Not Latina Enough

by Latina Fatale on 03/30/2011 · 11 comments

in Ethnicity and Race

My friend Kathy, who reads Spanish, complimented the column I wrote for yesterday’s paper (you can read the column in Spanish here) and suggested I send it to a newspaper in Florida, where she lives. She said that I could maybe even write in Spanish, as there is a large Spanish-speaking community there and they could be potential readers for me. Kathy means well and I appreciate the vote of confidence, but what she doesn’t know is that I already tried that and failed miserably.

I am not going to trash the newspaper I applied to thrice. I am merely going to say that the names rhymes with Gerald and leave it at that. The people of The Gerald have rejected me three times because they say I’m not what their readers expect from a Latina writer. In other words, I’m not Latina enough. Or at least, not according to the recently widespread Latin Grammy/Stefan version of what it means to be Latina.

You see, I am not blessed with the perpetually tanned skin nor do I have the obligatory sexy, pouty and permanently puckered lips (what’s up with that, anyway? it looks like they’re smelling their lips. how can that be hot?) and I don’t have smoldering eyes or a Fantasy Island-like accent. I am short, fat -not bootylicious- muddy-blonde haired, pasty, white, blue-eyed and freckly, and that renders me “unlatina”. It doesn’t matter that I was BORN in Colombia, that I speak and write Spanish like a native, that I graduated from high school and got my BA and Specialist degree in Colombia or that I come from a family that has at least 6 generations of Colombians on either side. All that matters is that I don’t fit their image.

And that sucks because that Latina-ness is, more often that not, a commercial by-product, a media construct, something that was created to sell things and give awards. How else do you explain that Jennifer Lopez, who was born in the United states and doesn’t speak Spanish too well (not at all until she married her current hubby) is the Latina icon, and Christina Aguilera, who does not speak Spanish at all and owes her last name to a father she barely has a relationship with, are both “Latin Grammy” material? The Latin Grammys include people from Spain, who are European and pretty much look over their shoulder at most Latin Americans, but not Portuguese or Italians, who are part of the same linguistic family and were once part of the Latin-speaking Roman Empire. What’s the criteria?

And not too far away, America Ferrera, also American born and non-Spanish speaking (or at least not without a heavy accent) is the poster Latina girl because of her heritage, but Alexis Bledel, who speaks perfect Spanish and comes from equally Latino parents goes unnoticed as a fellow chica. I guess Rory and I have something in common after all. You know, other than being obnoxious, chatty know-it-alls.

Ok, so I don’t have a cool name that I could turn into a catchy byline (A’Alv is hardly ghetto chic), or listen to reaggeaton or call my friends “mija”, but that doesn’t make me any less Latina. But apparently, for newspapers anyway, Latina-ness is like porn insofar as the definition is on a I’ll-know-it-when-I-see- it basis. And they didn’t see it in me. I guess they weren’t looking where it counts.

Oh, just so you know, The Gerald wound up hiring a woman who has never been south of Coral Gables and who barely speaks Spanish, but her last name ends in “ez” and she descends from Cubans and has that subtle Spanglish drawl. She, evidently, oozes “Latina-ness”.

About the Author: Angela Alvarez is a journalist and cultural studies specialist that was born in Colombia, raised in the US and is currently living in Bogota with her husband, Jorge, whom she met because of a wrong number. They have a son, Matías. All of the above make up the subject matter for the humor columns she has written for over eight years as a columnist for several Colombian newspapers and magazines. She has recently began blogging in English at where she writes about being a B3: bilingual, bicultural and (slightly) bipolar.

Originally posted on the B3 blog and cross-posted with permission

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Tyler sid March 31, 2011 at 12:03 am

great post…I found it very interesting how the media have constructed their “latina” construct…you know, I hadn’t thought about that…but after reading your piece your point was right on…


feministified April 1, 2011 at 1:03 am

There are so many things I could say about ‘not being latina enough.’ But I feel like I would be preaching to the choir a bit here. In which case, I will say this instead: Angela, you have a great voice and talent for writing, and I hope you keep at it. Now following you on B3.


Chula April 1, 2011 at 2:42 am

On one hand, I find it so absurd that newspaper won’t publish your work based on how you look, which is pretty ridiculous. On another hand, I think the fact that some Hispanics do not speak spanish is way more loaded than you present it (As a merit badge of your pride/nationality). In this country especially, there’s a demand for children of immigrant families to be stripped of their language and culture. And when children of color are forced to assimilate with this new culture, they lose out on their own native culture. As a result, they get rejected by their own people and they end up trying to integrate with whites. These kids, too, suffer the scrutiny of not being “Latina” enough because they cannot speak the language. I’ve suffered it, as have other people.

On another note, though, it’s absurd what counts as “Hispanic” or “Not Hispanic”, as we all come from different countries and being Hispanic is not a mutually exclusive thing.


Lindsey April 26, 2011 at 1:29 am

I agree in the sense that people should not judge a book by its cover. Especially since the looks of a Latina are so diverse. I don’t agree with what these people are doing to you, but I also want to say I don’t speak Spanish and that still does not make me less Latina. I get annoyed when people constantly tell me I am in the wrong especially when I am a fifth generation Mexican-American. I work in a place where I get many Latino customers who have made faces at me or given me attitude because of it. This I think is completely out of line and ignorant on their part. I am proud of who I am and not speaking Spanish does not make me “not latin enough”.


sonia October 30, 2011 at 5:04 pm

This is so true, I’m Mexican, I speak Spanish. I have dark blonde hair color eyes and a light complexion. I don’t look completely white nor do I look completely Mexican its in between. I am also tired of the Latina stereotype that the US has on what Latina women should look like. The media thinks that all Hispanics must have dark hair and dark skin, they must all dance salsa and wear red dresses. First of all the only salsa I like is on my food and I don’t wear the color red. Hispanic are different according to where they come from, I don’t identify myself with Cubans or any other form of Hispanic, they are different than Mexicans. The media needs to consider our history and Hispanic is not a race, but a mixture of races and this would explain why some of us are lighter or more European looking than others. This does not make us less Hispanic or Latino.


sonia October 30, 2011 at 5:22 pm

In regards speaking Spanish, yes I have to agree that I myself am annoyed when people who are Hispanic do not speak Spanish and its not because they can’t its because they don’t want to. I have met people who deny this part of themselves to appear more American. This makes me mad, especially with those individuals who completely look Hispanic. There is a saying in Spanish “Tienes el nopal en la frente”. This means who have the cactus on your forehead, which means that you completely look Mexican, meaning you can’t be confused with anything else, so stop trying to be white.

I do agree with someone else’s post that our language is sometimes lost because of formal schooling in English. I think that the maintenance of Spanish has many factors, such as if our parents speak the language, do our parents encourage us to maintain the language, do we ourselves take it as a personal goal to educate ourselves in the Spanish language and choose to maintain it and teach it to our children.

I think that we criticize individuals who obviously have the cactus on their forehead and don’t speak a lick of Spanish as being less Hispanic because Hispanic is a culture and speaking Spanish is part of that culture.


Kanella March 12, 2012 at 4:47 am

I think it doesnt make you less latino to not know spanish but I hate when people put all out there that they are latino and dont know the first thing about the country they claim to be from. Its annoying when I ask my friend who is so proud to from the dominican republic(and dont speak spanish)who thlee president and doesnt know and same for none latino. My boyfriend who german, french and irish and tell everyone what he is doesn’t know a holiday. I was born in mexico to a cuban mother and spanish father. My parent made sure I knew I my history. Im tall a very thin with blue e yes and a light tan. I look far from latino


Latina Fatale March 21, 2012 at 1:45 am

It’s great that your parents taught you your history. Unfortunately I wasn’t in the same situation. Personally I’m proud to be half mexican and half nicaraguan-I love both countries and am proud but honestly I don’t know who the president of nicaragua is at this time. I can tell you all about my great nicaraguan family etc. Even white people in the u.s., many of them don’t know u.s. history. I know that I’d like to learn more about nicaragua, but there is just so much that I want to learn and I haven’t gotten around to learning all about the history and also the current climate now.


name April 15, 2012 at 6:47 pm

If you retarded Americans/Latin Americans would realize that ‘latino’ is a word that means nothing, things would be much better.
You can call yourself ‘latina’ if you are from LATIN AMERICA, and that’s about it.
It’s not a heritage, an ethnicity or a race, not even a culture.
Are a black Cuban, an indigenous Mexican, a white Puerto Rican, the same race or ethinicity? do you really think so? Do they have the same heritage?
WHAT do they have in common other than the language they speak?
and why classify a group of people just because of the language they speak?

Nobody calls the English speakers of the world ‘Britanic’ or some other ridiculous name just because they all speak the same language.


Lilio September 30, 2012 at 12:00 am

I found you article very interesting. I totally agree with you and it sometimes pisses me off to see all this “so-called” latinas stars and barely speaks spanish. I live in London and come from a Panamenian mother and oh well a Russian father that speaks perfect spanish; I’m fluent reading and speaking my writing may have some flaws but I dominate it almost perfectly. I know the feeling when people don’t believe you come from latin heritage for having white skin and blondish hair, etc. On my personal opinion it’s unfair that they’ve rejected you twice or thrice from this work for not having the Latina image they wanted you to be. They should receive a really good shakes on their heads to understand that having mildly tan skin, pumped-up lips and booty defines being latina.



The Curvy Socialite June 14, 2013 at 1:57 am

Probably one of the most heated debates I have on a regular. Like you, i’m not Latina enough but I fall on the other end of the spectrum. With my kinky hair (now in dreadlocks) and dark skin and full lips, I can’t possibly be a Latina. Even to those who should know better (I’m sorry if you’re Dominican, Puerto Rican, Honduran, Costa Rican and Panamanian you have definitely seen latin negras like myself). Those in the area that is served by “the Gerald” try to pretend they don’t know folks on both ends of the spectrum on a regular. But I’m sorryPapi (plays for the Boston Red Sox), Jose Reyes (former Met) and Bernie Williams (former Yankee) should be a reminder– as with others as well. Even Hollywood needs to wise up in that regard too. Gina Torres (married name Fishburne) is a proud Cubana and I smile when folks are shocked to realize that she’s Hispanic.


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