So if you’ve landed on my blog, at some point you’ve probably passed a photo of me. And you may have noticed that I don’t look like the Latina stereotype one pictures when they hear the last name “Rodriguez.”
It’s okay. You can admit it. I get that a lot.
Let me just come out and say that my dad is Puerto Rican (he grew up in Utuado) and my mom is Polish. And before you jump to any conclusions—no, I do not look like my mother. But, yes, my family is “West Side Story, The Dyslexic Version” (I love Officer Kumpke).
Here’s the deal: not all Latinas look like Selma Hyak (though we probably wish we did). And don’t be alarmed… but we don’t all speak Spanish.
I learned Spanish in school just like everybody else (plus I spent a semester in Madrid). Why did I not get the “Spanish language gene” passed down in my DNA? Because it doesn’t exist.
Though my dad is fluent, my mom is not. So unless he was speaking to my grandparents (who eventually learned English), he wasn’t using his native tongue in our home.
Because I don’t “look” Latina and because I didn’t grow up speaking Spanish, I sort of went into the closet about it. I grew up feeling like I wasn’t a part of my own culture because I didn’t fit the stereotype. And, even worse, I let other people treat me as if I didn’t belong.
Trust me—people aren’t shy about calling you out. I had a guy come up to me at a corporate cocktail party I was attending for my former magazine, take one look at my name badge and say, “Rodriguez? How’d you get that name? What did you marry a Hispanic?”
No, I didn’t. I married a very nice Jewish boy (what can I say? I’m diverse).
As I’ve grown up, I’ve realized that the Latina stereotype is just that—A STEREOTYPE.
I’m no less Latina because I’ve got freckles and reddish hair. Much of my family in Puerto Rico is paler than I am with just as many freckles. My cousin Ventura, who lives in San Juan and doesn’t speak English, gets called a “gringo” by his own people when he runs the Puerto Rican marathon.
So why do we do this? Why do put Latinos in the closet?
Because it’s not just me.
Look at Cameron Diaz. How many of you know that her father is Cuban? Yup, she’s half-Cuban. This makes her genetically more “Latina” than Jessica Alba, who’s half-Mexican American roots are several generations removed.
It’s as silly as saying Barack Obama isn’t “black enough.” Or that Jennifer Lopez is “getting all ethnic now.” Or that to appeal to the “Latino Vote,” politicians should run ads in Spanish.
So I wrote a book about this. I gave my character, Mariana Ruíz, the same ethnic make up as myself (come on, how many other Polish Puerto Ricans do you know? I had to represent). And I have her struggling to face her cultural identity. She’s got red hair and freckles, she doesn’t speak Spanish, and (gasp!) she’s from a wealthy suburb.
She’s Latina. She’s multi-cultural. And so am I.
POP-CULTURE RANT: General Hospital
Since the theme here is coming out of the closet, I figured I’d go all the way. I watch General Hospital. And I love it. Did any of you see their “special effects” for February sweeps? They pulled out the green screen and everything to have the Text Message Killer’s car dangling over a bridge. Okay, it wasn’t exactly Star Wars technology, but I give them an ‘A’ for effort. Though I’m sure many fans were secretly hoping Sam and/or Elizabeth would go down with that car. Come on, you know you were…