Straight talk from the sisters about blood, sweat and ink
Writing Diverse Characters & Stereotypes
We are nearing the end of Hispanic Heritage Month, and one of the things I put on my 2015 goals list was to support the creation of quality Latin American characters.
Today, I’m tackling three common stereotypes and misconceptions.
I am of Cuban, Puerto Rican, Mexican, Venezuelan and Canary Island decent. I have indigenous ancestors on both sides of my family tree. My heritage is such a mixture, even I get confused.
However, I do not speak for everyone. We are too many people, with too many experiences. It’s impossible to generalizations about us as a single culture.
3 Misconceptions About Latin American People…
Real ones have dark hair, skin and eyes:
The dominant aspects of Hispanic DNA are pretty consistent, but not exclusive. Genetic roulette is a funny thing. Latin Americans can come in any physical variation, and I’ve seen this first hand with my own family. I have light eyes while everyone else in my family has ebony chips for eye color. One of my sisters has a facial profile that would mark her as a Mayan princess in training. Her nose practically starts at her hair-line, while the rest of my family have noses with a dished bridge.
Most of my relatives, including my parents and siblings are on the shorter side. However, one of my uncles was six and a half feet tall. Pictures of him bending over to hug my 4’9″ grandmother are quite amusing. Several of my family members have bone straight jet-black hair, others have light colored or wavy hair. One of my kids has textbook dark coloring. While my other kid has sandy almost blond hair, with blue eyes, and skin so fair it’s a nightmare keeping the kid slathered in enough sunscreen.
Everyone in Latin American is Catholic:
We are predominately a group with Christian sensibilities, and Roman Catholicism is the single largest religious influence. However, many people are moving away from strict Catholicism, and embracing other faiths. And there have been large Jewish communities in Latin American for hundreds of years.
My Cuban born and raised grandmother called herself a good Catholic, but her beliefs were all over the place and influenced by a form of spiritualism with African roots. This blending of per-contact myths and ceremonies with aspects of Catholicism is common all over Latin America. It’s something I find fascinating and I’ve been blogging about it over at Part-Time Monster for several months now.
Everyone in Latin American speaks Spanish and they are of Spanish ancestry: Indigenous people, decedents of African slaves and those of non Spanish ancestry live all over Latin American. You can find people originally from almost every country in the world. And there are currently nine official languages, plus countless indigenous languages and dialects.
However, historically speaking having some Spanish ancestry was considered favorable. That’s because many countries had a caste system. Spanish born people enjoyed the top spot and were called Peninsulares. The children of two Peninsulares were a step lower on the social scale. As a person got less connected to a Spanish born ancestor their social rank plummeted. Race and class are still tricky subjects for some Latin Americans to talk about, particularly within the upper classes.
Bonus tip: We are name obsessed.
We tend to have a lot of names; it’s not unheard of for someone to have six or more names crowded onto their birth certificate. Part of that is because including both the mother’s and father’s surname is the preferred method of naming. Also reintroducing family names back into the name stream, so family lines aren’t lost, is very important. Plus we tend to give almost everyone at least one Catholic name. I gave my kids saints’ names and I’m not even remotely religious anymore. I suspect the tradition is encoded within me so deeply, I did it unconsciously.
What makes a good Latin American character is hard to pin down and no single set of characteristics is going to work. For one thing, Latin America is a huge geographic area, and each part is influenced by too many variables to count. If you want to include a character, do the research and don’t be afraid to seek help. I catch mistakes in books all time, and these are often simple issues that anyone with a basic knowledge of my culture would notice too.
Hispanic Heritage Month runs from September 15 to October 15, you can learn more about the event and it’s history here.
Robin trained as a professional historian and worked as a museum curator, an educator and historical consultant. She writes dark young adult fiction, with diverse characters. She's currently querying a novel, and working on two new manuscripts that started off as NaNoWriMo projects. You can follow her on Facebook(https://www.facebook.com/robin.rivera.90813) or on Twitter @robinrwrites. However, Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/RRWrites/) is where her inner magpie is happiest of all.
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