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Judith Ortiz Cofer Reads...
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The Myth of the Latin Woman: I Just Met a Girl Named Maria.
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I remember Career Day in our high school when teachers told us to come dressed as if for a job interview. It quickly became obvious that to the barrio girls, "dressing up" sometimes meant wearing ornate jewelry and clothing that would be more appropriate (by mainstream standards) for the company Christmas party than as daily office attire. That morning I had agonized in front of my closet, trying to figure out what a "career girl" would wear because, essentially, except for Marlo Thomas on TV, I have no models on which to base my decision. I knew how to dress for school: at the Catholic school I attended we all wore uniforms. I knew how to dress for Sunday mass, and I knew what dresses to wear for parties at my relatives' homes. Though I do not recall the precise details of my Career Day outfit, it must have been a composite of the above choices. But I remember a comment my friend (an Italian American) made in later years that coalesced with my impressions of that day. She said that of the business school she was attending that Puerto Rican girls always stood out for wearing "everything at once." She meant, of course, too much jewelry, too many accessories. On that day at school, we were simply made the negative models by the nuns, who were themselves not credible fashion experts to any of us. But it was painfully obvious to me that to the others, in their tailored skirts and silk blouses, we must have seemed "hopeless" and "vulgar." Though I now know that most adolescents feel out of step much of the time, I also know that for the Puerto Rican girls of my generation that sense was intensified. . . .

Mixed cultural signals have perpetuated certain stereotypes about Latinos-for example, that of the Hispanic woman as the "Hot Tamale" or sexual firebrand. It is a one-dimensional view that the media have found easy to promote. In their special vocabulary, advertisers have designated "sizzling" and "smoldering" as the adjectives of choice for describing not only the foods, but also the women of Latin America.

From THE LATIN DELI: PROSE AND POETRY by Judith Ortiz Cofer. Copyright 1993 by Judith Ortiz Cofer. Used by permission of The University of Georgia Press
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