The Women Behind The Myth Of The Latin Woman

June 22, 2022 by Essay Writer

“The Myth of the Latin Woman”, by Judith Ortiz Cofer, is an essay that illustrates the hardships faced, both as a child and as an adult, living in the United States of America as a person of Latin heritage and, more specifically, as a Latina. Additionally, it exemplifies these hardships by providing her own personal experience with the clash of cultures as well as the stereotypes she encountered. As a Latina herself, her writing is deeply influenced by the customs and traditions of her culture, from the word choices she makes to the descriptive aspects of her stories. By the introductory chapter, one can infer that the writer assumes the reader is native to the place they inhabit, as it asks to attempt to picture it not being so. This text is most likely intended for both sides of the myth: the Latin cultures that migrate into the United States and whose lives are affected by the stereotypes and the people reinforcing them. Migrants who feel out of place in an unfamiliar environment can read Cofer’s essay to feel understood and accompanied in their struggle. Likewise, people who unknowingly fortify stereotypes can read it to conscientize about what damages they might have caused to others, and to find a way to change this. This writing calls for introspection, to look into one’s environment and actions to determine which side one has been on and to do something about the current situation.

This writing takes place mostly in the United States: switching from New Jersey and Miami to London, and from her childhood in the 1960s to her adulthood later on, following her anecdotes. She begins by telling a story about an incident that happened to her on a bus on her way to London, where a man gave an unsolicited show inspired by her Latin looks. She then shifts the timeline by talking about her infancy and how she felt torn between her two most frequented places, her home and school. In her home, she lived as if she was in Puerto Rico, ate the food, spoke the language, and lived in replicas of her parents’ homes on the island. In school, however, she felt humiliated for the very things the adults asked of her: her clothing choice was often “too flashy”, whereas on the island it was appropriate and normal. The text attempts to illustrate the social obstacles faced as a foreigner from childhood to adulthood and work life. This message is especially strong for those people who travel to a new to a country but bring their culture with them, or even simply by physically qualifying into an ethnicity, in the writer’s case, Latina. Regardless of where or when this essay is read, it is probable that someone will, to one degree or another, relate to the experiences or feelings the author tries to convey.

The most recurring topics Cofer discusses are the clash of cultures, the stereotypes of Latinas, the treatment Latinas get, and the effect education has on these. She speaks of the differences in the cultural aspects of her classmates she observed while she was in school. Her experience with the collision of her cultural background and her more recent environment lead her to feel like an outsider in both of her cultures. She felt foreign both in her native society and in the company of her new country’s citizens. Since she grew up still influenced by her native country, often she, along with other girls, dressed inappropriately by American standards, as she says that “Puerto Rican mothers also encouraged [us] … to dress in clothes our Anglo friends and their mothers found too ‘mature and flashy’” (Cofer 246). What was acceptable and encouraged in her home country was perceived as vulgar in her new residence. Cofer later found out that, in the real world, this was also a prominent issue. Her feeling out of place was only intensified by comparison, where she really noticed that her culture was not compatible with the country she was brought to.

Throughout her life, Cofer states, she had witnessed the stereotypes that were so prevalent in the minds of the people in the United States. One of the stereotypes she encountered from an early age was that Latinas were sexual by nature, which she explains by saying that “advertisers have designated ‘sizzling’ and ‘smoldering’ as the adjectives of choice for describing not only the foods but also the women of Latin America” (Cofer 247). In the United States, the clothes Puerto Rican women were used to wearing were seen in a different light from her home country. Back on the island, it was normal to dress in vivid colors and suggestive styles, but in America, it was not appropriate for the places the ladies were using them, if any. She wrote about how her mother described a social ritual observed in the island, where women were used to “showing skin” to keep cool, and it wasn’t much of a problem because they were protected by tradition and “machismo”. Another stereotype she encountered was when she was at her first poetry reading. She walked into the restaurant and was called over by a woman who mistook her for a waitress. Although this was perhaps not an intentional act of malice, it was proof of the way this society portrayed Latinas, in roles of servitude.

Another issue mentioned in the essay is that of the treatment received by Latinas. Cofer exemplifies this by narrating several encounters with men who feel they are welcome to sing to them explicit Spanish songs. One man in particular, who looked well educated, led her to the conclusion that this would not be true if she were not Latina, saying that “this same man, … would not have been likely to regale an Anglo woman with a dirty song in public. … To him, I was … merely a character in his cartoon-populated universe” (Cofer 248). Furthermore, she touches on an additional topic in her closing statement: the effect education has on the way Latinas are perceived in society. Because the stereotypes of Latinas are of inferiority, education provides, to those who can acquire it, some level of protection from these assumptions. She states that her education granted her “entrees into society”, which many other Latin people cannot afford to have. She expresses an understanding of the struggles other Latinos are facing because these issues follow her still.

Cofer’s goal, as stated in the text, is to change the stereotypes that affect Latin people on a daily basis. With her writing, she hopes to make people change the way they view foreigners, substituting these negative assumptions with more realistic ones. She provides examples of the everyday struggles faced and her internal response to it, explaining that, in attempting to disprove these assumptions, they often stop themselves from reacting. By writing of her struggles, she aspires to conscientize the people who partake in the marginalization of minorities, indicating that there is more to a person than their country of origin’s generalization. She also hopes to reach out to those who have experienced these same barriers of exclusion. She aims to show them that they are not alone in their feelings of frustration and of being an outsider. She also tries to get the reader to identify with what she is narrating, to find a similar truth in their life, and to understand how, even something that is innocent in intention, might affect someone. She desires to achieve a communicative, respectful environment where everyone is regarded in the same manner and by their own personal choices, and not by their culture’s stereotypes.

Works Cited

Ortiz Cofer, Judith. “The Myth of the Latin Woman: I Just Met a Girl Named Maria.” Readings for Writers, 15th edition, Editors JoRay McCuen-Metherell and Anthony C. Winkler, Boston, MA: Cengage Learning, 2016, pp. 245-248.

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