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We Love to Love You: The Rise and Continued Prominence of the Latin Lover

02/15/2009 03:50 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In honor of Valentine's Day, I want to give a shout out to all those Latin Lovers... Actually, let me stop there. What the hell is a Latin Lover anyway?

Whenever I hear the phrase, which has actually been pointed at me a couple of times, I think of some confident guy who charms roomfuls of women but regularly loses tracks of how many ladies he's slept with that week. This is not me, by the way.

Other images come to mind. Is it the guy who snaps his heels together, plays flamenco guitar, and presents blushing ladies with roses? Or is it the player who flashes devilish smiles, tells oily lies to naïve women, and dumps trusting females eight seconds after ravishing them? Or is the guy who is open and expressive, has a sensitive-artist vibe, and respects women as well as lusts after them?

All of these images have, at one time or another, been presented. By the way, other Latino male archetypes - such as the uber-macho hombre, the mama's boy, and the barrio thug, among many others - don't traditionally fit the category of Latino Lover. So let's leave them alone, for now.

Of course, there is also a female version of the Latin Lover. These are usually exotic beauties who beguile (what a great verb!) respectable, rational men. The guys are helpless in her presence, even though she inevitably is either poor, crazy, or up to no good - probably all three.

Regardless of gender, the Latin Lover is usually presented as, at best, a fling of simple passion. They really don't have any emotional states beyond getting aroused and flying into jealous rages, and as such, they're poor choices for long-term companionship.

In worst-case scenarios, the Latin Lover is an obstacle to the hero or heroine's true love. Under such circumstances, the confused woman or blinded man eventually returns to his/her stable partner, kicking the lothario to the curb or ditching the dark-skinned mistress.

Like every other aspect of our culture, Hollywood has had an influence in shaping the iconography. After the imbroglio caused by my previous post about Hispanic representation in the movies, I don't want to get too much into it. Suffice to say that the original Latin Lover was probably Rudolf Valentino, the silent-film star who terrified/fascinated innocent waifs in the early days of cinema.

But Valentino was Italian, which leads to a question: How strict is the "latin" part of that equation? After all, we've seen many people of different ethnicities play this role - everyone from Antonio Banderas (a Spaniard) to Salma Hayek (a Mexican) to Johnny Depp (a white guy).

So perhaps being a Latin Lover is more a state of mind than an ethnic identity. Still, its roots in ethnicity cannot be ignored. And this leads to larger questions.

For starters, is the image of the Latin Lover a stereotype? If so, is the modern definition confined to Hispanics, or as we have seen, can Italian or Greek or even hot white people be Latin Lovers?

Furthermore, if it is a stereotype of Hispanics, is it a positive or negative one? Or is the concept of a positive stereotype an absurd oxymoron? Really, how insulting is it - if it's derogatory at all - to be called a Latin Lover?

At this point, I should mention that one of my future in-laws, upon learning that my girlfriend was dating me, famously warned her that "Those Latins. They love ya, then they leave ya." My wife and I will soon celebrate our 18th anniversary. So I guess I'm not much of a Latin Lover, at least according to my in-law's definition.

So let me ask a final set of questions. Are you a Latin Lover? Are you involved with one? And in either case, is that a good or bad thing?