Not All Latinas Look Like J.Lo

I hate checking boxes. Here’s the deal. I am Dominican-American. My mother and father were both born in the Dominican Republic. I was born in New York City. I am Latina. I’m also an Actress.

Here’s the problem. America (and most of the world) has trouble accepting someone who looks like me, as Latin. In their eyes, Latin women look like Jennifer Lopez, Latin men look like Mario Lopez and all Latin people have the last name Lopez (or Garcia, Hernandez, etc).

Here’s the reality. Latinos are the most diverse looking group of people in the world. We come in all skin colors, eye colors and hair textures. We do not all look like the Latinos you see on TV and in films.

Here’s what’s frustrating. As a Latina of color, I have to constantly explain what I am. And as an Actress, I never really know the right answer. At every commercial audition there is the following sign-in sheet you must fill out.

Note the ETHNICITY section and explanation key below it. Now, yes I could just leave this section blank, but most people don’t and depending on how I’m feeling that day, I usually don’t either. It never fails though, I take an extra 10-15 seconds thinking… Do they want LATINO, BLACK or my personal favorite, ETHNICALLY AMBIGUOUS? Then I check accordingly. This seems silly, no? But what I’ve learned from past auditions is that you are to them what you say you are, regardless of what you really are. Make sense?

If they want a Black girl for the part and I say I’m Black, then viola! They see me that way. If they want a Latino girl and I say I’m Latino, then viola! Oh you are…great! If they want a girl of Mixed race and I check more than one box, viola again! I guess this means I’m diverse, which is a good thing? Now, if it were up to me… they would cast me based on my talent alone and not the color of my skin but come on, that’s just a silly notion. I am aware.

Here’s the story. I am so proud to be Latina and love my culture and all that comes with it, but I am a little sick of giving history lessons every time someone is dumbfounded at the fact that I can have black skin and still be 100% LATINA. Oh really, I thought you were mixed, like half black and half white. Well, you know what, you are not exactly wrong there. Let’s Wiki it, shall we…

The ethnic composition of the Dominican population is 73% multiracial, 16% white, and 11% black. The multiracial population is primarily a mixture of European and African, but there is as well a significant Taíno element in the population; recent research has shown that at least 15% of Dominicans have Taíno ancestry. 

So to recap (and this is the case with other Latin islands in the Caribbean, too), Dominicans are historically and presently a mixed race that speaks Spanish and has a Latin culture and identity. Because of this, we do not ALL look like a Lopez. Some of us have black skin, some white, some olive and everything in between. It’s a beautiful thing.

Here’s my wish. That Hollywood and the world will open their eyes to the beauty that exists in our cultural and physical differences. That we stop stereotyping what someone should look like or act like based on where they’re from. (I’m guilty of it too). That we question people about their backgrounds out of curiosity, not out of judgement.

That’s all. Not too bad, right? Thanks for listening.

Photos of Zoe Saldana, LaLa Anthony, Christina Milian & Lauren Valez via WireImage 

Commercial Sign-In Form via SAG

  • Andrés Gutierrez

    This is a fantastic article!! I hate it when people assume ”blonde, blue eyed” immediately means caucasian. We, latinos, are so diverse! I live in Colombia and you see every kind of person there is. Black, white, blue eyed, green eyes, redheads, blondes, brunettes, asian, muslim, christian, etc etc etc. In reality, there’s so much more than what media has made us into, and I find that repulsive.

    • Grasie Mercedes

      Thanks for your comment Andres. That’s what my point is…I just wish the media would be aware of the diversity as well.

    • sandre

      If you’re blonde and blue-eyed, wouldn’t that make you a caucasian Latino, though? I’ve known Mexicans who were blonde and blues because their ancestors were from Spain, or even more traditionally light-complexioned European countries. Personally, I don’t quite understand the difference between Latino and Hispanic. Someone told me that Latino is from Latin America (including Mexico) and Hispanic is all spanish/portuguese-speaking people, include Spaniards and the Portuguese. To be honest with you, that sounds kind of like trying to normalize past, more traditional, definitions of the word. Because why does Latin America have a distinction for people on its continent (other than obvious racial and ethnic distinctions and the “South American” distinction), but other continents don’t? Why do Spanish speakers have a distinction, but other languages don’t. BTW, I’m not trying to be snarky; I’m genuinely wondering.

  • Kimberly Jean Arciniega

    I fully agree. I’m not an actress but so often I get asked what I am. People assume all these different things lately mostly Indian and I feel like their perception changes once they find out both of my parents are Mexican. They feel disappointed that I’m not more ethnically diverse or dumbfounded because they think I don’t look,dress or because I don’t have an accent. Sometimes it bothers me but either way I realize this is who I am and no matter what I look like I’m very proud of my culture and upbringing and no one else’s perception/judgments can change that.

    • Grasie Mercedes

      Amen! You should be proud. It’s a beautiful thing! xo

  • Kimberly Jean Arciniega

    i meant to say don’t look or dress like Mexicans

  • Evelyn Sue Sandoval

    latino/as are an ethnicity. black/white/indigenous/etc are a race. we’re kind of the only people that can really inhabit and be different people simultaneously.

    • Christie Michel

      Asian is a racial category and it encompasses many ethnicities, like Chinese and Korean. The same goes for black folks who are indigenous (which is an ethnicity)

  • Cristina Moreno

    Word. When I was growing up, I got a lot of, “You don’t look Puerto Rican!” comments. I never had a good response to that. I’m light-skinned, which means that I can “pass” most of the time. It’s sad how many times I’ve unintentionally been involved in/overheard conversations about “those people.” “You know those people…they all do ________.” And then comes the awkward moment when I turn around or speak up and say that I’m Puerto Rican. Oops. At the same time, I get it from the Hispanic folks, too. People who look at me and think I’m white, so they talk about me or my family in Spanish, not realizing that I can understand every word. My dad has a red beard and freckles, so it’s particularly hilarious to watch reactions from folks who don’t know that he’s Latino.

    • Grasie Mercedes

      OMG! YES! i’ve had that same thing happen! this article could have been twice as long but i didn’t want to ramble on. i have had black people talk about latin people to me and ive had latin people talk about me in spanish too! i understand spanish very well, though i only speak it here and there. it’s crazy when our own people are ignorant to the diversity! thanks for sharing!

  • Taiko Toma

    Grasie, this is definitely one of my very favorite hellogiggles posts! What an empowering piece to read! I love that you approach this topic with honesty, vulnerability, boldness, and humility. As someone who also doesn’t look or act like my particular Asian stereotype, I was blessed to read this. Your pride in who you are, what you look like, and where you come from is so incredibly refreshing. If only we all could approach life like that! I hope that many, many people read what you just wrote and that they take your insights to heart.

    • Grasie Mercedes

      aww thank you! YES asians have a similar thing going on don’t they :) thank you for commenting and your kind words. xo

  • Thea Willow Stensen

    It is too bad people feel the need to put labels on everything and everyone. People are people, regardless of color, size, religion, etc. Maybe if people could get that through their thick skulls the world would be a nicer place. I am the whitest white girl I know but I still have a diverse background. Making assumptions by the way people look just makes an ass out of you. I say it doesn’t matter what box you check, you are beautiful and smart and I applaud you for being you. We should all celebrate our individuality.

  • Kim Mansur

    I have the same problem. Because of my facial features, most people think that I’m East Asian when I am, in fact, a blend of Lebanese and French. I have to put up with so many assumptions and stereotypical Asian jokes from people I know, and I am 1. appalled that they just assume things about me based on how I look and 2. appalled at how many people can say horrible things about different ethnicities/races when they think you’re their friend and it’s “okay.”

  • Valentina Korkes

    Yes, yes, yes a hundred times yes. I’m a full-time masters student but I also waitress on the weekend and it never fails that at least once a shift I’m asked, point-blank, “what are you?” WHAT KIND OF QUESTION IS THAT ANYWAY? #Rudemuch?

    • Grasie Mercedes

      haha! RIGHT?! umm i’m human! though like i mentioned…im guilty of it too. sometimes im curious about where someone comes from. but there’s definitely a different tone when someone asks out of interest vs out of judgement.

  • Jessica Malavé

    I remember filling out a job application and one of the questions was “Black, Latino or White, Latino” like based on skin color. I found that really strange… I left the answer blank by the way and just put “other.”

  • Lindsey Elaine

    I agree to not stereotyping which people of every race does to me! I am Mexican, but every time I tell someone that, they are shocked because they think I am Indian. People also assume I speak Spanish when I don’t and are very disappointed at me when they find this out. I think people need to become open-minded and realize that EVERYONE is different and we need to embrace this.

    • Grasie Mercedes

      yeah, i think because Latinos are still a young group immigration wise vs Italian, Irish, etc people expect you to speak Spanish. like it’s a requirement to be Latin. thanks for commenting! xo

  • Vanessa Ovalle

    Check out this link, the end of the classic “Mexican Americans” Cheech and Chong anthem is totally priceless:

    p.s. I’m definitely one of those Mexican girls that looks Asian, my grandpa even calls me “Korita” which translates to “Little Korean Girl”

  • Melissa Jaquez

    I’m also Dominican, also born in the NYC but on the paler side of the spectrum. I’m probably about as pale as Zooey herself. I was also blonde for my first year of life before my hair got darker which would probably really confuse people when I told them my nationality. People usually think I’m Puerto Rican, French (which is also because of my last name), or White American of some type of European background on rare occasions. The fact that we have to be confused as to what to call ourselves is why racial labeling is completely pointless.

    • Grasie Mercedes

      I agree. Thanks for sharing Melissa. It’s silly.

  • Hannah Lopez

    My husband is Mexican-American. He speaks Spanish, but is pale skinned, 3 of his grandparents were born in the U.S., he & his parents are all college-educated, & he works as an accountant. This totally confused people in the small Texas town we lived in for 5 years. The white people would forget he wasn’t “one of them” & make racist comments (mostly about Mexican immigrants) & the Mexican folks would stare in shock when ge spoke Spanish & explained his family was from Mexico. It’s so frustrating that people still hold to these stereotypes. I was so offended at all of the racist comments I would hear–that people thought it was “safe” to say things like that in front of me because I’m white. Even if my last name wasn’t Lopez, I would still be disgusted! And someday, our 2 year old son will be faced with similar forms asking him to define who he is & I’m not sure what to tell him.

    • Grasie Mercedes

      ugh, sorry to hear that Hannah! thank you for sharing. i hope things will be better for your son. i think our future generations will be more open-minded…at least that’s what i wish for. i giggled when i saw your last name was Lopez :)

  • Eligreg López

    I totally get this article! People from the U.S. oftenly get confused by my looks. I have a black person’s nose, my eyes are light-coloured, my skin is white and my body type is definitely latina. I guess we have a lot of diversity around here and it’s wonderful!!

  • Diana Del Valle

    I am a light-skinned Latina with dark hair and eyes. It gets really old having to tell people, “No, really. My family is from Mexico and Puerto Rico.” What’s worse is this confusion also sometimes comes from other Latinos (who should know better), who sometimes even suggest that I am “not Latina enough.” I think it would have been good to include a light-haired, light-eyed Latina’s photo. Thank you for this article!

    • Grasie Mercedes

      it’s true “white” latinos experience the same thing! i didn’t include that angle bc i was writing about my personal experience as a “black” latino. but thank you for sharing your story! xoxo :)

  • Laura Mendez

    Grasie you just became my shero. Many people don’t realize how diverse “Latino” cultures can be. Last year, I had a Spanish teacher who thought Colombia (along with the rest of Central/South America) was in MExico. That really pissed me off. And then one other time she asked me if my parents knew any English whatsoever, when I had previously mentioned that they had gone to college in Utah and Florida. I feel really bad, but I wanted to punch her. Thanks for posting this… it really is one of my favorite posts ever!!!

    • Grasie Mercedes

      lol. thanks! great story.

  • Jasmine Johnson

    Cheers to this article! While I’m not Latina, I am bi-racial (my dad is black and my mom is white) but my name is Jasmine and I have brown skin so people automatically assume I am from India. Instead of straight asking me if I am Indian, they ask me “where are you from?’ to which I reply ‘Indiana” (confusing more people because they assume I said India). If they didn’t get too mixed up with the whole Indiana-India deal they ask where my parents are from and my response is “Indiana and North Carolina” and they still look confused. I know exactly what they are trying to ask me and exactly what answer will satisfy it, but until they ask me the right question I refuse to give them the right answer. *Oh and they ask me if I’m Hindu as well. Um…I’m pretty sure you can be any race/ethnicity and be Hindu. Come on America.

    • Grasie Mercedes

      ha! come on america! thanks for sharing jasmine! xo

  • Lyraida Maldonado Caraballo

    I’m so glad you posted this article! I’m a fair-skinned, green eyed Puerto Rican. I have “Caucasian features” and I don’t have an accent so I really get put in the “American” box all the time, especially by locals. I work in an “ethnic” restaurant, and so many people, both tourists and locals, have questioned i’s authenticity based on the color of my skin, my eyes or my ability to speak English. Did everyone forget the history of the western world and all of the cultures that encompass it? We’re diverse, I don’t understand the need of imagining us all as the same color with the same features.

  • Mayra Lopez

    Great article Grasie!! I’m a hazel eyed and fair skinned Mexican. When people hear I was born in Mexico, they have a hard time believing it because I don’t speak with an accent. I just hate explaining to people that ask why I’m not “dark enough to be Mexican” because my great-great-grandfather was Spaniard that some of my family are fair skinned and some are dark skinned.

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