Mariana Plaza Cardenas is Editor of Breaking the Glass Ceiling.
Latin American identity is defined in vastly different ways according to who you speak to. In the Western World, Latin American identity is quickly defined through the lens of the stereotypical caricature of a Latin American individual. This caricature articulates itself in numerous forms, the way we behave (loud, dramatic), the way we feel (passionate, intensely), the background we have, the jobs we work in, the things that interest us (Zumba, football, the 2 writers people are familiar with).
These caricatures affect men and women differently. For men, these stereotypes place them into a box of having the “macho personality”, with the expectation of them expressing their masculinity in a particular way. For women this is juxtaposed with the constant fetishization of them as exotic women, idealized for their looks, and the scope of their identity being limited to their oversexualisation, and sassy attitude. Stereotypes that although humorous in attitude, and benevolent in nature are not representative of the rich identity of the LAM individual.
Of course there is some truth in stereotypes, after all, they are devised from identifiable traits present in societies, and in this case issues that exist in the Latin American community, nonetheless, the poignant issue at hand is that stereotypes cannot be directly tied to identity.
The reality is that Latin American identity is far more complex. We are a multi-ethnic, multilingual continent, multicultural with a rich history (full of good but also bad things). Yet why then precisely do we often let our identity be defined through the eyes of westerners as soon as we find ourselves in their context?
One main reason is shame. A certain shame exists in wearing Latin American identity beyond the stereotypes afforded to us by our Western Counterparts. Perhaps it can be attributed as a remnant of colonialism, or to our constant idealization of the western lifestyle which leads many of us to move abroad. This shame and idealization of western culture and identity moves many to begin molding our individual and cultural identity in an attempt to please and acclimatize ourselves with Westerners, or in other cases instead directly disengage with any form of Latin American identity. And as a result, this makes our collective identity, as well as our personal identity, be defined through others’ perception of it.
Nonetheless, it is important to consider other reasons as to why we choose to leave behind our identities; misogyny, deeply socially stratified societies according to class systems, corruption. The list of social issues present in our continent that directly link to identity continues. It affects many of us as we attempt to distance ourselves from these particular issues, ending with us leaving our identities behind.
I’ve previously mentioned that many Latin Americans choose to actively disengage with their LAM identity, but how is this even possible. It’s important to consider that many of us, as white passing (after all the U.K doesn’t recognize Latino’s as an ethnic minority), educated in private schools with our flawless English, don’t look like clear outliers, and form part of elite facets of Latin American society. These “privileges” facilitate the process of many of us leaving our identity behind, to stop ourselves from being drowned in others’ preconceived notions of our ways of existing — and instead submerge ourselves in the culture of the place we are in, as a means of survival.
Realising the complexity of Latin American identity is the first way to address the matter at hand.
To us this complexity can be frightening, however, it is the only way of evading the impossible dilemma we are placed in. A dilemma of choosing between letting the western world categorize us according to their notions of our identity — embracing the stereotypes or neglecting parts of our identity. It is evident that Latin American identity is not a clear-cut definition, but a deeply rich, multilayered identity. Our Identity is encompassed by our beliefs, history, cultural practices, art and people, much more than any caricature or stereotype would ever be able to present.
As young Latin Americans, we need to come together as a community, not only to talk about relevant and pertinent issues — but also take responsibility to see and engage with all aspects of our community too, especially not just those that benefit our individual privlieges. A great place to start is the Justice for Cleaners Campaign at King’s, most of the cleaners being of Latin American Heritage. When it comes to our Western Counterparts, recognizing the fluidity, complexity but diversity in Latin American identity and approaching it with an open mind is the best way to start.
Image credit: Pedro Ruiz