For all intents and purposes, Hispanic Heritage Month is a time of unity and celebration for Latin American communities. But, for some, it's also a time of reflection.
As a 24-year-old woman who was born and raised by Mexican parents in a predominantly white community, I've long struggled with my identity. For years, I've hesitated with sharing my personal experiences with race or identifying as a Mexican-American because I can't relate to the struggles of my own people. I can't even hold a conversation in Spanish.
So, when the term Latinx began rising in popularity, I thought maybe this was the label I'm most comfortable with. Moreover, it's inclusive of non-gender conforming individuals, a movement that most people can get behind.
But in conversations with family and friends, I hesitated to adhere to one label for reasons that can't necessarily be explained.
And it turns out I'm not alone. E! News reached out to a handful of Latin stars, including Michelle Rodriguez and Kate Del Castillo, to discuss their take on the topic. In the process, we learned there's good reasons why some of us have mixed feelings, and representation in media is a part of it.
On My Block actress Jessica Marie Garcia relates to this struggle, telling E! News, "I think it's incredibly important to have a term that is gender neutral for all of our people to feel included. [But] I also know lot of gente in our community feel that the term 'Latinx' is a whitewashed term."
"And I honestly don't know the right answer to that—to tell them they're wrong or not," she continued. "I personally like the term Latiné the most and know many of my non-binary friends do as well."
Rodriguez, who is part of the Fast and the Furious franchise, is a beloved actress in Hollywood, especially in the action genre, but she shared that she's felt isolated by the terms and labels that are commonly used to describe people, even those who aren't hispanic. She reflected, "I get every generation has a societal collective goal in advancing an ethnic group, gender, or class of humans forward on the quest towards evolution. I have felt alienated my entire life reading books on philosophy, history, & behavioral science because of the term 'he' when speaking of the individual, assuming humanity is a mankind of sorts."
Gente-fied's Julissa Calderon echoed this sentiment, saying, "All we've ever known when grouping people together as a whole, were words catered to the male gender (Latinos)."
And for Rodriguez, who has dominated a mostly male film genre, she thinks these terms have centered the conversation around men. "This is a harmful distorted view of the world that can affect young minds and encourage self isolation within a society, not to mention problems with self esteem among women," the actress contended. "On the other hand, the terms used by the Latin community to separate men from women (Latino, Latina, Latiné), gender neutral Latinos (Latín x) from the rest, I believe to be as equally as isolating."
So, what's the solution? Well, Rodriguez said, "Personally, I think equality can only exist when all the labels differentiating people from each other are removed and one label for all humans is implemented."
Garcia shared her opinion that the goal should be acceptance of one another. "It's also important that we respect many different points of views on the subject in order to grow from it," she reflected. "I feel like as a community we're not a monolithic culture that agrees with each other at all times so I feel like we have a lot of work to do on learning how to communicate with each other in a positive, inclusive way."
Though the political climate doesn't always feel warm and accepting of the Latin communities, she added, "But I know we're getting there."
Castillo is another person fostering a more inclusive media landscape. She's done it with her shows La Reina del Sur and Ingobernable, in which she takes on powerful roles that subvert media's idea of the typical Latin actress.
She told E! News that she believes it's time people "stop labeling and sexualizing Latin women," saying that "these labels don't allow us to evolve and move on."
Castillo added, "As Latinas, we are much more than a 'Jessica Rabbit' type."
Calderon agreed that these roles are minimizing to female actresses, stating, "It's not all we are. It's extremely disrespectful to continue to construct these roles and use that word as the main descriptive to a character because of her being Latina; it sexualizes us and that keeps us boxed in."
Francia Raisa noted, "I think we as people in general are fighting for equality and inclusivity when it comes to how we are being represented. This [sexy Latina] narrative is a one-dimensional representation of an entire culture."
Both Calderon and Castillo said that they've found the best way to combat this issue is by being outspoken about the harm these tropes present. Castillo said, "It becomes an obligation for us as actresses to find these problems in scripts and point them out to directors, producers, and writers, since most of the time it goes unnoticed."
"We need to change the narrative by recognizing that most of the time these narratives are being written by men," Castillo continued. "We need to recognize that women are as strong and capable as any male hero. If a female character is written as strong and bad ass- that doesn't necessarily require her to also be sexy, hot, good looking—and it doesn't mean she needs to be scantily dressed!"
Calderon added that it's just as empowering to see an emotional depth to characters as well, even if they're in an action film. "One thing I know for certain is we're warriors. We're strong, intelligent, resilient, and we fight for ours—isn't that what an action star is?" she said. "But you know what else we are too? Soft, nurturing, loving, beautiful, and full of our ancestor's power. I want to see more Latina characters be that, well rounded with depth. I want these characters to be what our moms, tias, grandmothers, sisters, and cousins are. What our real world looks like."
And at the end of the day, isn't that what everyone wants?