Latina Like JLo
On my last birthday, a friend gave me a wonderful pair of earrings. I was grateful and appreciative that she thought of me and remembered my love of earrings when she came across this pair she thought I’d like.
As I was opening her gift, something slipped out of her mouth before she could stop it, and I could tell that she immediately knew it might not have been the best thing to say. We know each other well enough and what she said did make me laugh, but still, the weight of what she was saying remained thick in the air.
Just as I pulled the last piece of tape off the gift and went to open the box, she blurted with excitement: “I just know you’ll love them. They’re by JLo!”
That stopped me in my tracks. There was so much about this that was funny. First, that my loving friend would think that if it’s by JLo it meant I would automatically love it because, well, I’m Latina. Second, the very moment she made the JLo comment, she began apologizing one hundred times in a row. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry…
I told her all was fine and put her at ease. And the truth is, I did love the earrings. And I do love most anything by JLo.
Do I love JLo everyday? No. Is everything in my closet and jewelry box by JLo? Again, no. I like variety as much as any other woman.
But Not Latina Enough For Some
Then, the weekend I was writing this post, I followed an online comment thread about a YouTube video that someone had put up. It followed the theme of the popular meme of “What XXXXX Women Say.” You know, the ones that have been going around. In this case, the video was about Latina women, and what they say.
Some of the comments people left on this YouTube video were from those who thought they had to put this out there to the performer: “”You don’t sound Latina.” and “You don’t look Latina”; ”You don’t act Latina”; and “Latinas wouldn’t say that.”
All that, despite the performer having Latin roots.
Someone once told me they were surprised to find out I was Hispanic. Their reason? “You don’t wear leopard spots ever.”
How many leopard spot-wearing days a year do I need to be Latina enough? Two times a month? Is that enough leopard spot-wearing to be considered Latina?
As an American with Colombian roots, the question comes to my mind: What is Latinaness? And I pose this not for the non-Latino population to determine, but for us to discuss amongst ourselves.
What makes us who we are? And why does it sometimes seem that our harshest, most intolerant critics are those among our own ethnicity?
What makes us Latina enough to be accepted by our own cultural group? What is it that the critics within our own cultural groups want to see? What would make us Latina enough for our own people to accept us?
The barbs that sting me the most are the ones that come from my own people, with words of judgment, non-acceptance, and closed doors. (At least my gift-giving friend thinks me Latina enough.)
I want to say to these people, my own people, I don’t fit into the American culture, and you make me feel as if you can’t accept me into your culture based on standards that you determine.
Where would you like me to belong? Because I want to belong with you. You. Where my roots begin, where my heart lies, where my identity is grounded. Please, I may not be exactly like you because I am born here, or have lived here most of my life, but I want to be one of you: you’re my people, and I love you.