My Husband & Latino Celebrities
As long as I’ve been with my husband, I’ve heard comments about how he “looks so much like” some Latino celebrity. When he starts cracking jokes, the comparisons are narrowed a bit. Then he only “looks like” every Latino comedian they’ve watched. Yes, he’s even been compared to Gabriel Iglesias and John Leguizamo.
My husband might “look just like” George López and Carlos Mencia, if those are the only Latinos you’ve ever seen. It’s really easy for us to compare the faces we’ve seen and to group people into categories, which can be helpful at times…but it can also be insulting and discriminatory.
Why? Because, when you tell my husband that he’s “just like (insert celebrity Latino),” you’re basically letting him know that you don’t know much about Latinos and that you’re generalizing based on your limited experiences. This could be an indication of what you will expect of him. This isn’t something he gets angry about necessarily, but it can be very frustrating. I mean, really…if you’re friend has glasses and dreads, does that make her “look just like” Whoopi Goldberg?
Why do we classify people of color into these narrow categories? I think it mostly lies in what I mentioned above, a lack of experience and heavy exposure to caricatures in the media and in our communities. I’m telling you, this can get dangerous real quick. The main reason being, that superimposing one image or example of a person of color over an entire group promotes false assumptions about individuals and forms stereotypes about them in our minds…which then leads to discrimination, the act of denying certain rights to a person, based solely upon the social category they fall into (i.e. gender, race, class, religion, etc.).
Bias in the White Community
We have examples of similar practices even within the white community, although few measure the level of discrimination aimed at people of color.
For example, there is the common assumption that blonde-haired, attractive women are less educated and less capable than their darker-tressed peers. It is evident that blondes are also perceived as more sociable and promiscuous, especially among males.
If you’ve ever looked around at your local businesses, you’ll notices that many restaurants now staff almost exclusively with young, blonde waitresses to entice male customers. And if you’re a young blonde, you may have noticed that it’s more difficult to be taken seriously in a professional, executive atmosphere. Promotions may be denied, sexual harassment may be more frequent…all of these factors simply because a woman is young and blonde.
So, you see, assumptions about a persons character based upon looks can be damaging. In fact, because of this expectation, society often drives blondes to be less ambitious and more promiscuous.
How Your Assumptions Affect My Husband
In the same way, my husband, who is characterized within this narrow box, is pushed to identify with Latino celebrities who may or may not look like him. When I first met him, he would play up his “Latino-ness” to satisfy the expectations of people who wanted him to act, sound or look a certain way. Most of the time these individuals were white, sometimes they were other people of color and every now and then, it was another Latino, who wanted proof that he was a “real Mexican”.
My husband’s participation wasn’t wholly intentional, but something that comes out of the necessity to make people feel comfortable with who and what he is. For many people, it’s simply not enough for him to be Ricardo. They actually feel disappointed or angry when he doesn’t fit the character that they’ve imagined for him.
Not only does society’s expectations for my husband create a challenge in embracing his own personal identity (which certain individuals may deem “not Mexican enough” or “too Mexican”), but it also challenges the future he wishes to create for himself. Being pigeon-holed into a single role with narrow characteristics can keep people like my husband from excelling to their full potential. How? By simply denying them the opportunities to advance, to prove you wrong, by downgrading their work, by demonizing their heritage, by thinking narrowly about what they have to offer, by allowing your opinions to become fact and their opinions to become fiction. By silencing brown voices.
My husband is not just Latino…he’s not just funny.
He loves to cook and travel.
He loves pasta more than arroz and prefers folk country music over ranchera.
He loves to take our daughter shopping and play with tools.
He loves to cook out, to go to the beach and to relax at the park for a picnic.
He’s both sensitive and impulsive.
He loves history and politics and adores drive-in movies.
He loves 1980′s cartoons like Thunder Cats and coming home for barbacoa on Sundays.
He’s a multifaceted individual. Does liking these things make him less Latino? Less mexican?
Does it change your perception of what it means to be Latino? To be Mexican? If so, why??
© 2012, Chantilly Patiño. All rights reserved.