Latinos Don't Only Dance Salsa

Wednesday, February 03

By Paloma Doti

On the streets of Mexico City, Diego continues to wonder what “groso”, a word that the announcer said in the Argentine soccer game, means. In Colombia, Sofía wants to learn how to dance Uruguayan tango. In Paraguay, María sings Atrevete-te-te of Calle 13 out loud. In Chile, Mabel googles what “coco-taxi” means in Cuba.                                        

None of them can dance salsa.  

There are many things that differentiate Latinos from each other, such as slang, dancing, food, traditions, fashion, literature, habits, music and whatever you can imagine. However, when we enter into the world of movies and series it seems that they are all one single nation. Peruvians are shown dancing Caribbean salsa with a Mexican mariachi hat, while eating an Argentinean barbecue in a Brazilian beach. 

Suddenly, there is no difference between North and South, West or East. But in addition to the fact that all Latinos in Hollywood have the same nationality and traditions, they also share the same occupation: they are drug dealers. According to the filmland, when a Latino man is born he is given the diploma that authorizes him to be a dealer, along with a short-sleeved flowered shirt, black sunglasses, gold chains that are too heavy and a thick, dark mustache to wear in the future. It's the narco starter pack.                                                                                                                

It is ironic that they punish and judge the Latin people for being drug traffickers and do not dispute the fact that first world countries are the main consumers of narcotics. Neither of these things are right, however we only see Latino drug dealers characters and if we see first world country drug addicts characters, that would not be because of the fact that they are from first world countries.                                                                        

The Latin female character is completely different. Generally, the spicy Latina is a promiscuous, daring woman, who breaks into the white man's life to change it: she lies to him, tempts him and makes him cheat on his blonde blue eyes wife. How does she make it? With her secret and powerful weapon: dancing salsa and speaking English with an “exotic” accent and with super random Spanish words in the middle of the sentences. Her only purpose is to be a fantasy for the main character. According to this vision of the world, Latinas always have a hard, poor childhood, witnessing crime and shootings, and at 20 they emigrate in search of the American dream.     

I am not saying that these realities cannot be someone's, but they are the only ones that they choose to show. It is like if all the American characters in the movies danced to country music, in Texan boots and with cowboys hats. As if they slept using the flag as a blanket and ate breakfast, lunch and dinner at McDonalds everyday. Yes, these are things that represent this culture, but nationality is just one more part of an individual's identity. Cultural representation is important, but it is useless if it is stereotyped and plain. I want Latino characters, but if they are going to be reduced just to musty janitors, corrupt people, cheeky women and drug traffickers, they´re not being represented: they are being deformed. The only thing this generates is xenophobia, disgust and fear. By continuing to reinforce these ideas, they even can make them come true, producing what is known like a self-fulfilling prophecy: Latinos are excluded from society and they are forced to end up working in precarious jobs or even forced to enter in a criminal life, just as they're expected to.

Look! Look there! A Latino party! From far away, you can see the traditional dresses used in the “Día de los Muertos”, tamales, mariachis, tacos. Women dancing Salsa, men having a drink with suspicious herbs. But when one approaches the table, it is possible to distinguish that the dresses were ponchos of the inhabitants of Chile, that tamales were in fact empanadas from the north of Argentina. That the mariachis were actually Dominican bachata singers, that the tacos were Venezuelan arepas. The women were dancing Brazilian samba. The drink of suspicious herbs? It was only the famous yerba mate from Uruguay. When one approaches the table, the identity of Latin America becomes complex, with nuances and mixtures. Because “the closer one gets to the identity of a person, the more complex it becomes”, as Jorge Drexler once said.          

Will the day that I go to the movies and the hero is Latino ever come?


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