Latinas Coming Together: On Community Building and The Importance of Imagining

“We want to see Latinas coming together.” This sentiment appeared over and over again on the bright green index cards I collected at the end of our most recent Latina Discussion Group meeting. The beauty of this statement’s repetition was that it happened at the end of a meeting during which Latinas from across campus, all with different hometowns, ethnicities, and cultures, had come together to talk about issues that most deeply impact us. And still: we all wanted more. We’ve seen what can happen when Latinas come together, and we know how powerful that can be.

We meet every month to talk about everything from how much we miss authentic homemade dishes to venting about every last struggle of being Latina at a PWI in central Pennsylvania. We might start off with complaining about how painfully problematic Maluma is (while admitting there’s no stopping us from singing along when “Felices los 4” starts playing) and then shift gears altogether to deconstruct the pervasive violence of machismo within the Latinx community. We share stories about our moms, remembering how much her dichos guide us. We laugh. We cry. We talk through it. We reminisce. But I think the most important thing we do in the space is this: we imagine together.

Two weeks ago, I facilitated a discussion on Latina representation in the media. I began our discussion with a reminder that this space is, first and foremost, for us. We can save the pedantic for our professors, leave our brilliant critical analyses for future essays or class discussions: this space is for our feelings, our rants, our uncensored and unapologetic Latina selves.

I’ve had so many conversations with fellow Latinas on campus about our frustrations with academia, specifically in its failure to properly engage with how the personal fits in to the theoreticalthis failure is something that we’ve seen most deeply affect students of color. I’ve sat through one too many classes where my white peers theorize on what it is to live a life like my own, as if the entirety of the humanities and social sciences were based on the hypothetical and not actual, real people like the ones who sit in classrooms together to discuss these things. I remember talking to a fellow Latina a year ago about our struggle to address topics that were so deeply personal to us in such a detached, intellectual way. We needed the space to unpack the histories that had been denied to us, to reflect on what that meant for our own identities, and yes, to talk about how these things make us feel.

My goal for our discussion was to think about how Latina (mis/under)representation in the media has personally affected us, in a space where we didn’t have to worry about how others in the room might respond. Growing up, how did we see Latinas represented and what were our reactions: then versus now? What roles stood out to us the most? In what ways did these representations impact us? Did we have any examples of positive representation? If not, then where did/do we look to for Latina role models?

In sum, we talked about media representations of Latinas as hypersexualized, exotic beings, unpacked the colorism and anti-Blackness tied to that beauty standard, and vented about the lack of representation of educated Latinas. When it came time to think about positive representations of Latinas in the media, we drew a blank. I gushed about my love for Gina Rodriguez for a few minutes, but after that, we seriously struggled to come up with examples off the top of our head. So instead of focusing on the media, we expanded our pool to think about the Latina role models in our lives. We paid homage to the Latinas who have come before us, who raised us, who motivate us. Each of us shared stories about the women who inspire us—most of them family members—and how they have set examples for us in ways that the media has failed.

As important as it was that our discussion had brought us together as a community of Latinas, one of the things I try to be conscious of when facilitating discussions like these is we’re often left feeling like we’ve just spiraled ourselves deeper into a problem we already knew existed. So for the final portion of the discussion, I asked everyone to do this: to imagine what we do want to see. If not all the negative stereotypes about Latinas, then what? What does positive representation of Latinas look like?

For five minutes, we imagined. When time was up, I asked everyone to select one line from what they’d written, and share it aloud as we went around the circle, for a culminating group poem of sorts. The result was a powerfully composed vision of the kind of representation we all wanted—a vision so beautiful I had to hold back the tears. When Jacqui Amezcua and I planted the seeds for this group, I know this kind of moment is exactly what we envisioned. Latina Discussion Group might not “solve” all the various struggles Latinas face on campus, but its function as a space for community and imagining is certainly a start. Growing alongside the Latinas in this space is constantly inspiring and gives me so much hope for the generations to come. On that note, I leave you with this—our imaginings toward positive representation of Latinas:

We want to see unity
We want to see respect
We want to see more representation
We want to see Latinas be able to be whatever and whoever they want
without worrying about fitting or constantly defying the status quo.
We want to see no more stereotypes.
We want to see Latinas spreading awareness.
We want us to be free to be proud of who we are, in every shape and form.
We want to see quiet Latinas.
We want to see bold, brainy Latinas.
We want to see badass Latinas.
We want to see activist Latinas.
We want to see work-hard, self-care harder Latinas.
We want to see Latinas in main roles.
We want to see a Latina Star Wars movie.
We want to see a Guillermo del Toro movie with all Brown characters.
We want to see a Latina Disney princess on the big screen.
We want to see the reboot of Ramona to have actual actors of Indigenous roots.
We want to see Brown 1970’s socialist women fighting the dictatorships.
We want to see Narcos have a season dedicated to women.
We want a badass Latina lawyer who talks down the patriarchy.
We want to see a Latina Disney princess on the big screen.
We want to see unstoppable Latinas.
We want to see more presidents and leaders who are Latina women.
We want to see unstoppable Latinas.
We want to see tell-me-about-how-men-are-trash Latinas.
We want to see the anxiety that tears her up inside but that she fights through every day.
We want to see Latinas supporting Latinas.
We want to see the hypermasculine Latino culture brought down.
We want to see daughters treated the same as sons.
We want to see more Latinas in STEM.
We want to see astronaut Latinas. Doctor Latinas.
We want to see struggling but still making it Latinas.
We want to see healthy relationship Latinas.
We want to see Latinas in love.
We want to see women who feed, who care, who have much to show.
We want to see equal access without being frightened.
We want to see not just a paper but rights.
We want to see Latinas vote.
We want to see Latinas stop being treated as second-class citizens.
We want Latinos to be seen as cultures other than Mexican and Colombian.
We want to see more Latinas in the workforce.
We want to be seen as smart. Not crazy or freaky.
We want to see Latinas come together and stop being so divided.
We want to see Latinas, less objectified.
We want to see more Latinas accepted for who they are.
We want Latina superheroes.

Written by Janel Pineda ’18, Latina Discussion Group facilitator
February 12, 2018