Not Your Gringa
Even though I’m half-Dominican, I’ve never felt half-Dominican. I’ve always just felt Dominican.
There are a set of stereotypes that come with the territory of being a Latina woman that include but are not limited to: being a good dancer, being carefree, having a thick accent, being promiscuous (whatever that means), being sassy and loud… the list goes on.
Unfortunately, there is an inaccurate list of stereotypes for every race and/or culture that do not define the people who belong to them. I have dealt with many people who tell me, “I don’t look Dominican” or “sound Spanish,” because they have preconceived ideas of what it means to look or sound Hispanic.
I have zero sense of rhythm, no accent and like anyone, sometimes nerves get the best of me — but these things don’t make me any less Dominican.
Not knowing the words to every bachata or merengue song doesn’t make me any less Dominican. I have started to realize that I have every right to call people out for what they say to me.
My first time being called a gringa was by Dominican teenagers who didn’t think I spoke Spanish. Though I grew up in New York City, Spanish was my first language and I speak it fluently. There is a common misconception that you aren’t really Latinx if you can’t speak Spanish. This is untrue, especially in a world that values English above all other languages and makes Latinxs feel embarrassed when they have any sign of an accent.
When someone tells you they are from a Spanish-speaking country, and you ask them if they speak Spanish, don’t assume whether they do or don’t makes them any less Latinx, or disconnected from their culture. Or that because they don’t speak Spanish, they haven’t experienced life differently as a minority.
Since I was a baby, I spent almost every summer in the Dominican Republic. When I was younger I spoke Spanish to my family there all of the time, but as I got older, I found myself hesitant. Even though I was fluent, I became embarrassed that I might not roll my ‘R’s the way they did, or misuse Dominican slang. And so, to some of my cousins, I became a “gringa.”
I wish I told those who had called me gringa that I was raised by a Dominican woman by my Dominican mother. That although I dress differently and sound differently than they do, I am still no one’s gringa.
The unfortunate part about most of the times I have been referred to as a gringa is that it has been mainly by other Latinos. I wish it wasn’t other Latinos who, at times, have made me feel less Dominican.
Please don’t show me how to “move my hips like a Dominican” — any way I move my hips is like a Dominican, because I am a Dominican woman.
2) Can you teach me Spanish?
No. I mean yes — I probably could teach you how to speak Spanish. But this is not what you should say to someone when you learn they’re Hispanic. This is what everyone says to me when they learn I’m Dominican.
Please do not romanticize my language or my culture.
Do not tell me it is “so cool” or “sexy” that I can speak a second language that you wish you knew — it is how I grew up. Don’t reduce me to the Sexy Latina stereotype.
Please don’t attempt to flirt with someone who is Latinx by asking them to teach you Spanish. Sure, I can totally teach you Spanish, but when you learn I speak Spanish, please try to resist being fascinated or excited.
3) Wait, you’re Dominican? (they ask in a puzzled tone of voice)
This is usually followed up with “I know you had an exotic look to you, but I couldn’t quite pinpoint it.” Please don’t play a guessing game with my ethnicity.
Or, “But you don’t look or sound Spanish” to which I ask, what is a person who speaks Spanish supposed to look or sound like?
Now I feel like I have to prove my identity to you, saying, “My mom was born there, I go there every summer, Spanish was my first language” — in run-on sentences.
It’s not lost on me that because “I don’t look Latina” to many people, I have privilege. Although I have experienced things differently because I am a Dominican woman, it was not nearly to the extent of other women who have been labeled as sex symbols or unprofessional because of an accent or “looking Latinx.”
It’s great that I feel confident enough in my Dominican skin to correct people who make these remarks, but ultimately I shouldn’t have to. No one should be made to feel like they are not “Latinx enough.” I am a Dominican woman, and no one will ever make me feel like I am anything less, or succeed in an attempt to disconnect me from my culture.
Tatiana Jorio is second-year film, photography and visual arts major who’s so over these misconceptions. You can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org