The Feminist Guide to Flirting Respectfully with Latina Women

A person smiles into the camera, sitting with one knee drawn to their chest.

A person smiles into the camera, sitting with one knee drawn to their chest.

After 6 months of making me feel insecure and unworthy of him, my first boyfriend broke up with me.

I was obviously devastated – but looking back now, I should have been relieved. When I asked him why, he told me it was because he thought I was a type A personality like him, and was disappointed to find out I wasn’t.

Now, I would’ve been fine with that response, but he just had to take it a step further.

He explained that when we first met, he thought I was a “crazy Latina,” and that’s what made me appealing to him as a White guy. Besides, he had “never dated a Puerto Rican before.”

So basically, I was on his list. It was a list of racial and ethnic groups he wanted to experiment with – an actual goal he had mentioned to me after we started dating.

Unfortunately, he’s not the only one with this list. Some of you may have a subconscious list that too often shapes your attractions to people in harmful ways.

I should have ended it with him right when he mentioned it, but I didn’t take what I thought to be a joke as seriously as I probably should have.

If only I had picked up on the signs when he first started flirting with me, I might have been able to see that his attraction to me was based on a false image of what all Latinas are like – and called him out on it.

At least, I hope I would. Unfortunately, because we are so accustomed to receiving attention directly related to our Latina identity, we can become complacent and completely miss those signs – which ends up really hurting us in the end.

This is common in interracial or multicultural relationships. However, my experience has shown me that it can also happen among same racial and ethnic relationships.

So, maybe you’ve even been in my first boyfriend’s position – dating a Latina without giving her the chance to be her own person with her own characteristics that aren’t necessarily related to her ethnicity.

You probably didn’t mean for your behavior to come across that way, and maybe she never called you on it so you didn’t realize what you were doing was harmful.

Sometimes we’re silent not because that behavior is okay, but because we’re accustomed to being perceived as a stereotype rather than individuals.

Thinking back now, I get really pissed off. No wonder I never felt comfortable just being myself around him.

Although you might not intend to be harmful or offensive, the way you approach Latinas might be coming off as exotifying and diminishing.

Good intentions or not, stereotyping is not sexy. We can all benefit from practicing more respectful flirting strategies when approaching Latinas – and all women of color, for that matter.

I’m not hating on anyone – if anything, I’m trying to help you and others like myself. It doesn’t matter how good your intentions may be, there is no excuse for disrespect.

Instead, take these alternatives into consideration, and I promise it will make flirting with us a lot less awkward for everyone.

1. Don’t Connect Us to All the Other Latinx People You Know

Once I was asked if I was related to the famous Puerto Rican wrestler, Macho Camacho, after I told a guy my last name was Camacho.

Really? If I went around asking every person with the last name Smith if they are related to every other Smith that I know or heard of, then I’m being irrational, but if you do it to me then it makes total sense, right?

Not only is this completely ridiculous, but it’s also a turn off.

So what’s the problem with grouping all Latinx people together?

If you attempt to connect with me by connecting me to another Latinx person purely based on our ethnicity, it sends a red flag that tells me you already think you know all there is to know about me.

It takes away all the excitement of getting to know each other!

Not only that, but now I’m conscious of the fact that you’re expecting me to act a certain way, so just being myself isn’t enough.

Latinas are all unique individuals, and although we are proud of our Latinidad, that doesn’t mean we want to be viewed as just part of a mass.

So please, don’t tell me you love Jennifer Lopez after I tell you I’m Puerto Rican!

Instead of comparing us, try telling us something you noticed about our personality or character that stands out. Something that has nothing to do with the fact we are Latina.

This shows us you’re really interested in getting to know us as individuals, and makes it easier for us to open up without feeling judged before we’ve had the chance to be ourselves.

2. Don’t Ask Us Where We Are From Originally

Just by looking at me, people don’t usually assume I’m Latina because I don’t match the physical stereotype perpetuated by the media.

But when people do find out, they typically assume I’m Cuban or Dominican – because apparently there are no other Afro-Latinas anywhere else in Latin America.

They often ask me where I’m originally from, assuming I’m from some exotic and foreign magical place. I’m from the faraway land of Connecticut, ever heard of it?

So what’s the problem with assuming we’re always from somewhere else?

Assuming that we must be foreign immigrants contributes to the exotification of Latinas and quickly creates a barrier in which we are labeled as Other. This makes us seem not relatable, and can get awkward real fast.

We’re in America, and if you haven’t noticed, there are actually a lot of us who have been around for generations. Not really as rare and in need of unwelcome exploration as you would assume.

Although asking us where we’re originally from seems like a harmless question, treating us like an exotic object you need to research and analyze is not appealing at all – because it makes you seem entitled and condescending as hell.

Instead, ask us where we have lived in the past or where we feel most at home. This is a far more interesting question that can lead to a more rewarding discussion that won’t make us feel like we’re extraterrestrial beings.

3. When You Find Out We’re Latina, Don’t Say We Don’t Act Like It

Most people I come in contact with have no idea that you can be both black and Latina. This is super frustrating because when I do mention I’m Latina, they’re disappointed that I don’t fit their stereotype.

Their reaction makes their confusion so painfully obvious. Their faces seem to say, “But you don’t look anything like Sofia Vergara? Please help me, I’m having a hard time processing your identity.”

Once a guy dared to tell me that I claimed to be Latina because I was ashamed of my blackness, and said I should just admit I’m black – as if I couldn’t be both.

So what’s the problem with making me feel I’m not Latina enough for you?

These assumptions keep us in a box that’s impossible to escape from – which means we face judgment if we do happen to deviate from the stereotype.

It’s completely insulting to be rejected because you happen to be fully human, and not a one-dimensional stereotype.

When I and other Latinas internalize not being “Latina enough,” we try to force ourselves into these impossible expectations that diminish us and erase the diversity of our identities further.

Instead, ask us what Latinidad means to us and how we connect with that aspect of our identity. You might come to realize that there are many ways to be Latina – I know, shocker!

4. Don’t Assume We Can Speak Spanish Or Teach You How To Dance

I have been in the States for a long time now. And although I’m fluent in Spanish, it’s actually not the language I feel most comfortable with anymore, and I have no accent.

Right after the question of “where are you from,” the next question (which is actually more of a demand) is usually “damn, that’s sexy, say something in Spanish.” If they’re not asking me to speak in Spanish, they will ask me to teach them how to dance salsa or some other Latin dance.

The problem with assuming all Latinas can speak Spanish and teach you how to dance bachata is that it once again positions us as an exotic Other.

What you’re doing when you call someone exotic is separating them and placing them in a different category. It’s this categorizing that makes it acceptable to treat people differently because they don’t exist within your own set of norms.

That’s not sexy – in fact, history shows us just how dangerous it can be when we justify unfair treatment of people because they are different.

The fact is, some Latinas don’t speak any Spanish at all, and they might not even like to dance in the first place.

If you ask a Latina to speak Spanish to you or teach you how to dance and she can’t, then everything you might have done correctly up to that point will be overpowered by a large dose of this just got really awkward.

Why should we feel invalidated because we can’t entertain your misguided expectations? Besides, if you’re asking me to be your Spanish tutor or dance instructor, I’m going to need you to pay up.

Instead, if you started the conversation with the language you know and we understood and responded to you, then it’s safe to say that you can just continue the conversation in that language. And please ask us if we like to or even want to dance before asking for lessons.

5. Don’t Assume Our Values And Beliefs Are Directly Connected To Our Latinidad

As a Latina, the assumption about who I am is usually centered around being a Roman Catholic with strong family values.

That must mean I want to get married ASAP and have a lot of children. I recently watched a YouTube video where a guy says that he heard if you hold a Latina too long you get six kids. Most men assume I already have children.

The problem with assuming that my values and beliefs are directly related to my culture can be downright dangerous – particularly the assumption that Latinas are hyperfertile.

Latina fertility has been viewed as a threat for a long time now, as evidence by the forced sterilization of Latinas in the past.

Not to mention that these assumptions ignore the fact that Latinos come from many different countries with many different cultures, values, and beliefs.

So please don’t come at me with all that nonsense. Because, as an agnostic atheist who is not looking forward to having children anytime soon, I promise you will be disappointed.

Instead, if you want to know about our values, beliefs, and goals for the future, just ask. That way, you’ll know for sure whether we are compatible or not, and you can avoid wasting both our time.

6. Don’t Describe Us As Spicy, Passionate, Or Say You Like Our Attitude

As a very reserved person, it irritates me that men think I must have an aggressive personality, aka “spicy attitude,” just because I’m Latina.

It’s just too much pressure to try and keep up the act when I know I’m soft spoken and pretty relaxed most of the time. I hate it when guys come up to me and say they prefer Latinas because they like our “spicy and passionate attitude.”

It’s so strange to me that my emotions come with all this extra baggage just because I’m Latina. Like, why can’t I just be plain old angry/sad/happy/excited… why do you have to dress it up all fancy like that?

Calling us spicy has a super objectifying history; do I really look like a pepper to you?

Calling us “passionate” isn’t any better, because it’s also placing pressure on us to perform, and forcing expectations on us that we may not be willing to fulfill just because your attraction to me is based on a bunch of biased myths.

Saying you like our attitude means that our emotions become connected to our ethnicity. It means we can’t ever just be angry – we must be angry because we are Latina.

Instead, get to know us better by asking us what type of things do upset us and why. Ask us what our pet peeves are and how we normally react to them.

By finding out what actually upsets us instead of assuming our emotions fit stereotypes, you can listen to us and support our real feelings.

This is crucial – because so often, the anger of Latinas and women of color are ignored and dismissed as part of our personalities even though we have legitimate reasons to be angry.

7. Don’t Assume We Are Sexually Promiscuous Or Hypersexual

Once I was told I must be wild in bed. Then this person asked if I could talk dirty to him in Spanish.

And we had only just met.

Sure, I’ll talk dirty to you in Spanish, but not the way you think – and it definitely won’t be in your bed, my bed, or any kind of bed.

Assuming that we are hypersexual, exotic creatures is extremely demeaning because it takes away our sexual agency and our ability to define our own sexuality.

It’s also dangerous because it dehumanizes us, and exposes us to unwanted expressions of attraction, and can lead to sexual harassment or abuse.

For example, in order to share with me his assumption that I was wild in bed, that guy needed to feel so entitled to me and my body that it wouldn’t matter to him how his approach made me feel.

He also needed to feel entitled to the point where it wouldn’t matter whether or not I consented to prove or disprove his assumption. Lastly, he needed to feel so entitled that my own sexuality wouldn’t matter at all.

Instead of acting on entitlement, go into it without the expectation of sex or any assumptions about our sexuality. Go ahead and ask us questions. That way, you can listen to our desires and boundaries and know how to respect them.

For instance, ask a woman what her sexual orientation is. As a bisexual woman, I want and need to know that you’re not biphobic or homophobic before I can begin to feel comfortable around you.

Lastly, it makes me angry I feel the need to mention this, but consent is always essential – don’t assume we must be hypersexual and therefore willing to do whatever you want. Respect our boundaries, both in and out of bed.

8. Don’t Assume We Live To Take Care Of You Or That We Want To Be Taken Care Of

Guys are legitimately mad about the fact I don’t cook for them. They’re even more annoyed when they find out I’m vegan. It must be a terrible tragedy that I will not be cooking authentic Puerto Rican food for you on the daily.

I also refuse to do your laundry or clean up after you. I will, however offer to pay for my own food and maybe even pay for yours, unless you’re going to get offended because I won’t let you pay for my stuff.

I know it seems totally sweet that you’re mad because I wouldn’t let you spend your money on me, but it’s actually a bad sign.

Why? One word: machismo.

Machismo in the Latino culture has created these ridiculous expectations that Latinas should be raised with the goal of becoming housewives and fulfilling their husband’s every need and desire. In return, we will never have to worry about finances because he will become our provider.

Some even seek out Latinas for this very reason, regardless of whether they happen to be Latinx themselves or not – because machismo is alive and well no matter where you come from.

Although there is nothing wrong with being a housewife, it’s harmful and limiting as hell when that’s all we’re expected to be.

I understand this is what society has told you to expect from us, but it’s time to start actively resisting these expectations. Because we all stand to benefit from relationships and connections that allow us to be who we are and ask for what we need instead of falling back onto outdated roles.

Instead, ask us what we expect from a partner in a relationship. It’s that simple.

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Taking these suggestions into practice is beneficial for everyone involved.

I don’t guarantee this will get you that date, but at the very least, you will have provided a Latina with a different flirting experience that is sure to stand out in a good way.

However, since I know many will continue to swear by their flawless anti-feminist flirting strategies, consider this an invitation to Latinas everywhere to call that shit out when you hear it – because we don’t have time for half-assed, entitled, and downright racist advances.

We deserve better, and people need to step away from these tired tactics if they want to prove they deserve our attention.

Just put some genuine effort into it, por favor! Future Latinas around the world will thank you.

Katherine Garcia is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. She is a recent college graduate with a BA in Radio, TV, Film and soon to be graduate school student pursuing a Masters in Women and Gender Studies. She is passionate about LGBTQIA+ rights, domestic violence advocacy, Latinx issues, and mental health awareness, as well as 80s hair metal, used book stores, astrology, and chocolate. You can follow her on Twitter @TheLazyVegan1.