At five years old, I didn’t really understand what a Latina identity meant. I thought most everyone spoke two languages. It was only during my high school years that I understood with more clarity than before not everyone is bilingual.
Assumptions. Making these, well, as the saying goes, “Make an ass out of you and me.” But it’s hard not to make them because assumptions help us understand our world in digestible pieces. Really, who has the time for nuance?
But it’s quite the experience to have had fellow classmates ask, “Do you speak Mexican?”
It’s pretty clear this person showed a lack of knowledge. Seventeen countries comprise Latin America. We officially speak Spanish and Brazilians speak Portuguese and there are plenty of indigenous languages throughout the region, too.
This assumption isn’t quite as harmful as some other ones about Latin America. (Although it’s still mind-boggling to think some people think Mexicans speak Mexican. Do Americans speak American?)
The Huffington Post came out with a short list of some US myths of Latin America. One of the Huffington Post I want to hit on, and I’ll add one of my own.
#1: All of Latin America is dangerous.
We see this in much of the news we hear: violence here, killings there, corruption everywhere. How does the place even function? There’s not a robber at every corner and not everyone is out to kidnap the tourist. It’s important to not paint the region with a broad brush. Some countries are more unstable than others: Venezuela more so than Costa Rica. It’s also important to take into account the difficult histories many of these countries have gone through and how it’s affected the people there. In part, it’s also common sense when going to these regions. Going in to a region assuming the worst about each person who walks next to you is not exactly the best way to learn about another culture.
#2: All Latin Americans look the same. (This one’s mine)
#ThisIsWhatLatinosLookLike was trending in early December on Twitter. So what do Latinos look like? Brown or black hair with olive toned skin and brown eyes?
I’ll go no further than my own family. My mom has black hair, olive skin and green eyes. My dad has mocha colored skin, black hair and brown eyes. My siblings look my father and I like my mother.
We’re all Latin. There are also Latins who are of African descent. Spaniards and Portuguese also brought slavery to Latin America. There are people in Latin America who are of European descent, especially in Argentina and Chile. There are also indigenous groups throughout the region. My great-grandmother was from an indigenous tribe and spoke Quechua. My paternal grandmother had some African heritage, too.
There are other assumptions out there. But it’s better to start asking questions and conversing with people who have lived there.