Say Latina, and you conjure up a picture of a dark eyed, raven haired, coffee skinned beauty, curvaceous, laughing, passionate and sexy. It’s a very strong archetype, and like many archetypes has some basis in reality. However the term “Latina” covers many millions of women, each and every one of whom is an individual, distinctive, living, breathing human being. Any generalizations that you might want to make are just that – generalizations.
With Latinos (“Latinos” mean either men, or both men and women, “Latina” means just females) making up the largest ethnic minority in the US, your chances of becoming involved with a Latina in a romantic way are pretty good. So it might just be an idea to educate yourself on the truth behind some of the myths, and you’ll likely score some points with your Latina friend if you don’t hold the simple knee jerk opinions that she gets pretty tired of hearing every day.
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In North America, the definition of Latina is a woman of Spanish speaking or Latin American descent. That means, generally, a woman who originates or is descended from Spanish or Portuguese speaking people in Central and South America. There are some tremendous misconceptions about Latinas and their lives, so let’s start out by looking at just a few outstanding women who have in many ways broken the mould.
A scintillating novelist whose work was instrumental in inspiring the overthrow of the dictator Somoza. She has written more than twenty five books, is a global literary giant, and she is a graduate of George Washington University.
Despite being partially blind, Alonso became a prima ballerina with the Cuban Ballet, revolutionising the art of dance in that country. She worked on into her 90’s, dancing, teaching and eventually directing the world famous Ballet Nacional de Cuba.
The first woman President of Chile, Bachelet now serves the UN as Head of Women’s issues. The multilingual political leader was deemed to have done an outstanding job in Chile, and to have improved the lot of women there considerably.
Considered to be the Queen of Latin popular music, with broad appeal across all ages and races, she is also known for her outstanding work for charity, especially in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti. Her roots are Cuban.
Venezuelan dress designer and businesswoman, her clothes have been worn by a succession of lovely First Ladies up to and including Michelle Obama. Known for her beauty, supreme design talent, the creation of understated and elegant looks, and for her subtle business acumen.
The Mexican artist, active in the early twentieth century, whose primitive style work has won acclaim throughout the world is better known as simply Frida. Her life was a dramatic and passionate as her art.
How can we have a list of significant Latinas without including J.Lo? Her background was humble, her roots Puerto Rican, and her current worth is thought to be in the region of $60 million. Not just a talented beauty, she has a heart for the people, and she has used her wealth and influence to help the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and has also set up a global foundation for the improvement of the health of women and children.
With Mexican roots, Martinez was the first woman to be appointed to be US Ambassador to Argentina – a very crucial role for the US. A career diplomat since 1977, she has served under several Presidents, and was also an important civil rights attorney.
The Cuban journalist is one of the best known faces on TV, and has a reputation for hard hitting, accurate and excellent reporting. She is particularly known for her interest in social justice, and is the recipient of the Goodermote Humanitarian Award.
Scientist and inventor, she is famous for being the first Latina astronaut. She has designed and patented several significant improvements to scientific optical systems, and is now Director of the Johnson Space Center.
The first and current President of Brazil – it’s notable how many Latina’s have achieved the highest office, which has, to the time of writing, eluded women in the United States. Fiercely intelligent, personable and glamorous, she is a strong role model for young Brazilian women.
With Mexican roots, she was involved from girlhood in the fight for better rights for workers, especially in the fruit picking and food processing industries. With degrees from several universities, she eventually served as Secretary of Labor.
Only the third woman, and the first Latino, to be a judge in the United States Supreme Court. A huge achievement by any standards, she also wrote a compelling autobiography about growing up in a poor Puerto Rican household in New York.
So we can see from just this brief list that Latinas have triumphed and succeeded in many fields both in the United States and in their home countries. However, the reality is that Latinas in the US are on the whole disadvantaged – by being women, by generally being part of a relatively poor social class, and by being members of a racial minority.
There are many misconceptions about Latinas; you could almost call them myths. Here are just some of them.
The truth is that research shows that Latinas living in America are no more sexually active than their Caucasian counterparts in the United States. However they are more likely to become pregnant in their teens. In 2009, a studied found that 53% of Latinas become pregnant before they are twenty years old – more than twice the national average; possibly because of religious beliefs, but more likely, because of lack of access to birth control information and methods. For example, many Latinas live in States where abstinence is the only form of contraception taught in schools – and we all know how effective that form of teaching is!
It’s generally thought that Latinas have a strong grounding in Roman Catholicism and will therefore be vehement opponents of contraception and abortion. This is in fact not the case. The National Latina Institute for Public Health found in a study that most Latinas believe that a woman’s right to choose is important, and that contraception and abortion decisions are a matter of personal morality. It was also found in another study that 90% of married Latinas used contraception not permitted by the church. It’s hardly a picture of social conservatism.
This is a particularly harsh myth. The vast majority of babies born to undocumented Latinas – over 80% - are born more than a year after they arrive, so the image of a barefoot and pregnant woman hurrying to get her baby born in the US is greatly exaggerated.
The picture of the Carmen figure, laughing at disaster, living for love and bursting with self confidence is not reflected in the statistics. The tendency has been for researchers to ignore Latinas when researching mental illness in women, and disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, which are very tied in with self image and feelings of worthlessness. However, when researchers have studied Latinas in recent years, they have found that these disorders are just as prevalent among the Latina population as they are among other ethnic groups. So yes, Latinas may come across as full of confidence, but they can be just as shy, doubting and inwardly distressed as any other woman.
Interestingly, and a bit contradictively, Latinas simultaneously have the image of being impoverished, undocumented immigrants and empowered go-getting business women. There have been several articles of late in the press declaring that it’s Latina American women, rather than men, who are successful, climbing the economic totem pole, and in general controlling the Latino dollar.
This image is far from the truth. Latinas command some of the lowest salaries, and occupy some of the most humble positions in American society. They earn a meagre fifty five cents for every dollar earned by the average Caucasian man. They are not, as a rule, economically powerful in their communities, or in the community at large.
Latinas are three times more likely to be classified as living below the poverty like as are white women. Some thirty percent of Latinas are thought to be living below that poverty line.
Well, some do, some don’t. A Latina is as likely to be calm and placid as she is to throw plates at you. There is a certain style of arguing and shouting that seems to work well in Spanish though!
So having looked at some of the myths, and dispelled them, what can you expect if you decide to date a Latina?
Well, as we mentioned at the start of this article, a person is a person is a person. That girl that you meet may be the sexy curvaceous, hot blooded Latina lover of your idle fantasies, or she may be shy, withdrawn and cool. And of course, it’s a mistake to wake up one morning and think, “Oh, I’ll date outside of my culture and ethnic group this week.” You should be looking to meet a person, not an archetype.
Having said that, we all have our personal tastes, and if you adore olive skin, lustrous black hair, womanly curves in all the correct places and meltingly dark brown eyes that you can lose yourself in forever, then you’re going to find that physical type very often amongst the Latina population.
Maybe you are attracted to the Latin culture – and there is a lot to like there. Family is still very central to Latino life, as is a love of music, good food and fun. If religious affiliation is important to you, then you are very likely to be able to find a girl who is a practicing Catholic – the dominant religious grouping of Latin America.
So, if you decide that you want to get yourself in a position to meet a Latinas, and maybe find that one special person who is right for you, where are the best places in the United States to visit or to live?
Overwhelmingly, the answer to this question is California, Texas and Florida, where over half of the current US Latino population are based. Within those States, Laredo is the number one place to head for, with a 96% Latin population. Be prepared to definitely be the odd one out!
Head for the Laredo Energy Arena, the city’s most popular place for singles to mingle, or check out the Springfield area, with its wealth of great restaurant and bars. The annual Jamboozie celebration is traditionally a place where you can have fun and meet new people, but this is just one of many cultural events held throughout the year – Laredo really has a lot to offer as a place to take a short break and enjoy the Latin vibe.
Miami, and in particular the western part of Miami, has a big concentration of Latinos, especially of course people who have settled there from Cuba. Many of these people are involved in the tourism industry, and so you won’t have any trouble meeting Latina ladies wherever you find yourself in the City. However, South Beach attracts all the hottest young people of every ethnicity, so that’s where you should head for the best night life, although some of the Cuban nightclubs in areas like Little Havana are most definitely worth checking out.
Los Angeles has a large and long established Latin population, many of whom have origins in Mexico. Generally the eastern part of LA holds the highest concentration of Latino homes, businesses and hangouts, but the population is very mobile, so head for fashionable hangouts like AD, Kids Cotton Club, Cohiba and Airliner where you are going to meet a wide variety of beautiful people. There are plenty of ethnic restaurants, markets and festivals to be found in LA, as well as cultural events where Latinas are going to be found in numbers.
Albuquerque doesn’t sound like the greatest place in the world to visit, but it’s an amazingly vibrant place with a very large Latin American population. During the day, head for the older part of town where most Latinas live, but the hip young Latino crowd can be found in all the hot nightspots with which Albuquerque abounds – places like Graham Central Station and El Madrid. Albuquerque has a fantastic Latin Dance Festival, a highly recommended event at which you can meet all kinds of girls, and check out the ABQ Festival too!
If you really can’t travel, long to meet a Latina, but don’t seem to have any luck locally, then of course you can always go online. Find a reputable dating site that features Latinas, or simply join a large dating organisation which is bound to have a representative number of Latinas on its books.
So, what are some no – nos when you are dating a Latina?
Latinas are not submissive, no matter what you have heard. She will not be controlled by you, and certainly not treated as a doormat. So that is another preconception that you need to get rid of if you are going to be a successful partner for a Latina.
So, how will an inter-racial relationship be different?
The answer to this is, it probably won’t be very different. If two people love each other it feels the same if you are Caucasian and Black, Chinese and French, Inuit and Belizean. Love is love, whatever your race, color or creed. But of course, there will be exciting new things to explore in your partner’s background – and she will have things to learn about yours.
A lot will depend on which generation your new love is from. If she’s first generation in the United States, then you can expect that there will be quite a lot of differences in tastes in food, music, clothing, even in body language and family life. The important thing is to keep your eyes and mind open, and think before you speak. Something which you notice about the way she, or her friends and family behave, might be completely natural to her, so don’t be quick to criticise or even comment. (Of course, if her entire family sits around naked wearinglampshades on their heads, then maybe you could say a little something….)
If your Latina girlfriend is a second or third generation American, then chances are she will be very much like you and your friends and family. So much like you in fact, that you could assume she is exactly like you. She isn’t. Family and ethnic roots go deep, so be prepared for sensitivities, yes, and also for exiting discoveries.
The most important thing for any two people is to keep the lines of communication open. So for example, if you really don’t like the food her family serves up, you need to say so, in the politest way possible – to her afterwards, not to her family at the dinner table. So, you might say something like, “I just love all the care you mom takes to prepare a Cuban meal for me, but how can I tell her that it’s a bit rich for my digestion?” Asking for your girl’s advice like this makes it a shared issue – not a confrontation. (Incidentally, the answer might be to take all the family to a fancy Cuban restaurant next time, where you can order something simple from the menu – your treat of course.)
Enjoy discovering the things she enjoys. Maybe she loves to dance – take some lessons and go dancing with her. Perhaps she enjoys exploring your cultural traditions too – because you have a culture, just the way she does. Allow her to explore the things which you take for granted but which, if she is first generation, might be wildly exotic to her.
Any relationship is bound to have its problems, but don’t make ethnicity the centrepiece of all your disagreements. Whatever you do, don’t accuse her of having a fiery Latina temperament. If you do, you might just find out how true that is!
Although you might find Latinas attractive, and so seek out a Latina girlfriend, at the end of the day, it’s a person that you will fall in love with. Her looks, her mind, her spirit and her soul are the things that matter, not where she was born or the language her family speaks at home.
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