What Being Underestimated as a Latina Has Taught Me

Ever since I can remember people have assumed they know me just by looking at me – and by “know me” I mean reduce me to whatever Latina stereotype they’ve seen on TV, which I’ve actually always wondered about since I rarely see Latinas who look like me on TV, but I digress

Photo: Unsplash/@omarlopez1

Photo: Unsplash/@omarlopez1

Ever since I can remember people have assumed they know me just by looking at me – and by “know me” I mean reduce me to whatever Latina stereotype they’ve seen on TV, which I’ve actually always wondered about since I rarely see Latinas who look like me on TV, but I digress. I’ve been asked about my “chola days,” like it’s a state of being all Latina’s pass through before reaching an acceptable form of self-actualization. I’ve had the displeasure of experiencing the surprise and skepticism on peoples faces when I offer my opinion of literature (which I studied for seven years) or politics (which I read about every day). And I clearly remember an older man who expressed his disbelief when I told him which college I was attending by saying, “sorry, but when I see a girl with a pretty face I assume there’s nothing in her head.” Yes he actually said that!

Examples like these could go on forever and I know you could probably share your own stories for days as well. And even though I’d love to put every single person who has showered me with microaggressions and regular aggressions on blast right now – age has taught me to seek the lessons I learned out of these unpleasant experiences. Age and experience have also better helped me understand my own blind spots in situations when I know I’ve been undermined or discriminated against. As a cis middle class, educated Latina with a medium skin tone, I’ve got to check my privilege here, because I know it’s that much harder for underserved, non-binary, disabled and LGBTQ women of color. It’s rough out there, and although I sometimes wish I could go back in time and avoid those situations altogether, they have made me stronger, smarter, and more adept at dealing with them in the future. Here’s what I’ve learned:

I don’t have to explain myself to anyone.

Short of a job interview or a work assignment it’s absolutely no ones business how much I know on a subject. When I was younger I’d get really mad when someone treated me like I didn’t know what I was talking about. I’d huff and puff and roll my eyes hoping it would kill them. But it didn’t, nor would it ever make someone who is already disinterested in my knowledge suddenly value me. I am under no burden of proof unless it’s an article or a term paper. Have you ever seen a white man back up his claims with every single bit of information available, flash his degrees, and tell you his entire back story when someone doesn’t believe him? No, you haven’t.

I learned to put my ego aside and listen.

The absolute bane of my existence was listening to people explain something I am already familiar with in excruciating detail because obviously it’s annoying when people assume that, at best: I’m not on the same level, at worst: that I’m dumb. However, some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten was from “well meaning” people who felt like they were doing me a solid by covering every single detail. And honestly at times it has been extremely helpful in my professional life. But I make sure that I’m very selective about the people who I let have a minute of my time. Listen to those who have something to say, not those who just have to say something. Disclaimer: this does NOT apply to mansplaining, whitesplaining, or racist/problematic views. Tell them to shove it!

I don’t let anyone know what my capabilities are.

A lot of times gatekeepers of information and opportunity are assholes and when your start value is already as low as it can get with them, use it. Like most Latinas who are eager to make a name for themselves in the world, my fervor meant I was met with constant scrutiny that was both gendered and racial in nature. It used to ruin my whole day until I realized that playing into power dynamics gets me further. People who don’t and won’t see you as an equal are extremely responsive to the “I don’t know stuff, can you please help little old me. I want to learn to be more like you” routine. Knowledge is power my friends and people in high places like the feeling of “helping the little gal.” Go home and scream into a pillow after, but real talk, it works. Disclaimer: Your ego will hurt – refer back to #2.

I look within for confirmation and validation.

Isn’t it crazy how we always want validation from people who treat us badly? If they were treating you right you wouldn’t need to make them like you in order for you to feel worthy. This is the hardest lesson and it’s one I’m still working on. Like most women I’ve been sold on the idea that the only good thing about me is my body, my virginity, and sexual orifices – which are coincidentally all of the things that are used to control our behavior and sexuality. I’ve been called a whore, bitch, wetback. Younger me used to just swallow it and feel worthless, until I realized that other people’s perceptions are just reflections and deflections of themselves. I came to the conclusion that I would never be satisfied with what little praise I would get from other people and that literally set me free. I am the only one who defines me so I’m the only one who can decide if I’m living up to my standards. Because seriously, if someone doesn’t already treat you like the amazing individual you are, screw em.’

“The woman who does not require validation from anyone is the most feared individual on the planet.” ― Mohadesa Najumi

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