The Latino/a Graduate Professional Network and MU Hispanic American Leadership Organization sponsored a presentation discussing stereotypes of Latinas in society Wednesday as a part of HALO Week.
Rebecca Martinez, an assistant professor of women's and gender studies, gave the presentation, titled "Latina Stereotypes: From the Sexy Spit-Fire to the Hyper-Fertile Immigrant Threat," in Memorial Union. Martinez spoke about how two predominant labels emerge in stereotypes surrounding Latina's in the United States: one of a self-sacrificing Latina and one of an over-sexualized Latina.
"Pop culture has generally represented Latinas in relation to the 'virgin-whore' dichotomy," Martinez said at the presentation. "This limited view posits that Latinas are either the Virgen de Guadaloupe or a hyper-sexualized woman."
These stereotypes appear often in movies and television, where Latinas are usually depicted as either maids or as "hot, spicy señoritas," Martinez said. She cited singer and dancer Carmen Miranda, and Sofía Vergara, who plays a stereotypical Latina on ABC's sitcom "Modern Family," as examples of the stereotype.
"When you look at 'Modern Family,' Latinos don't watch that," Martinez said. "There was a statistic that only about 6 percent of the viewers are Latinos. So, you have to get in positions of powers of production and ownership to be able to make the kinds of films and roles that reflect reality. I think that needs to happen."
This kind of racial stereotyping dates back even to Benjamin Franklin, who feared German immigrants were a threat to American culture, Martinez said.
"There's this tension about origins and who can stake claim," she said. "So, we ignore the genocide of American Indians and we shroud that in a discourse of progress and manifest destiny. It allows us to make things invisible that are uncomfortable and it allows people to make claims to power."
Cultural stereotypes can have detrimental affects on Latinas politically, socially and psychologically, Martinez said.
"I think psychological effects can be issues of self-esteem, issues of wanting to be the image that is portrayed and how that can negatively affect you," Martinez said. "Having to deal with those micro-aggressions on a daily basis wears on people … You always have to think about something that somebody else doesn't have to think about. If something happens to you, you think that 'Did they say that because I'm Latina? Are they judging me because of my skin color?'"
Junior Jessica Hoyos said she related with the topics Martinez discussed because she's faced stereotyping in her own life.
"I've had people ask me if I'm 'hot and spicy' before," Hoyos said. "I just think, 'What does that even mean?' I am not defined by a stereotype."
Martinez also discussed stereotyping of Latina women in parties. She talked about a college party that had a Latina theme and girls went dressed as scantily clad pregnant women.
That kind of stereotyping at a college level is unsettling, sophomore Nick Ramos said.
"There is no such thing as a positive stereotype because you are generalizing about an entire people," Ramos said. "It's ridiculous when you see those kinds of parties and it's just saddening."
There is a misconception that the U.S. is in a post-racial era, and that concept sets back progress in battling the stereotypes and their consequences, Martinez said.
"We are now where we have an African American president and people are arguing like we are in a post-racial society," Martinez said. "These kind of ideas mask racism in society and kind of give people a free card to do these things and then say that they're not racist. There's these really misguided ideas that stem from this idea that racism doesn't exist."
The denial of racism stalls discourse on the topic and thus stalls finding solutions, Martinez said.
"Obama can't even talk about race, because then people are like 'you're being racist by mentioning race,'" Martinez said. "This drives me crazy. We have to change the discourse about post-racism and come to terms with these inequalities that still exist."
With the country's changing demographics, society will have to move in the right direction, but process won't be easy, Martinez said.
"There will be tensions and there will be fights, but as population changes there will have to be a coming to grip at some points," she said. "We still have the issues that we've been dealing with for a long time like the kind of disparities and the income inequality … So there's going to be a coming to grips and it's going to continue to be a struggle. We're going to have to have really difficult discussions."