Seven Women On Owning Their Latinidad With Full Confidence
There are so many colorful aspects of Latinx culture—one of them being our vibrant, unapologetic approach to beauty. We come from generations of passed down secrets and insider tips, but as the world changes, so does the way we view makeup, skincare, hair, and more. Here’s how we’re mixing things up and bringing fuego to Latinx beauty today.
Our society has a way of constantly making us feel like we aren’t enough, whether that’s in regard to our looks, accents, heritages, or any number of characteristics. An example of this in the United States is Latinidad. The academic term is used to describe a sense of unity among those of Latinx identity, but, many Latinx people have rejected it because of the way it fails to truly be inclusive. After all, there are 20 countries in Latin America and as of 2019, nearly 61 million Latinx people living in the U.S., so to believe that all of their complexities could be captured under one umbrella term is unrealistic.
It doesn’t help that for decades, the representation of Latinas in the mainstream media was very limited, and even now, it still has a long way to go. We’re expected to look like Salma Hayek or Jennifer Lopez. We must speak perfect Spanish and English without an accent. Our personalities are supposed to be feisty, but also submissive. The list goes on and on, and changes depending on who you ask.
However, just because these standards exist, doesn’t mean we must live by them. HelloGiggles spoke with seven women who are tired of their culture being presented as a monolith and are defining for themselves what it means to be Latina.
Tatiana McInnis (she/her or they/them)
Tatiana McInnis is Black and Nicaraguan. Her mother immigrated from Nicaragua to the U.S. during the Sandinista revolution, which began in the ’70s. McInnis’ Nicaraguan heritage played a big role in her upbringing. “I’m first generation born in this country on my mom’s side,” she says. “I’m [also] from South Florida and they have a huge Nicaraguan population.”
When speaking of her mother, McInnis shares her admiration for her resilience and persistence for caring for her family, in addition to her work ethic in both her personal and professional life. However, growing up in her family also brought some challenges. “One thing that has made it historically difficult to love being Nicaraguanse is how anti-Black [my family] is,” McInnis explains, adding that her mother’s family didn’t approve of her parents getting married because her father is Black;as a result, she and her sister experienced racial prejudice too. “They would [only] call me beautiful if I wasn’t too tan and as long as I got my hair relaxed,” she recalls.
Those harmful attitudes haven’t kept McInnis from wanting to learn more about her Nicaraguan culture, luckily, and she notes that both sides of herself can co-exist. “I do feel more curious about [my Nicaraguan culture] and more connected to it in a way that I didn’t when I was younger,” she says.”I went to Nicaragua right before the pandemic and felt at home there.”
During her childhood, McInnis says she felt alienated from her Latinidad because of her Blackness and believed she wasn’t “good enough” because of it., As an adult, though, her perspective has shifted. “I don’t want the anti-Blackness I experienced in my family to keep me from the beautiful possibility of knowing more about Nicaragua—knowing more about my mom’s experiences,” she says. Her worldview, she adds, only has to be valid to her. “I am read as Black and my father’s family has never blinked twice about the fact that I am what I am,” McInnis says. “I don’t care about being read as Latina anymore because, at the end of the day, that has less to do with me. I know my truth.”
Marcela Alcalá (she/her)
Marcela Alcalá is Japanese and Mexican. The beauty influencer takes a lot of pride in her heritage and celebrates who she is—she even goes by the name @mexicanbutjapanese on Instagram. That said, her self-acceptance wasn’t always as strong. She remembers a time when she felt invalidated because of her dual heritage. “It was confusing as a child because I grew up in Mexico, and although I am mixed and understood that, I felt that some people didn’t see me as fully Mexican,” she tells HelloGiggles. “Some of the kids [at school] made sure to let me know that I didn’t look like them.”
Growing up in the ’90s, before the rise of social media, telenovelas and American media had the loudest say when it came to portraying Latinas. This created some challenges around identity for many people, including Alcalá. “I had a difficult time fitting in as I worked through understanding my identity,” she explains. “However, as I grew up, I realized how unique my experience as someone biracial has been.”
Today, her online presence has helped her reach a larger audience of 44.6K followers, many of whom are also biracial. Alcalá notes that for the most part, people now seem to find her Mexican and Japanese heritage interesting and are curious to learn more about her family history. “One of my favorite things is when people who are also Mexican/Japanese, or of similar mixes reach out to me to connect over our identities,” she says. “I didn’t realize how many of us are out there and how similar our experiences are.” Her platform, she continues, allows other biracial people to see that despite what mainstream media puts out there, they’re not alone.
Alcalá believes there is no singular type of Latina, noting that highlighting our differences help us learn from one another and understand the complexity of Latinidad. Today, she continues, she doesn’t care if others think she is Latina enough. “I know I am a Latina,” she says. “I know my roots and I’m the most comfortable and confident I’ve ever been in my life.”
Serena Kerrigan (she/her)
Serena Kerrigan was born in New York and is half white and half Argentinian. She’s extremely proud of her heritage and thanks her mother for teaching her Spanish, but she wants to make it clear that “just because you don’t speak Spanish doesn’t mean you’re not Latina.”
“But for me,” she adds, “that was the biggest gift my mother gave me because it opened up an entire world.”
Kerrigan, a confidence coach who is “dedicated to empowering women to become the best versions of themselves,” says that she loves being able to connect with other Latinx people, an experience she holds close to her heart. That’s why when building her lifestyle company, Serena F*cking Kerrigan, she made sure to hire Latinas. “The person who started Let’s Fucking Date with me is Latina, my managers are Latinas, and my hairstylist for all my photoshoots and events is Latino,” she shares.
Kerrigan notes that it’s important to her to put her money where her mouth is when it comes to making other voices be heard.”A big part of the reason I’m so successful in my career is because I’m white—I’m fully aware of that,” she says, referring to her dual heritage “So, instead of complaining and making the conversation about me, I would rather make space for others.”
Marelyn García (she/her)
Marelyn García was born in the U.S. to Mexican parents. Growing up, she noticed how individualistic Americans are as a culture, which was very different from what she experienced in Mexico. “I’ve always appreciated that when I go to Mexico, there is a huge sense of community,” she tells HelloGiggles “I love how lively and loving the people tend to be.”
Although García grew up in a predominantly white city in Los Angeles County, she went to a school that was largely Latinx. There, she began to experience microaggressions from a non-Latinx teacher. After she corrected him for saying something incorrectly in Spanish, “he said, ‘What would you know? You’re white.’ and it became this running gag for him to challenge my heritage,” she recalls. It finally came to an end after a parent-teacher conference: “He met my mom, spoke with my mom, and then came back and said, ‘OK, I believe you now.'”
Unfortunately, the microaggressions carried on throughout college, a predominately white institution where García says she experienced culture shock. “Anytime I was perceived as not Latina enough, it was by non-Latinxs,” she says. She remembers a peer saying that she didn’t think García was Mexican because she didn’t have an accent when she spoke English. “I felt alienated and isolated at the time, but luckily, I was able to find Latinx organizations to join that made my experience so much better,” García adds.
Today, as a paralegal, she wants people to understand that there’s a whole spectrum of what it means to be Latina; identity doesn’t fit in a tiny box. “We come from all types of backgrounds and upbringings, so that’s why I no longer feel the need to prove myself,” she says. Like everyone else, she is a multifaceted being with many interests and experiences, and that is how she chooses to show up in the spaces she’s in. “You’re not doing anyone any favors when you try to force a specific image into the world,” she explains “People succeed more when they show up as their authentic selves.”
Cat Lantigua (she/her)
Cat Lantigua is Dominican and Puerto Rican, born in the Bronx and raised in Miami. There are many things she loves about her cultures, but what stands out to her the most is, “our resiliency and how we’ve been able to optimize beautiful elements of our cultures despite how difficult our histories were and the oppression that was presented to our people.”
Lantigua recalls taking pride in her culture from a young age, but having those feelings grow stronger with time. “As I got older, I began to dig deeper into where I came from and realized, wow, [it’s] incredible that I have the privilege of coming from these people,” she tells HelloGiggles. Still, she became aware of some of the issues that come with being of two cultures, such as the anti-Blackness that exists within the Dominican world. “I love my Dominican culture but there are also a lot of things that I inherited from my community that were not cool when it came to our internalized white supremacy and our desire to be in alignment with the standards that we’re not born to fit into,” Lantigua says.
In school, she tried to assimilate to fit in with her classmates in Miami, mostly Latinxs of European descent, but they never allowed her to take up space when she claimed her Latinidad heritage, simply because she didn’t look like them. “They were like the gatekeepers of my identity—that was really hard,” Lantigua recalls.
Back then, she often found herself having to describe her background to others, but these days, as the Founder of Goddess Council and host of the Chats with Cat podcast, she doesn’t bother. “At this point, I don’t over-explain anything. I don’t need to give the whole backstory or give people a history lesson on why my existence is possible,” Lantigua says. “I’m so committed to just honoring my right to exist without a constant explanation as to why my humanity is real.”
If she could speak to her younger self, she’d let her know that she’d one day find a place where she belonged. “I’d encourage my younger self to be more imaginative and open to the possibility that the people she would’ve felt safe with, she hadn’t met yet, and that it was going to be okay in the end,”
Pia Velasco (she/her)
Pia Velasco was born in New York to Mexican parents. “I went to school on the Upper East Side where everyone was white except for me,” she says. Since she was surrounded by whiteness, rather than having to prove her Latinidad, she tried to assimilate with her classmates. It would be years until her Latinidad was questioned by others.
When Velasco was 13, she moved to Mexico after her parents’ divorce and quickly started to associate the country with that painful chapter of her life. As such, she neglected her culture for years. However, leaving Mexico as an adult to go to college made her view things differently. “It wasn’t until I moved back to New York and spent some time outside of Mexico that I really started to embrace it,” she explains. Velasco began learning more about Mexico’s history and grew to have great pride in her culture, growing a love for arte huichol, for example.
Yet at the same time, her identity was questioned by college classmates who began telling her that she didn’t look Mexican at all. “New York is such a melting pot, which is one of the things I love the most about this city, so when I returned and experienced someone telling me I didn’t look Mexican and doubting that, it was upsetting,” Velasco recalls. “When I grew up here, I was the only Brown girl; no one doubted that part of me. But then as an adult, it was like I wasn’t Brown enough.”
Later on, as a fashion editor, she connected with a Mexican co-worker who asked Velasco about her ethnicity and proceeded to make comments that cast doubt on her heritage. “I was really frustrated at the lack of awareness that we aren’t all supposed to look one way, even more so that it’s coming from our people,” she remembers.
As time passed, Velasco decided she wouldn’t be bothered by that kind of ignorance, explaining, “I didn’t have time to meet anyone else’s expectations.” She understands that not everyone has the same knowledge and understanding of the complexities of the Latinx diaspora, but she’s not one to hold back from calling out prejudices when she sees them. “There’s no one right way of being Latinx,” she says. “So, when I think about what we ‘look like,’ we look like the world. We look like ourselves, but also like everyone. There’s no ‘one size fits all’—and I love that about us.”
Thatiana Diaz (she/her)
Thatiana Diaz is a Dominican American born and raised in New York. Since she grew up around so many different ethnicities and other Latinxs, she says she didn’t question her Latina identity until she competed in the Miss Dominican Republic Universe 2014 pageant at the age of 21. “People had their comments. I was being thrown the words ‘gringa,’ ‘she doesn’t belong,’ and that I wasn’t Dominican and shouldn’t be competing,” Diaz remembers. “While I understand the hesitancy of having someone from the U.S. competing in the Dominican Republic for the title, I very much wanted the opportunity to compete because of how strongly I felt connected to my culture.”. The following year, when competing in the Miss USA 2015 pageant, she received pushback again, this time including xenophobic comments on Instagram telling her to “go back home.” Both experiences left Diaz wondering where she belonged.
She says this sentiment deepened when she began a career in media as a journalist. “When I entered the industry, I was having such a hard time finding a position, and the only people who even interviewed me were Latinx media companies,” she says. However, these companies didn’t make her feel like she belonged. Colleagues would make comments about her accent and go as far as calling her a gringa—a term used to offensively refer to someone from the U.S. “At first [the company] felt welcoming because I was surrounded by my culture and so many different ethnicities,” Diaz says, “but it turned when I found myself being told I couldn’t have a say in something because I wasn’t Latina enough.”
Soon after, though, she discovered a sense of reassurance when she met other Latinx colleagues working at the same company who felt similarly. “Finding people like me and being able to relate to one another is what gave me that confidence,” says Diaz. “We were able to validate one another.” Building a sense of community helped her realize that the people who’d made her question her identity were trying to unfairly restrict who was allowed to claim Latinidad. “People try to police others and that’s not fair. Having that awareness and talking about it with others is what really changed it for me,” she says. “We cannot allow for people to make us feel like we don’t belong… As long as you understand the privileges of a bicultural experience, I think you can own your identity without question.”
Today, Diaz says she isn’t interested in being boxed into one identity. “While I’m always so happy to advocate for more representation in this industry, I want to stress that being Latina is one part of me,” she explains “At the end of the day, I’m Thatiana—I’m also a Coldplay fan, Peloton lover, and dog mom—and my identifiers aren’t everything that I am.”