Lazy, uneducated, immigrant, dark, sexy, cholo, freeloader, non-English speaker—Latino stereotypes, we are all familiar with them. If at least one of these descriptions hasn’t been directed at you, then it’s likely a friend or family member has been referred to as one of the above. Without a doubt you’ve spotted stereotypical depictions in the media. They’re disturbingly prevalent, despite the fact that it’s 2012.
As a U.S. Latino, what’s the best way to handle Latino stereotyping? You can either grow jaded, get angry, seethe with outrage, or you can just laugh. The latter at least promises to bring everyone into the conversation. Bill Nericcio, director of the Master of Arts in Liberal Arts and Sciences program at San Diego State University explains why we tend to laugh when confronted with clichéd portrayals of Latinos in the media. “Much of what we laugh at comes from either a sense of identification or a total sense of derision or superiority. You cannot really tell a story without a stereotype. They are always funny. We laugh because we recognize the image and usually because we are somehow better than what we are laughing at.”
In practice, making people laugh using stereotypes takes a lot of talent. We spoke to two critically-acclaimed Latino artists who use stereotypes as an important ingredient in their work. The cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz and illustrator of Latino USA: A Cartoon History and the writer Gustavo Arellano, who pens a column called Ask a Mexican and whose most recent book, Taco USA discusses the influence of Mexican food in U.S. culture.
Read Related: For Latinos, Negative Media Stereotypes Persist
“I think [my] doing the column is helping us move past stereotypes, of course some people don’t agree with that,” says Arellano. “But if I didn’t think it was attacking and destroying these stereotypes, I wouldn’t be doing the column.” Arellano’s top three stereotypes are: Mexicans don’t assimilate (“Which is preposterous”); that parents don’t care about their children’s education (“Which isn’t true”); and that Mexican music only consists of mariachi or banda music (“People are actually astounded that we like music that doesn’t involve tubas or freaking accordions!”). For Arellano, talking constantly about stereotypes can get tiresome, but he hopes his column is somehow contributing to the fight for more awareness.
As a syndicated Latino cartoonist Alcaraz has depicted a wide array of provocative Latino pop cultural imagery ranging from a sombrero-wearing President Obama to a Nike-wearing Che Guevara.
One of Alcaraz’s favorite stereotypes is the cholo. To show support for California Governor Jerry Brown he recently depicted Brown in clichéd cholo attire, bandana and flannel shirt included. With a headline that read “Brown Pride,” Alcaraz was taken to task by other Latinos for being stereotypical, which made him laugh. “I use the cholo as an empowering thing, rather than a buffoon. I use it for defiance,” he explained. “You have to use stereotypes, because that’s the language these critics are trafficking in. Some people miss the point, but you just have to keep hoping that someone will move beyond the surface,” said Alcaraz.
With all the progress Latinos have made in U.S. culture, there’s still a ways to go. Arellano points out that while academics may be busy talking about racism from an intellectual perspective, the mainstream is still excluded from the conversation. At least Arellano’s satirical column enables him to directly call out people for their racist or stereotypical beliefs while getting his readership involved in the shaming. “They don’t like getting exposed and they don’t like getting laughed at. You laugh at their stupidity and then you go from there.”