Thursday, April 19, 2012

I'm Not Your Spicy Latina

I am a Hispanic woman. What I am not is someone who wants to be fetishized for that fact. I am not an exotic prize to be won.

My "mix" isn't sexy. I as a person am sexy. Any quality, negative or positive, that I have is not due to me being Hispanic; it's due to me being zepp.

There is no need to address me as mami, muñeca, or any other Spanish phrase. I often wonder if the people who start off their messages to me with "hola" always greet people that way. I'm guessing not since it's usually a message filled with phrases that call attention to me being Hispanic that are an attempt to flatter me. I'm not flattered.

I’m also not flattered by the men who yell “culo” at me on the street. Do they know they’re just yelling “ass”? I think most women have encountered this kind of sexual harassment. But I do notice that when women of color are harassed in this way their race or ethnicity is acknowledged.

Women of color have to contend with both sexism and racism. This racism is usually masked and accepted. I'd argue that it's even marketed especially in pornography. I’ve come across many titles or descriptions containing phrases such as: ghetto booty, yellow fever, and spicy Latina.

I am not going to live up to the idea of the spicy Latina that pornography has created. It's a fact that I am a very sexual person. It isn’t a fact that all Hispanic women are sexual. This kind of generalization of women of color and their sexuality isn’t limited to pornography or even media.

One just needs to take a look at the history of women of color (especially in America) to see how this racializing of sex plays out. Colonizing land usually also meant colonizing the women of that land. They were described as uncivilized, hypersexualized, sexually inferior, and savage. Now contrast them to the image of the pure white women that was upheld. The rape of women of color was then seen as no big deal, from the time Europeans settled in America to the time of slavery and one could even argue to present day. Rape was a part of their subordination.

I am not claiming that anyone who fetishizes women of color is a rapist. What I am trying to do is call attention to the value that is placed on certain bodies. Women of color are exotic and sexualized but they aren’t valued. Take a look at the eugenics movement and sterilization that happened in the early 20th century if you don’t believe me. 

So when people tell me I must be a spitfire or a freaky girl in bed all because of my being Hispanic I am not at all flattered. They’re working on stereotypes created long ago to subordinate women of color and cast them as the inferior “other”. What’s frustrating is people are not aware of these stereotypes and where they came from. No matter how accepted it seems to be, I take it as another way my body and sexuality is disciplined by others and my agency taken away.

I am in no way trying to tell people they can’t identify in any way they want. If people wish to fetishize their own race, ethnicity, or culture that is totally fine. What I have a problem with is others doing it to me and the dangers in generalization. In writing this I am also not claiming that white women face no problems. They indeed do but I think women of color face a number of issues that they do not because of their privilege as white women.

Anyone who wishes to read more into the history of sexuality should check out Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America by John D'Emilio and Estelle B. Freedman which is very broad but also informative. Major Problems in the History of Sexuality edited by Kathy Peiss is also a great source with essays as well as primary documents.

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