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It's Time To Stop Shaming Latinas

With some Latinas opting to join Islam to gain respect as women it's time for Hispanic media to cool it on the hot and sexy stereotypes that is their standard fare.

By Marisa Trevino

January 25, 2005
Copyright © 2005 DAILY BREEZE. All rights reserved.

As anyone knows, religion is a personal subject. It ranks high on that list of things you never discuss openly if you want to keep peace in the family.

When someone makes a decision to convert to a particular religion, you expect their reasoning to be based on how spiritually fulfilled their newfound religion makes them feel, not that they won't be seen as sex objects any more.

Yet, that was the reason several Latinas gave to a Christian Science Monitor reporter recently in a story about how more Latinas are converting to Islam.

As it stands now, the Islamic Society of North America says there are only about 40,000 Latino Muslims in the United States. And of the 20,000 who choose Islam as their religion every year, Latinos account for 6 percent, says the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

The anecdotal evidence is pointing to more young Latinas opting for the head-to-toe fashion statement. The reasons they gave the reporter echoed along the same theme: Islam made them feel better about their bodies and themselves. Why?

Maybe because everywhere these young girls look -- on billboard advertisements, music videos, and print advertisements -- Latinas are not only portrayed as hot and sexy, but as expecting men to notice they are.

It is a stereotype of the worst kind.

An infamous advertising campaign last year by Tecate beer enforced such an image with the tagline "Finally a cold Latina." Some Albuquerque high school Latinas saw the billboard every day on their way to school.

These kids exercised their conscience, did their homework and campaigned successfully to persuade Tecate to pull its billboards.

Perhaps the worst offender when it comes to promoting archaic depictions of Latinas as dim-witted, over-sexed bombshells can be found on Spanish-language television.

Comedy shows and comic relief characters on telenovelas show the same kind of "old-world Latina stereotypes" that U.S.-born Latinas have been trying to escape.

Yet, we won't be able to forge new images for ourselves and change how others see us unless networks like Univision and Telemundo start becoming more discriminating in what shows they bring over from Mexico and South America, where most attitudes toward women are still in the Stone Age.

That fact is obvious within 15 minutes of any telenovela where the "attractive" women are dressed suggestively or, if it's a beach scene, with practically nada. The camera always has a way of lingering several seconds too long on someone's bulging bust line or bare backside.

The most common misconception that these Spanish-language networks operate under is that by providing familiar programs to their Latino viewers, many of whom are recent arrivals, that they are bringing a little bit of home to the homesick.

Has it occurred to the two networks that it isn't just bleak economic conditions that immigrants are escaping? At least for women, it is a chance to start over in a more progressive country.

And what about the U.S.-born Latinas or those who spent their formative years here?

The message these kinds of shows send them is that Latinas will never escape the old stereotypes because it makes for either a good laugh or ratings eye-candy.

To top it off, not everything translates well either. Shows funny in Mexico and South America can be offensive to U.S. Latinas. Puerto Rican media unions and community groups are petitioning the FCC to deny a license renewal to the island's largest television station, operated by Univision, because of "cultural insensitivity."

It's time that the Spanish-language networks realize that the U.S. Latina is a new breed that demands smart, realistic, original programming and doesn't make us want to hide ourselves with shame.

Marisa Trevino is a contributing columnist with Hispanic Link News Service and author of Latina Lista.

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