Cultural Diversity

Big Books

A survey
Fill in the blanks with what you consider to be the correct information about a Latina woman in her thirties.
Height:
Eye color:
Hair color:
Skin color:
Weight:
Possible occupation:

Do you think that there is a “right” answer for any of these questions? I will get back to them later.
Several weeks ago I attended a writers’ conference in which I had been announced as a “Latina author.” When I got to the room where I should read my paper, I asked the coordinator if he minded that I started arranging the materials on the podium.

“Sorry, but it isn’t your turn yet,” he said. “A Latina author comes next, Teresa Dovalpage.”
“That’s me!” I replied.
The coordinator looked at me. He seemed curious, surprised and… somewhat doubtful. Luckily, I was wearing my name tag.

“Well, excuse me. But … you don’t look Latina at all,” he said at last. “The truth is that I didn’t imagine you like that.”

How he had imagined me could be another story. I didn’t have the time to find out and went on to make sure that my Power Point presentation didn’t decide to misbehave at the last minute.

This incident is ironic considering the topic of the paper that I was about to read. On it, I dealt with the distressing tendency to paint all Latinas (and all Latinos) of the same color. Or as we say in Cuba, to place all of us inside the same bag—of beans.

On my paper I referred specifically to the portrayal of Latino characters in contemporary American literature, but literature, as I found out that afternoon, is a reflection of reality.

Is there such thing as a “Latino race”? Is there a typical Latino guy, an emblematic Latina woman, or a Latino family as those portrayed in the movies?

Let’s go back to the initial survey.

If you wrote “dark” or “coffee” or “brown” in more than one space, consider yourself a member of the Stereotype Club—an old and annoying institution that should go out of style… and pronto. A good way to relinquish your membership is to remember that there is no “right” answer to any of those questions.

Latinos come in all sizes, colors and shapes! We are represented in all known occupations, from teachers to astronauts. There are blue-eyed, red-haired Latinas and blond-haired, brown-eyed Latinos as well.

Since I have white skin and light brown hair, I guess that the coordinator (a member of this not very exclusive club) automatically classified me as “non Latina.” It was a pity that he didn’t stay for our panel because it would have helped him broaden his horizons. A stereotype is a wonderful thing to get rid of! Please, don’t judge a book by its cover or a Latina by her (more or less tanned) looks.

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About dovalpage

Teresa Dovalpage was born in Havana and now lives in Taos, New Mexico. She has a Ph.D. in Spanish literature and teaches at UNM Taos. She also freelances for Taos News, Profile, Hispanic Executive and other publications. A bilingual author, she has published eight novels, six in Spanish and two in English, two collections of short stories in Spanish and one in English. Her English-language novels are A Girl like Che Guevara (Soho Press, 2004) and Habanera, a Portrait of a Cuban Family (Floricanto Press, 2010). Her collection of short stories The Astral Plane, Stories of Cuba, the Southwest and Beyond was published by the University of New Orleans Press in 2012. In her native Spanish she has authored the novels Muerte de un murciano en La Habana (Death of a Murcian in Havana, Anagrama, 2006, a runner-up for the Herralde Award in Spain), El difunto Fidel (The late Fidel, Renacimiento, 2011, that won the Rincon de la Victoria Award in Spain in 2009), Posesas de La Habana (Haunted Ladies of Havana, PurePlay Press, 2004), La Regenta en La Habana (Edebe Group, Spain, 2012,) Orfeo en el Caribe(Atmósfera Literaria, Spain, 2013) and El retorno de la expatriada (The expat’s return, Egales, Spain, 2014). Her short novel Las Muertas de la West Mesa (The West Mesa Murders, based on a real event) is currently being published in serialized format by Taos News.
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