As of 2014 there were 55 million people of Hispanic descent living in the U.S. However, the ethnic makeup of this population is varied, with wildly diverse countries, skin colors, languages and political leanings. Putting everyone that is Latino in a “box” and labeling it is a mistake that many of us make.
Poet, actor and author Carlos Andrés Gómez takes on latino stereotypes in his work entitled “Juan Valdez.” In this piece he responds to a woman who inquires about his name. She insists his must be a stage name. “I mean, I’ve never met a Hispanic that looks like you,” he recalls her saying.
What exactly does ‘a Hispanic’ look like?
Do I need to look like Juan Valdez
and sell Folgers in a T.V. commercial,
sift my fingers through Colombian coffee
beans I picked myself, sitting on the back of my
reliable mule, Conchita, next to a brokedown Chiva in an oversized sombrero,
– for me to “look” Latino?
or look like “a Hispanic” as you say?
And what is “a Hispanic” exactly?”
And later in the poem,
“but I have met Latinos
proud of the vibrant patch-work quilt
we’ve had to weave over centuries across an endless cemetery
that cradles our past, a swollen dust underneath our soles –
wherever we stand – that we nickname home
twisting roots at war, looking for
nothing else but to be held –
you know “held”?
Like a family grasping onto each other
because they’ve left behind everything
and only have each other left,
arriving on Mars without
a guidebook or a map.
I don’t tattoo my body
because my veins are already too full with ink,
passion-rich pigments that can’t help but
pulse and flow
look at my heart, you short-sighted fool
I mean really look at it –
cut open my chest and stare
at that proud glow
and then ask me if I
Gómez is not the only one challenging assumptions based on stereotypes. The Coalition for Humane Rights of Immigrants of Los Angeles responded to some of Donald Trump’s recent comments with a campaign called “Turn Ignorance Around.”
A video clip features Latinos wearing T-shirts with phrases like “I am a murderer,” or “I am a dealer.” Then as they turn, the backs of their shirts tell more of the story. “I am a murderer of boredom. I am a comedian, and I am Latino.”
These artists and organizations give us powerful reminders that bias is dangerous, and at times, fatal.