To say that I was hungry for Latina representation as a preteen would certainly be an understatement; simply put, I was ravenous. As per the customs of Internet fandom, especially in the days of my youth, I would say headcanon (that is, assert a non-canon identity onto) characters who I could easily imagine as Latina or Latino while eating up what little actual representation I could find.
But time and time again, I found myself at odds with a certain Latina-specific trope that made me uncomfortable for reasons I wouldn’t understand until later: I’m talking about the foreign, olive-skinned sultry seductress, otherwise known as the “Spicy Latina”. This is a dangerous trope that depicts all Latina women as hotheaded sex objects that exist only to be mocked and ogled at. The danger lies in the real-world ramifications this trope has wrought on Latina women who’ve fought for decades against the sexualization of our identities.
Without further ado, here are three reasons why the Spicy Latina is so harmful and why this tired trope needs to be laid to rest once and for all:
- It’s not flattering; it’s racist and misogynistic.
Some may view the Spicy Latina as a flattering caricature simply because it puts us in a sexually desirable light. That’s just not true. Fetishization is still classified as a form of racism because it strips the subject of its humanity in favor of an eroticized persona. It turns us into objects meant to be used at the behest of men’s sexual whims; should the Spicy Latina retaliate, her anger is also eroticized. Sofia Vergara as Gloria Pritchett in the American sitcom Modern Family is a prime example of this. She plays a short-tempered Colombian woman with a prominent chest and titillating accent, making her character the subject of constant inappropriate jokes throughout the show. To really drive the trope home, Gloria is (somehow) happily married to an old white man. Chills.
The trope is also racist in that it completely disregards the existence of Afro-Latinas and Latinas of other races. The Spicy Latina is always Mestiza and olive-skinned–but not too dark–with glossy black hair and perfectly plump red lips, even though a good majority of us probably don’t fit that profile. Like, at all.
- It hurts real-world Latina women.
I was 12 years old when I first had the words “Puerto Rican Mami” said to me by an older (male) kid, and it was after I had rebuffed his attempt at a conversation. He said it with a smirk, too, as if my annoyance had made me more appealing. And now I know why. Media influences our morals and beliefs more than we’d like to admit, and tons of sociological research has proven that. Not just men, but women, too, are often caught up in the image of Spicy Latina and try to find that same hot-bloodedness in real Latina women, only to express disappointment when they find out that, yes, we’re human beings too! This kind of real-world fetishization also contributes to violence, and sexual assault against Latina women, which I think has not been talked about nearly enough.
- It’s played out.
Lastly, the Spicy Latina has simply run her course in mainstream media. I’d feel the same even if this trope wasn’t rife with racism and misogyny. How many more times is a moody Latina side character supposed to show up, spew a few insults in Spanish, and seduce the protagonist before ultimately being cast aside? While it usually plays out in a few different ways, the tragic journey of the Spicy Latina is almost always doomed due to the inherently limited nature of her existence. If she is not meant to be fully human but an object, then how can she truly contribute to a human story? Too many times now, I’ve seen Latina characters tossed to the wayside in this manner, and now I’m just tired. We Latinas deserve more nuanced representation that shows us as we really are: as complicated people with a billion diverse backgrounds, all with stories waiting to be told.