05/07/2013 12:35 pm ET Updated Jul 07, 2013

Spanish, In Plain English

"You're Dominican?...You don't look it."... "Are you adopted? Are your parents light?"... "Say something in Spanish, prove it"... "You're not really Spanish"

Just a few reactions I still get to this day. The idea to write this was born from a very personal and close topic to me. To say that I needed to be fearless to write this is an understatement. I wrote, re-wrote, and even scrapped the idea before finally deciding how to do it.

I am a proud Dominican woman; I just don't look the part and that's something that has haunted me, my entire life.

I considered making this story about my personal struggles, instead, I'm making this a celebration of my culture and the women who make it whole.

What is a Latina?

Latin women used to be just wive's, mother's, daughters, and chef's. Now we are also in the White House, on your local news channels, and change how fashion brands make their clothing, for a more curvaceous body.

Rather then give a textbook explanation, I shot out a mass email, to strangers and friends alike to get their opinion. My email simply read "What makes a woman a Latina? Replies filled my inbox.

I broke it down in to categories.

  • "Always wear hoop Earrings"
  • "...loud, obnoxious, attention seekers..."
  • "...flirtatious"
  • "...Sensitive and ready to cry foul..."
  • "Big Butt"
  • "...Rosie Perez style accents"

I start with this to expose the elephant in the room, to allow negative to play along with the positive. It is unfortunate that Latina's are held to these stereotypes, considering many of these can be associated with women of other cultures. Some of these characteristics are held by some Hispanic women, even myself, but not all.

  • "Speaks Spanish"
  • "Has Spanish Parents"
  • "Listens to Spanish music"

Has Hispanic parents; the fairest of assumptions, a nice "duh" can go along with that. A Latina will almost always speak the language, it is one of the strongest parts of the culture, while music and dancing take over any occasion.

  • "...Passion for life... Clothes.. music, dancing... even arguments are filled with passion""
  • "Vibrant, Lively, Sexy, Fun, and Outgoing"
  • "...They care about the way they look... eating and exercise are very important"

Besides sounding fabulous, I think any Latina would say these are just a few of the things that make them who they are. They are passionate, from the kitchen to the bedroom, from the dance floor to the gym, a conversation or an argument.

What They Find Important:
  • "Housekeeping is important"
  • "Family oriented"
  • "Keep family traditions"
  • "Food and Cooking"
  • "Appearance is important"

Family lies at the center of this community. Family can include your grandparents, your parents, your siblings, cousins, your spouse, your compadre, your comadre; it's whoever you share your family traditions and holidays with. This bond is tight and often stands stronger than most relationships outside of that circle.

Food and cooking go along with any holiday tradition. Holidays are spent with family dancing and laughing, eating traditional food that's been cooked by mami's, tia's and abuela's. The air is filled with the decadent aromas from various plates like rice and beans, pork or chicken, fried plantains, and other traditional foods.

The categories listed only touch on what makes these women who they are. They are passionate, family oriented, and lively descendants of Hispanic parents.

It was no easy task to describe an entire culture and person without causing offense, to give an individual their deserved respect, and to show those who often misinterpret or assume, that it is not always what's on the outside that makes a Latina who they are.

Instead of racking my brain for something I decided to include an email I received that summed things up nicely:

"What makes a Latina... is the passion for her culture... the love of all things that trigger pleasure... a love of all things that satisfy the physical and emotional essence of a person... food, poems, history, romance, people, or music, all is looked at with heightened sensitivity and appreciation. To the Latina... every detail is important. The Latina savors all strong and positive influences, easily bored with the status quo; life is exciting and breathtaking."

This is for Latina's everywhere, young and old, who feel misrepresented or misunderstood; for girls like me who often find themselves fighting to prove, even to those closest to them, who they are.

I wrote this hoping that of all the things this story made you feel, at least one was pride.

...tu Amor Me Dio En El Centro De Mi Corazon, el Blanco Mas Perfecto De Mi Perdicion, y Como Un Rayo Tu Piel, Cayo, En Mi, Y Me Enamoro...Chayanne, El Centro De Mi Corazon