meeting. That’s how vulnerable and exposed I feel, this is especially the case when I’m called loud by a white man.
It got so bad, I even went through a faze when I’d lie to people and tell them I was part deaf. I’d tell them that I had recently started experiencing hearing problems. It was a desperate attempt to explain my loudness so that they wouldn’t quickly assume that the loud volume I spoke in had anything to do with my Latinidad or my Dominican background.
“Why do you talk so loud?” one white guy I dated asked? “I think I might be part deaf,” I answered dishonestly. “I don’t think that’s true,” he said. “I think that’s just an excuse. “If you don’t believe that response than what would you like me to tell you? That I’m loud because I’m Latin?” I asked. He said nothing.
“Latina women are stereotypically seen as loud, overbearing, controlling, mothers or girlfriends; we tend to be hyper sexualized, seen as sexually available, as well,” says Ethnic studies professor Alai Reyes-Santos, who teaches at the University of Oregon. “These are all dangerous stereotypes that can curtail young Latin women from expressing themselves for fear of being misrepresented.”
I can’t tell you how many times I muted myself in a room filled with white people out of fear of getting too excited about a particular subject and coming off as a “Loud Latina.” Mind you, being called a loud Latina was bad enough but being called a loud Dominicana just added on another layer.
“For Caribbean Latinas, this reinforces stereotypes about us people of African descent, as women who are seen as improper or unable to just quietly enter a space and not call more attention to themselves, unruly women, never sophisticated, as potential criminals as well,” adds “Professor Reyes-Santos.
What’s interesting to note though, is that loudness isn’t something we’re born with. I wasn’t born “loud.” No one is. In fact, my mom claims I didn’t even make that much noise when I was infant — not even when I was born because apparently I was a C-section baby. I learned to speak at a loud volume because of my Latino family — not to say that all Latinos are loud because that isn’t always the case. It just happened to be with my family. To be clear, I come from a fairly educated family. My father is a dentist, my mother is a former medical technologist and was a chemistry major in college. My aunts, uncles, and cousins are mainly professionals on both sides. In other words, the volume that prevails in my family— or even in my culture — doesn’t necessarily equate to education, economics, or even class. Why is it perceived in the states as something so ugly, negative and shameful? Well, that my friends is the question to ask.
I’ll admit, I definitely went through a period where I attempted to silence myself — even when I was around other Latinos. I’d speak less at work staff meetings or at large gatherings until I recognized the dangers associated with this behavior. For starters, the idea that “loudness” is “bad” isn’t real. It’s something we’re taught. It’s something we’re conditioned to believe and it’s basically an attempt to silence us, to silence women and to silence people of color. It’s demoralizing and demeaning and it’s a way to control us so that we don’t take up space. It’s also a dangerous mentality to feed young girls of color.
“Respectability politics teach us to try to be quiet, to dress and act like upper middle class Anglo Americans,” says Reyes-Santos. “The danger of respectability politics is to lose our sense of self, of who we are; scholarship has proven that one of the largest indicators of success for Latinas and WOC is their connection to their roots, the more they feel empowered and supported culturally, the more they can succeed. Why would we take that away from them?”
Good question: Why would we take that away from them? Think about the message we are sending not just to women — but young girls — when we try to shame them for speaking loud or for speaking too much.
Racial profiling is a very real thing. People of color have been arrested and killed for being loud. If that’s not political— I don’t what is. We live in a society where we ourselves teach young Latino and black kids to silence themselves — especially around police. Reyes-Santos refers to this as “a survival mechanism.”
“I believe in claiming who we are. It is important for youth to see us claiming space as much as possible, being proud of who we are,” she adds. “Otherwise, they may silence themselves and be disempowered as they try to reach their educational and professional goals.”
There’s a Michelle Obama quote I’m constantly referring to now whenever people try to tell me I’m “loud.”
“I’ll admit it: I am louder than the average human being and have no fear of speaking my mind. These traits don’t come from the color of my skin but from an unwanted belief in my own intelligence,” Michelle Obama once said.
Like Michelle, I also have no fear of speaking my mind— even if that does happen to be at a volume that might make some uncomfortable and I refuse to continue to be apologetic about that. Sure, I speak loud but no one can argue that they can’t hear me, right? I challenge you to not stereotype and not shame the next woman you meet who speaks loudly— regardless of the color of her skin, her ethnic background — or her level of class or education. Instead, take a second or two to hear what it is she actually has to say because the truth is, women — especially women of color— have been silenced for way too long and we refuse to be silenced any longer.