A Steak Lover’s Guide to Latino Identity for the White Palate
“White people need to make up their minds as to how they take their Latinos,” I posted on Ebony Murphy Root’s wall. We had met almost a decade ago and quickly became friends through our shared sense of humor on performing identities and our love for food and libations. Once a New Yorker, Ebony moved to Los Ángeles, and we continue to communicate frequently to exchange interesting reads, funny memes and all things in between.
When Eb posted on Facebook yet another story about how a White woman adopted a false Latina identity, as expected, it unraveled a slew of opinions. Whereas White women were in total disbelief (again), scrambling to find justifications (again), the usual cynicism from women of color ensued. This shit again, I scoffed. 2020 was an epic year for the coming out of White women who pretended to be Latina with one particular individual (successful, albeit threatening by the standard) peddling herself as a woke, hoop earring wearing, tight cheetah pants donning Puerto Rican and another as a linguistically insecure Spaniard* who forgot how to say cucumber in English. You all know how both ended.
When the outrage, jokes and memes subsided (as they usually do), Eb and I once again returned to our offline conversations about crafting identities and how some people manage to be quite successful at it. I couldn’t help to wonder what makes a forged minority identity so appealing to Whites, while real Latinos struggle to navigate the very same pipeline our imposters travel through so seamlessly. What is it about these fauxtinos that makes them so delectable to the White palate even when their performance is deemed threatening if carried out by authentic Latinos?
I started thinking about my own identity, my job search, my strategy, and how I have failed miserably. As a little experiment, I started asking for feedback from potential employers and mentors on both my CV and performance. The verdict is in, and I am sorry to report that it’s all contingent upon what the invisible person on the other side of the computer sees, the luck of the draw. When I presented myself in my truest form, I was deemed threatening and intimidating (I speak with my hands and project my voice). Another comment went something like “while my passion for helping the underserved was evident and appreciated, my zest should be curbed so as to not create discomfort.” Note: The job description read “candidate must be passionate and have an unequivocal belief in equity.” When I then presented myself more subdued (pearls and all), I did not look diverse enough to be hired. This, I deducted by stalking the sites to find out who was hired in the end. Let’s just say there are certain profiles that are preferred by many entities, depending on who and what those entities serve. For me, there is no winning. However, an idea did light up in my head during the holiday season.
Before the shutting down of indoor dining in New York City, I was able to squeeze in my annual pilgrimage to Peter Luger. I love a good steak, and dinner with some very good friends was the perfect plan to kick off the countdown to 2021. In order to appease all of the palates present, we decided to order a couple of beef slabs, medium rare and medium with a hot pink center. As our steak approached the table, sizzling in the puddle of butter Peter Luger steaks are known for, I pondered: What if I can create a cooking temperature (términos in Spanish) for Latinos as a way to understand what appeases (or not) the White palate?
As a steak lover, we are very set in our taste of what constitutes an acceptable piece of cooked beef. So, I toyed with the idea of creating a tasting continuum for White people that makes some Latinos palatable while others, well, not so much. Here it goes:
Rare (Jugoso): Rare Latinos are seen as the quintessential needy and poor recent immigrant. They are agreeable because they either tap into the saviourism many White people are so eager to perform or in the worst-case scenario, they are susceptible to exploitation, abuse, and dehumanization, also something many Whites love to partake in. In rare instances, this kind of Latino can fight for agency and galvanize change.
Examples: César Chávez, Dolores Huerta
See also: Latino children who are served by Teach for America.
Medium Rare (Medio cocido): This is the Latino who still bears some kind of accent, denoting otherness which White folk absolutely love. The medium rare Latino is only relatable through becoming a caricature or showing some acculturation while remaining exotic enough for the White palate. Medium rare Latinos are homegrown or imported. They elicit much curiosity either because of their non-threatening demeanor if you are imported, or for their street cred if homegrown. Their command of the English language, albeit with an accent, is publicly celebrated yet mocked in many circles.
Examples: Sofia Vergara (imported), Salma Hayek (imported), Rosy Perez (homegrown), Cardi B (homegrown) Desi Arnaz (imported), Celia Cruz (imported), La Lupe (imported) Cheech Marin (homegrown), Kid Frost (homegrown).
Medium (A punto): Medium Latinos can easily tilt the balance of flavor due to a hot pink center. A picky White palate will demand that they are either scaled back to a type of rare or be further cooked to a more acceptable temperature. On the right palate, there is room for appreciation for the medium Latino who is equal parts American and Latin American. Medium Latinos can be seen as a threat to the White status quo because they are American enough to understand how the system works to not only uplift themselves, but to mobilize the rares while calling out the wells.
Examples: Eva Longoria, Sunny Hostin, Jennifer Lopez, George Lopez, Selena, Zoe Saldaña, Amara La Negra, Sonia Sotomayor, Gloria Estefan, John Leguizamo, Kid Mero, Lin Manuel Miranda, Fat Joe, Rita Moreno, Chita Rivera, Edward James Olmos, America Ferrera, Tito Puente
See also: The scarce Latino CEO or Executive Director who genuinely advances diversity initiatives, Latino causes and Latino people.
Medium Well (Tres cuartos): These nearly-assimilated Latinos have a duality when performing their identity for other Latinos and White people alike. Their command of the English language is superb and they may play the shy Spanish speaker among Spanish-speaking Latinos. You will probably see this kind of individual getting a ‘diversity hire’ job because they checked the “minority box” even when this person has no interest in taking on any Latino causes. They fancy themselves as the exceptional minority and are true gatekeepers who believe that there is space for them and only them. Many biracial Latinos can fall into this category because they are Latino enough to be looked at as diverse, but they understand the coded language and protocols on how to get ahead all by themselves. Self-loathing Latinos who are desperate for White approval fit into this category as well.
Example: Jessica Alba
See also: That one Latino in your company who refuses to help other Latinos. Latinos who feel threatened by other Latinos.
Well Done (Bien Cocido): These are fully assimilated “Latinos” that want nothing to do with being Latino. They will always check the White box on job applications and will say something like “My father is Cuban.”
Examples: Linda Carter, Cameron Diaz, Christina Aguilera, Aubrey Plaza, Ted Cruz, Louis CK.
The Impossible (No translation. This impossible meat is an American thing): Don’t think I forgot about you vegans! Just for you, a popular trend gaining notoriety because while they look Latino and have all of the flavors, they are not! White people tend to become quite disappointed when they discover that the Latino they worshipped is plant-based. But, not all is lost. The Impossible will still leverage book deals, a Netflix series, or an exclusive interview on 60 minutes.
Examples: Jessica Krug, Jeanine Cummings, CV Vitolo-Haddad, Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan
See Also: People who study abroad in a Spanish speaking countries and start calling themselves Roberto, Guillermo, Juana and Hilaria (Bob, William, Jane and Hillary, respectively).
I hope you have savored this satirical social commentary on how Whites (and in some cases, other non-Latinos for that matter) are constantly trying to design (and redesign) the parameters on how WE, LATINOS should be perceived and even defined. However, cosplay for gain and advancement while occupying spaces that are meant for us are no laughing matter.
*Yes, we know that Spanish or Spaniard does not equate to being Latina. However, for all intent and linguistic purposes, Latinos get demonized and even seen as less intelligent for the very same bilingualism Hilaria Baldwin is glorified. I wrote about this here.