During my first semester of college, I met another Latina who had a habit that often made me uncomfortable.
In her daily interactions, she spoke Standard American English without a hint of an accent. She would often talk about her experiences growing up in a wealthy suburban neighborhood with two “white-collar” parents.
Yet whenever she wanted to make a joke or exaggerate a point, her mannerisms completely changed. She suddenly would adopt a thick Spanish accent, snap her fingers, and use language that she hadn’t grown up speaking.
“I was like, ‘Okay guuuuurl, Mami is not playin’ around, you know what I’m saying?'”
The problem with her acting this way was that it was sort of like a party trick to her. When she exaggerated an accent, sucked her teeth, and spoke Spanglish, it was to make others laugh. It was all a performance, rather than speaking how she was actually raised.
It made me incredibly uncomfortable because she was mocking the way almost everyone in my community spoke.
Growing up in the Bronx in Latinx and Black communities, I heard a multitude of dialects and languages. Spanish, Spanglish, African American Vernacular English (AAVE), and heavily accented English were just how the folks I knew communicated. These kinds of languages were, when I wasn’t code-switching, how I was comfortable speaking.
But for this girl, who didn’t grow up in a similar community, speaking like this was just a big joke.
Oftentimes, Latinxs who have class (and often education) privilege will mock or devalue the languages, behaviors, and lifestyles of Latinxs without class privilege.
Aspects of Latinx culture that are also associated with being low-income become things that are open to being laughed about or ridiculed. They maintain ideas of how people should act, speak, and behave based on mainstream white culture.
Below are some ways that Latinxs with class privilege perpetuate classism in our communities, and why they are harmful:
1. Perpetuating the Bootstraps Myth
“Even though my grandparents came here as farmworkers, I was able to pay my own way through school and become wealthy on my own. I’m here through hard work!”
Statements like this are ones that I often hear wealthy Latinxs say in order to justify having money. Things like this perpetuate the bootstraps myth, or the idea that anyone can “pull themselves up” out of poverty by working hard and making their way up the ranks.
The bootstraps myth has a very individualistic idea of how capitalism works in the United States. It assumes that as long as someone constantly and consistently gives 100% at their job, they’ll be rewarded.
However, this is not how wealth is really accumulated and maintained in this country.
But Latinxs with class privilege use the idea of “pulling myself up by my bootstraps” to discriminate against low-income Latinxs. Discriminatory stereotypes like “If you can’t find better jobs, you’re not working hard enough” or “I’m where I’m at because I worked hard for it” completely ignore the idea that working hard often does not mean making more money.
And just because one Latinx is able to become wealthy does not mean that the system works so all Latinxs can.
Capitalism often works by tokenizing a member of a marginalized community. One person is able to benefit from the system, creating the illusion that everyone can. In reality though, material “success” is not attainable for most Latinxs.
It’s much easier for a white Latinx, like Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz, to be able to assimilate into mainstream white culture and become wealthy than it is for Afro-Latinxs. Folks do not take into account that things like race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, and/or citizenship status are all factors in how someone can accumulate and maintain wealth.
2. Devaluing Domestic Work and Manual Labor
A few weeks ago, the #LatinasAreNot hashtag was trending and had many Latinas posting their own tweets to “combat” stereotypes. Unfortunately, many of the tweets had messages along these lines:
#LatinasAreNot all maids or nannies! We are smart and capable women!
#LatinasAreNot all high school drop-outs. Many of us are college educated! I’m working on my Masters!
#LatinasAreNot all ghetto. I grew up in a nice neighborhood! My parents are doctors!
On a surface level, I understood what these Latinxs were trying to say. They were trying to combat stereotypes that are often imposed onto our communities by explaining that Latinxs have a diverse range of jobs and educations.
But what they were actually doing was devaluing domestic work and manual labor.
They were treating these kinds of jobs as something to be ashamed of, rather than as a reality for many Latinxs, especially for folks who are undocumented.
I’m not saying it’s wrong to be proud of career or education accomplishments. I worked hard and was able to graduate from college. But I also know that I was only able to do so because I had a lot of other supports in place to help me.
Things like not being the first in my family to go to college, being a United States citizen, and English being my first language are all privileges that paved the way to getting a B.A.
But all the work that I did wasn’t any more difficult or should be valued more than the work that folks who didn’t go to college do.
Yet I see this kind of attitude from other Latinxs all the time, especially from folks who grew up in wealthy families.
It’s a tool of assimilation.
Rather than understanding the value of different kinds of labor, Latinxs are quick to condemn certain kinds of work. Folks are fast to dole out stories about how their grandparents were seamstresses, but just as quickly separate themselves from that kind of work by saying, “But look how far I’ve come from that!”
3. Discriminating Against Folks on Government Assistance
One of my friends works in retail, and she was pretty upset the other day. Her manager had yelled at her over making a mistake, saying, “I know the only reason why you’re not being more careful is because you’re on food stamps, so it doesn’t matter if you have a job or not.”
Both my friend and her manager are Latinx.
Unfortunately, her manager’s assumptions are very common about people of government assistance. There’s an idea that if you are on welfare, you are a lazy person with no work ethic who is content with “living off the government’s dollar.”
Negative ideas about folks on government assistance are widespread, and those stereotypes can be found throughout the Latinx community.
Furthermore, there is a racialized aspect to this kind of discrimination.
Afro-Latinas, as Black women, are coded as “Welfare Queens.” They’re perceived to be lazy women who are trying to cheat the system by refusing to get jobs and having multiple children in order to get more assistance. Often, this particular stereotype targets single mothers or pregnant teenagers.
The reality is that folks go on government assistance for a number of reasons, and it has nothing to do with work ethic.
When wealthy Latinxs make these kinds of remarks, they ignore the realities that racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, and ableism are rampant in our employment system and make it difficult for marginalized people to survive.
It’s important to remember that these systems work simultaneously as well, such as when we look at the gender and race wage gap for Women of Color.
4. Speaking or Dressing in a ‘Ghetto’ Way
My acquaintance from undergrad is not the only Latinx with class privilege that I’ve heard mocking languages and dialects that are associated with urban, low-income Latinxs and Black folks.
Sometimes it’s done for a joke. Usually, someone who speaks Standard American English will laugh about how low income folks speak “improper” English. This kind of attitude is harmful because it creates a dichotomy between the “right,” or educated, way to speak and the “wrong” way to speak.
This idea assumes that languages like Spanglish or AAVE are “made up,” rather than ways of communicating that evolved in specific cultural and historical contexts.
What I’m speaking about is not the same as code-switching, which is a reality for many People of Color. Rather, it is folks imitating languages and mannerisms that do not come naturally to them as a humorous performance.
Similarly, I’ve seen wealthier Latinxs dressing up as “gangstas” or “hoodrats” for Halloween or other events. Styles and clothing that come out of specific cultural neighborhood contexts suddenly become costumes to laugh at.
One of the biggest examples is when folks dress up as Cholxs. Rather than thinking about how Cholx style emerged out of West Coast Chicanx gang culture, the aesthetic becomes a joke.
The historical background of Cholx lifestyles, such as the Zoot Suit Riots, is completely erased from the narrative – instead, the style simply becomes a clothing choice devoid of context.
In both situations, the real ways that folks interact and present themselves are taken as things that can be worn for a night, and then shed after the fun is over. Wealthier Latinxs get to mock and joke about the lived experiences of others without having to experience the trauma that comes with those experiences.
Classism is a large issue in the Latinx community because we often don’t talk about intra-community oppressions. There’s an assumption that because we are all ethnoracial minorities, we all experience capitalism and labor in the same ways.
But the truth is that we don’t.
Capitalism isn’t a system that creates an even playing field, where all folks have the same opportunities. It’s a system that’s based off of “haves” and “have nots.” Many things, such as familial wealth, race, gender, ability, citizenship status, and education are factors in whether or not someone can “make it.”
When we as Latinxs perpetuate classist ideas, we’re assimilating into a system that is built on the oppression not only of other Latinxs, but of all marginalized people.
It’s important to think about the ways in which we benefit from this kind of system, and how we use it to discriminate against our communities.
Jennifer Loubriel is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism and a mixed race Afro-Puerto Rican from the Bronx. She is also a queer mujerista and child abuse survivor. She earned her B.A. from Oberlin College in Religion and English, and identifies as an amateur Latinx ethicist and a speculative fiction enthusiast. She is a co-founder and moderator over at the Tumblr Women of Color, in Solidarity, a safe space for and by women of color. You can usually find her writing about apocalypse and diaspora, rewatching her favorite TV shows, or taking selfies with her family’s cat.
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