This past year has been a whirlwind of social media campaigns that have been dedicated to building awareness for various causes and events. Throughout last fall there were PR blunders and also uplifting tweeting campaigns like #illridewithyou, which trended in Australia. There is also the #blacklivesmatter movement, which continues to shed light on the nation’s police brutality issues.
A more recent Twitter campaign that caught my eye is striving to shed light on a different type of issue: Hispanic women in the United States, through the tag #hispanicgirlsunited.
So far there are a little over 54 million Hispanics currently living in the United States. I am one of them. I was born and raised in Queens, New York. My mother is from the Dominican Republic and my father was born in Puerto Rico. Apart from navigating various cultures in my multi-ethnic neighborhood, I also had to navigate three cultures and two languages at home. I knew people from all over who were also living in a liminal cultural space, and within nearby communities, I felt as if it was being celebrated.
But I grew older and became involved in media and literature. It was around high school when I noticed that a lot of classical literature didn’t have many women, and the canon of American literature barely had any people of color. A lot of movies and television shows that I had watched were based in NYC like Seinfeld and Friends. Looking back, a lot of children’s books at school didn’t necessarily portray the NYC that I knew. There were so many different types of people around me, but they were never in the movies I watched or the books that I read.
In the fall of 2014, I was an intern at Gothamist, and read a post that compiled a long list of romance movies that were based in New York. The majority of them featured Caucasian actors. I only remember one movie in the list that featured a Hispanic person. It was Maid in Manhattan; Jennifer Lopez was a housekeeper. Which is a step up from a Hispanic actresses being portrayed as a cartel mistress in Cop Out, or a step up from just being depicted as an extra in almost every other film. That was probably one of the reasons why I almost cried when I read the #hispanicgirlsunited tweets and saw women who were so much like me, yet so different.
Hispanic and Latino are words and categories that usually give people the impression that this is a race, which it is not. Many Hispanics are of mixed background. Apart from being Caribbean, I have European, African, and Indigenous ancestry. I have family members who look more Afro-Caribbean, others who have pale skin and freckles, and some like me; pin straight hair with mahogany/reddish highlights in the sun, dark eyes, and medium tan skin that changes with the seasons. I can’t count how many times I was asked if my super pale sister is my real sister, or if I had highlighted my hair, or why my siblings and I didn’t look “Dominican” enough.
Considering all the shapes and sizes that Hispanics come in, various tweets have been about being “too dark” or “too light” to be considered Hispanic.
Despite being portrayed as usually lower income, often uneducated, and over sexualized, Hispanic women currently make up the largest group of college graduates in the United States. I myself have had to face skepticism several times when speaking to new people about my own parent’s college degrees, and the shock that sometimes registers on people’s faces when I recall that my father studied business administration. Their love of academia was passed on to my siblings and I. Throughout my academic career, I was often a good student, I won various awards for my grades, and even several writing contests. I have seen classmates of other ethnicities excel at their jobs and in their education. I’ve been alongside students from all different types of backgrounds throughout AP classes in high school, and that group diversified throughout college. Many of us held above 90% averages throughout both high school and graduated with GPAs above 3.5. Our ethnicity or race didn’t really hinder our learning, and it showed me that anyone is capable of trying his or her best, and succeeding in various areas of work or study.
This makes it so much more frustrating for me when Latinos aren’t always portrayed as capable of being studious or successful in life because we’re either not intelligent enough, or just naturally deviant. It’s made me want to do my best just to show others that I am capable of making a name for myself in writing and journalism, regardless of where my parents came from.
Some tweets with the #hispanicgirlsunited tag point out the hypocrisy in beauty standards from girls who were teased for their features, including having a strong eyebrow game years before “fleek” even became a thing in popular culture, fashion, and social media.
And some tweets straight up called out racist and uneducated generalizations regarding calling Hispanics “spicy” despite the fact that there is more to Latin America than Mexican cuisine. Other tweets that stood out to me were about people being confused for their lighter-skinned child’s nanny, or as a housekeeper when walking through predominantly white or wealthy neighborhoods. A few highlighted that their culture is not a “costume” to be worn for another’s convenience or to merely be appropriated but not understood.
Some of my favorites are about accents and how they are often seem as charming, yet for many Hispanics, it’s just another thing that they’re teased about. Seeing accent-oriented tweets meant a lot to me. My parents both have accents and I have had to hear people speaking to them as if they were hard of hearing. There have even been times when people have interrupted them mid-sentence and have turned to me and asked if I knew how to speak English because they didn’t understand my parents, even though my parents had been speaking to those people in English. It made me almost ashamed to hear them speaking in restaurants and stores. So this tweet brought back memories.
Various news outlets have written about the campaign including Huffington Post, Mic, and even Buzzfeed. I’ve loved seeing all those publications take on the campaign and the supportive comments from prominent Hispanic women, celebrities, and even readers who aren’t Hispanic. Whenever I feel as if there are too many roadblocks in my way, or too many doubters, I’ll look for the hashtag and see that I’m not the only person who’s frustrated at times, but that I’m also not the only one who is striving to make a difference. I’m proud that my fellow Hispanics have been able to take over Twitter with a positive and informative message. Many of are going to have amazing accomplishments, and many of us already have. But that won’t necessarily stop here with a hashtag.