‘Shedding Light on Latina History’: Stereotypes regarding Latinas in the media

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UConn’s El Instituto worked with the Connecticut Democracy Center to present “Shedding light on Latina history,” The discussion brought to light the various stereotypes associated with Latinas and leadership, especially in the media and how these stereotypes play a role in their communities. Photo courtesy of ArtLikeBread.

UConn’s El Instituto worked with the Connecticut Democracy Center to present “Shedding light on Latina history,” a thought-provoking discussion regarding Latinas in the media, leadership positions and the role they play in their communities on Thursday via Facebook live. 

The panelists included Esperanza Sanchez, the curator at La Plaza de Cultura y Artes in Los Angeles, and Ruth Glasser, an associate professor-in-residence for urban and community studies at the UConn Waterbury campus. The discussion was moderated by Ariel Mae Lambe, an assistant professor at the Waterbury campus. 

Glasser kicked off the conversation by talking about typical stereotypes for Latina women and the role these stereotypes play in the media and film. She said Latina women are often categorized as fiery, promiscuous and over-sexualized. She also noted that, although Latinas have been getting more roles in American TV and movies, they are still extremely underrepresented and are often typecast, which only perpetuates these stereotypes. 

“One of the things I just want to say about this is that I think these stereotypes are pernicious, both for outsiders and for insiders,” Glasser said. “They reinforce the othering of Latinas as exotic and exaggerated and they also provide very pernicious role models for young Latinas.” 

“They [stereotypes] reinforce the othering of Latinas as exotic and exaggerated and they also provide very pernicious role models for young Latinas.”

Ruth Glasser, an associate professor-in-residence for urban and community studies at the UConn Waterbury campus
Shakira, a famous Latina music artist. In the discussion, in regards to celebrities like Shakira and J-Lo, Sanchez said they all had the same story in the sense that to be successful not only did they have to sing and dance well, but they also had to provide sex appeal. Photo courtesy of Tispain.

Sanchez agreed with Glasser’s comments about Latina stereotypes in film and TV and said they appear in the music industry as well. Listing some famous Latinas in the music industry, such as Jennifer Lopez and Shakira, Sanchez said they all had the same story in the sense that to be successful not only did they have to sing and dance well, but they also had to provide sex appeal. 

Later, Sanchez explained how there has been notable progress within the industry now that some of these women are at the forefront and are able to talk about the issues regarding these stereotypes within their community or their homelands. 

Another thing Sanchez noted within the music industry was how, in the ‘90s, many artists were limited to one identity. She said when growing up, there was no discussion of multiculturalism or being of mixed ancestry. Now, it has become more of a common discussion across most music genres.   

During the discussion, both Glasser and Sanchez said they not only wanted to focus on famous Latinas but also women who are not widely known. They said that many Latinas play an important leadership role and although they are not commonly recognized for their work, they make a huge impact on their community. 

Sanchez talked about Alicia Escalante who in the 1960s founded the East Los Angeles Chicana Welfare Rights Organization. She looked at all the low income that was happening in east LA — lack of education and lack of resources — and ended up creating a welfare organization to provide women with more resources and ways for kids to get their education. This organization continues to provide resources for people to this day. 

A photo of Alicia Escalante. Alicia Escalante was prompted to found the East Los Angeles Chicana Welfare Rights Organization, after recognizing the lack of education and resources in East Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of Chicanapormiraza.

Lambe also asked the panelists how they believed communities could encourage young Latinas to take on roles in leadership. Sanchez said she believed mentorship is a great way to help young girls because there are not many Latina role models and the ones in the media often adhere to the previously mentioned stereotypes. 

Glasser agreed with Sanchez and added that she believed more robust afterschool programs and more culturally reinforcing programs would have a positive effect as well. 

“I think a lot of Latinas grow up not speaking Spanish, not knowing much about their cultural traditions and being shamed for it.”

Ruth Glasser, an associate professor-in-residence for urban and community studies at the UConn Waterbury campus

“I think a lot of Latinas grow up not speaking Spanish, not knowing much about their cultural traditions and being shamed for it,” Glasser said. “I’ve seen that a lot with my students that there is almost this concept of authenticity that you have to be able to dance, that you have to be able to speak Spanish, that you have to be able to do certain things in order to be truly a member of the culture and I don’t think people should be shamed for it. I think they should be given opportunities to engage with that culture if they want to.” 

El Instituto will be hosting more virtual events throughout the rest of the semester. The dates and times for these events can be found on their website. 

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