From ‘sexy’ to ‘lazy” and beastly, who’s defining the Latino image? Not us.
Jennifer Lopez and Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa)
It’s a strange time to be a Latino in the United States.
On the one hand, entertainment news web sites write mainbar posts about JLo’s recent ‘cut and curl’ haircut. On the other hand, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), the vice chair of the House’s immigration subcommittee, implies we’re the “less frisky” pups in the litter of prospective immigrants. And given that, which reputable dog breeder — which King apparently is — would choose us for the “Best of Show” that is the United States?
Beyond the text of soundbite and the pixels of megabyte, a far more serious tug-of-war is taking place in our nation in terms of defining who “Latinos” are in the mainstream.
In popular opinion at least, we are the undocumented immigrants all three legislative branches are making decisions about this week.
The Obama administration released a deferred action memorandum, making our public face those of the young DREAM-Act activists you see on our front cover this week.
The Supreme Court will rule in the next couple of weeks about the legality of the federal government’s case that Arizona’s SB 1070 oversteps state law and tramples on federal immigration law, and there’s another image.
SB 1070 is known as the “driving while brown” law, meaning any one of us, legal or not, might be pulled over as we drive in Arizona because the “reasonable suspicion” as defined by that state includes certain manner of dress, what stores we frequent, even the kind of car we drive and how many of us are in the car, as possible markers of illegality.
Meanwhile, in state and federal legislatures, the bills that are being considered paint a picture of undocumented (a.k.a. Latinos) as people who are standing in line to receive benefits they aren’t entitled to.
All of these are predicated on some pretty stereotyped versions of who the majority of Latinos in our nation are.
Like Rep. King’s version — with its assumption of laziness based on the 1950s images of Mexicans slumbing under huge sombreros for a midday siesta — none of them capture or elaborate on the complexity of our community.
If you look around the Al Día newsroom you find those who might be stopped in Arizona because they look “Latino,” and those who might not. You find those wearing Christian Louboutin shoes and those wearing $5 kicks from the corner store. Those with accents, those without. Some dark-haired and others blonder than JLo has become.
While Latinos have become more proactive about resisting the enduring stereotypes about us (witness the backlash against Eva Longoria’s proposed TV show portraying four Latinas as maids) we tend to have the discussions in the back channels, where no one from the mainstream is listening.
Until the discussion about stereotypes becomes as mainstream as the stereotypes themselves, there is no hope to begin to correct them.
The media discourse and coverage of Latinos has to change; the way politicians characterize us; even the way stars and starlets present themselves and/or are willing to be presented in the public eye.
It starts with ongoing and honorable media coverage about Latinos and ends in that“Best of” category where some people claim — spuriously — we don’t belong.