Somebody said something the other day that ticked me off.
I was apologetically five minutes late for an interview. I even called my boss to tell this person I was going to be five minutes late. When I got there, this guy said, “Latinas are always late!”
He happened to be a Latino/Hispanic himself and went on to tell me how his mom always made him late for soccer practice.
I was upset because not only am I seldom late, but I go out of my way to be on time. You can call it bad planning on my part, but don’t say I was late out of selfishness. On that particular afternoon, I happened to be at a meeting at my daughter’s school. I serve on the Portales High School Quality Leadership Team where I am the notetaker and we went a few minutes over. So when this guy made this stereotypical comment, which by the way is true of many Latinas as well as other women in general, I thought to myself, “How come nobody ever says things like, ‘Those Latinas, they’re always so involved in their children’s education. They are such hard workers.’”
Instead you have comedians like George Lopez, who, even though I like his TV sitcom, says hurtful things that reinforce stereotypes. In his stand-up act, Lopez talks about a white girl dating a Latino and she wants to blend in. She asks, “How can I be Latina?” He responds, “You want to be a Latina? Wear a black bra with a white shirt, or how about lip liner with no lipstick.”
I laughed hysterically the first time I heard this. After all, we have to laugh at ourselves. But then again, cheap swipes like this only serve to reinforce these stereotypes, particularly when there is nothing on the positive side to balance it. We Latinas may not all dress like Daisy Fuentes, but we don’t all fit the stereotypical mold of a street chola either.
On TV and in movies, Latinas are often portrayed as maids, welfare moms or barflies. With actresses like Salma Hayek, that is slowly changing. But unknown to mainstream America, there are other things that are also slowly changing for Latinas who seem to have gotten left behind in the women’s liberation movement, often victims of the male-dominated “machismoism” of Latin culture and exploited as sex objects on Spanish TV.
So much focus has been placed on the fast growing Latino population, which is now the nation’s largest minority. But so little focus has been given to the Latina women who are the forgotten minority within a minority.
As national Hispanic Heritage Month kicks off this week and continues through Oct. 15, I want to shed a little light on Latinas, who, according to the U.S. Labor Department, are the fastest growing segment of the American work force, even outpacing Hispanic males.
I’ve done preliminary research on my master’s thesis in communications at Eastern New Mexico University. After looking at more than 30 sources, I’ve found Latinas are the fastest growing segment of small business owners in the country with more than a half-million Latina-owned businesses. That looks good on paper, but in reality many of these businesses are in the service sector, which is not entirely a bad thing. But when it comes to the professional sector, Latinas are still lagging seriously behind. The hard reality is that we Latinas are the poorest of the poor in the nation.
My thesis is titled “Latinas in the newsroom: What is the relationship between gender, race and success at a daily newspaper?” One disturbing thing I’ve found is that while many Latinas are becoming their own bosses, not many are making their presence known through high-profile jobs. Latinas make up only 1 percent of America’s print journalists.
In recent years, there’s been a surge of Latina writers, including Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez and Ana Castillo, and in broadcasting, such as Soledad O’Brien and Elizabeth Vargas, but when it comes to progress as a whole, Latina women fall behind others, including black women. It is in the best interest of all women, as well as our children and society, that we shatter these negative stereotypes and focus on the progress being made — as slow as it may be in coming.
Helena Rodriguez is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. She can be reached at