One of the most damaging things about the way we perceive others is that we tend to put them into boxes. We generalize what certain people in a group act like and what they look like. These boxes are called stereotypes and when it comes to Latina women one of the most damaging stereotypes both psychologically and socially is the “hot and spicy” view of Latina women. It’s one we know well, one that we see on television and which many non-Latinx like to force on us. If you have found yourself using this stereotype you may think it’s flattering or funny because you don’t have to deal with the effects, but I do.
The “hot and spicy” Latina has a curvy figure, with tan skin that’s not too dark, tight clothing and a push-up bra. Her thick, exotic accent is sexy and mysterious, but also something to poke fun at.
This Latina only exists for someone else’s pleasure, her worth is in her sexual appeal and prowess.
Her features make you feel like you’re “trying” something different and the worst part is that this is probably the most prevalent portrayal Latina’s get in the media. So let’s go into the details about why this is so harmful to our community.
1. It contributes to our sexual harassment and assault
While white women’s sexuality is shown as more soft and vanilla, ours is wild and needs to be tamed by a man. We need to be conquered until we’re submissive. We are loud, passionate lovers who never say no to sex and who are always ready for any sexual activity. When Latina’s are portrayed in this way we start to believe it ourselves, we don’t realize that it’s ok to say no because all over the screen we only say yes.
Everyone else doesn’t see us as people but rather as sexual objects, only there to be used without boundaries. The “hot and spicy” stereotype has been shown to lead to Latina’s hypersexualization and their sexual harassment for centuries.
In 1851, Juana Loaiza was hanged for stabbing and killing a white settler from the United States, who broke into her house and attempted to rape her. Loaiza was married and defending herself but was portrayed as promiscuous, inviting that attention, and murdering for her own pleasure. Sadly, situations, where Latina women are victim blamed and sexually assaulted more than other groups of women, are still common. 1 in 7 Latina women will be raped and over half will encounter sexual violence in their lifetime.
2. Our relationships with other Latins are hypersexualized and “exotic”
In this stereotype, we either date the male “Latin lover” who is suave and flirtatious or the “macho gangster”. In both cases, Latin couples are the exciting and exotic standards for their white counterparts. When we do date white men, Latinas are portrayed as “tamed” from our wildness and hypersexuality by the white male. Unlike the white women the man has had before, we are “spicy” a different experience, something feisty not “vanilla” like the other women. This not only puts down other women but distorts societies, and our own view, of our sexualities.
3. Our work is sexualized
In a media study from 2007-2013, Latinas played 69% of house maids and here is where we sexualized Latina domestic workers. The sexy maid trope already exists but in the media is almost expected when the maid is Latina, they fall in love and service a white man with their sass and sensuality. Maid in Manhattan with Jennifer Lopez and Ralph Fiennes uses this same stereotype, with Lopez’s character intriguing the white politician with her “spiciness” and willingness to resist him.
According to the Southern Law Poverty Center, 77% of Latina’s say sexual harassment is a problem in the workplace. We can infer that many people played into the “hot and spicy” stereotype and assumed Latina’s would like the sexual attention and praise, but we are people, not a box for you to put into.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with Latin woman enjoying sexual activity and being festive. It becomes a problem when we are all stereotyped to act the same way, sexually harassed and abused because of it, and are not respected or taken seriously. The “hot and spicy” restricts all our experiences to one narrative when we are an ethnicity full of diverse women with different experiences that deserve to be told.