After another awkward situation today where a new friend surprisedly learned that I am Latina as he was about to utter some racial epithets, I felt that I needed to write an article dispelling common myths and stereotypes about Hispanics.
Myth 1. All Latina women work as housekeepers.
Almost every movie that makes it to the big screen designates the housekeeper role to a chunky Latina woman named Rosa. I do not have to look any further than my immediate family to find women who had successful careers, even before they came to the United States. My abuela was a successful opera singer in Cuba before Castro came to power. Soon after, she became a teacher. My aunt, who came here in the 1960s earned her master’s degree and successfully headed a social services department of DCF in Dade County before retiring. My sister is a successful piano teacher, my sister-in-law is an engineer, and I am a music professor. My friends and their mothers have careers in everything from education to real estate to law.
Myth 2. All Hispanics look alike.
We come in all shades, from milky white to olive to dark chocolate. Our eyes can be blue, green, and brown. We can have blonde, brunette, raven black, or bright red hair. We are tall and short, curvy and thin, petite and Amazonian. Our heritage can be European, African, Asian, or South American Indian.
Myth 3. All Hispanics sound alike.
Spanish has as many dialects as any other language. We do not all sound the same.
Myth 4. Latin women are hotter and sexier, and dress accordingly.
Despite this myth perpetuated constantly in the media, (and unfortunately followed by some young Latina women and actresses), the Latina woman is not any more or less sensual than her counterparts of any culture. While popular culture likes to portray the Latin woman as a scantily clad nymphomaniac, most Hispanic women take pride in their modesty, partially because of deep religious conviction.
Myth 5. All Hispanics came to the United States illegally.
While the thousands of Hispanics that come to the United States illegally make the news, the tales of the millions of Hispanics who have come to the United States legally and/or are proudly acquiring their citizenship papers is never told. America is the great land of opportunity, and Latinos are proud to contribute to the United States.
Myth 6. Celebrating Hispanic heritage is anti-American.
Each new cultural group has encountered similar prejudices when they first begin to arrive in the United States, as history shows by the ill treatment of past immigrants from Ireland, Germany, Eastern Europe, and Italy. Celebrating their cultural identity helped create a home here for past immigrant groups. Time has proven that even though far removed from their ancestry, cultural festivals in America abound celebrating heritages from as far flung as China to Italy to Scotland to Russia. Celebrating culture through food, language, and customs is an integral part of being an American, whether your family is from Ireland or Ecuador.
Myth 7. Hispanics do not want to speak English.
Studies have shown that by the second or third generation, Spanish has gone from being the first language learned, to merely a Spanglish dialect. As Latinos grow up in the American education system, they learn the English of their chosen country and use Spanish to speak with those of the old country. Those that are fortunate enough to speak and write fluently in both find themselves much more marketable in the global workplace in careers in international business, education, and law.
Myth 8. All Hispanics listen to the same music and watch the same television shows.
Salsa, hip hop, gospel, classical, jazz, and oldies – Hispanics listen to a wide variety of music artists. Latinos watch everything from Law and Order to telenovelas to CNN News. Part of the reason that politicians, networks, and telecommunication moguls have a difficult time finding out what Latinos like is because we like so many things of so many different varieties. And while our grandparents might listen to mariachi, we might like Beyonce’, Kelly Clarkson, or Metallica.
Myth 9. Latinos are not hard workers.
Go to Miami and visit the University of Miami and Florida International University, college institutions that boast a high percentage of Latinos studying everything from medicine to education to law to international business and the arts. These college students are the proud children of immigrants who gave up their homeland to give their children, this new generation of Latinos, a chance for success. My grandfather, who studied cardiology in Cuba and was an army lieutenant, became a pizza delivery boy in Hialeah, Florida, so my mother could grow up in a free society. You do not have a lazy work ethic if you have sacrificed everything for your family’s freedom.
I hope that this article helps dispel some myths propagated by the media. I know that stereotypes are often the first introduction one has to a different culture, and we all succumb to their simplistic groupings of people. Yet, nothing can dispel a myth quicker than having a genuine relationship with someone of a different culture.