My ancestors may have been the conquests of white men, but I refuse to be. Raised in a Puerto Rican and Dominican household and growing up in Washington Heights, NYC, a predominantly Dominican neighborhood, I have always been very proud of my culture and my identity as a Hispanic woman. My heritage is a large part of who I am.
But when a guy at a party excitedly told me, “Oh I’ve always had a thing for Latinas,” as if the thought of hooking up with me, meant fulfilling one of his sexual fantasies, I felt sick to my core, not just because of this random boy but also with the fear that maybe every other white guy I had encountered saw me in the same way, as nothing more than a check off a bucket list. For the first time, I have had to reflect on how others perceive me, specifically white men, and how this strays from my own interpretation of my identity. I dress way too similarly to a tourist to be exotic, so why do I often feel so eroticized?
I have been complimented for my body’s natural curvature. I have been told, “I’ve never been with a Hispanic girl before,” and I have been spoken to in Spanish (despite the fact that I, myself, am not fluent).
On social media, #Latina will have you come across more porn and sexually explicit content than any actual celebration of Latin-American culture.
Veronica, a former Syracuse student, said, “Most guys would hit on me with the assumption that because I was a Latina I would be more readily available for sex, better in bed, and more into dirty things than white girls.” She continued on, “White men have asked me to call them ‘Papi’ or to speak to them in Spanish in bed. I’ve been called feisty, sexy, spicy, people have called me by my place of origin ‘Puerto Rico’ instead of my real name.”
She went on to discuss how compliments would center around how “wild” or exotic her skin color or hair was, instead of on her amazing qualities as a person, such as her intelligence. Her advice to white males in relationships with women of color, was to be “more conscientious” of her as a person beyond ethnicity and reflective of their own privilege. Nationality and culture should be appreciated and embraced, but not sexualized. The last point she made was that “I, too, have been affected by this and used to think of myself as more sexual or feisty or whatever trope people assigned to Latinas, but learned to appreciate the real me and not what people expected of me.” It is important for women of color not to define themselves by the stereotypes that white men give them. Each woman has values, qualities, and actions that define her so much more as a person.
What I found most devastating when I reached out to other girls was that many others also felt fetishized within the context of their own races. A student of Taiwanese descent told me, that she had been called “China” before or told by guys, “I’ve always had a thing for Asian girls.” Flirtatious remarks are never just flirtatious; they always include some type of mention of race.
This fetishization by white guys is many times unintentional. However, it is important to stress that while it’s okay to be attracted to women of color (because I mean, we are beautiful beings), over-sexualizing, eroticizing, and confining these women to stereotypes damages their overall well-being and probably won’t get you in bed with them.
Do not say that every Latina you meet is basically Sofia Vergara. Do not assume that if she’s Asian, she’s sexually submissive. Do not call any African-American “your chocolate mami.” For one thing, it’s a dick move. Plus, I am defined by so much more than my ethnicity. You don’t have to be “color-blind” to find a real reason to compliment a woman of color. Latina, Asian, and African-American women are defined by so much more than race. We deserve better.