“Myth of the Latin Woman:/Just Met a Girl Named Maria,” by Judith Ortiz Cofer tells of her personal experiences as a Latin girl growing up in a large urban city in New Jersey during the sixties. She tells of her journey maneuvering through her childhood trying to find her place in a mixed cultural world and faces many stereotypes. Cofer later learns how to take the negative comments of others and turn them in to positives in her own life. There are many times she realizes some of these comments that are made toward her would never have been made to a Caucasian woman, but somehow finds a way to smile and thank them.
Although it is not always easy, Cofer finds her place after facing the negativity of sexual harassment, being frowned upon for her way of dress, and being seen as nothing more than a domestic and is able to take this negativity and mold and shape herself into the successful adult she is today. Living in a mixed cultural world, Cofer relies on her family and church to protect her but soon realizes how she dresses will cause her many problems with Americans. She learns quickly that the way she dresses gives males the idea that she is easy.
According to Latin tradition, women are allowed to dress up for special occasions to give males the opportunity to express their interest in them but, according to Cofer’s customs, the men must never cross into obscenity (205). Americans are not taught these traditions, so it would be easy for these guys to misinterpret Cofer for something she is not. It isn’t only the boys who misinterpreted Cofer’s unique style of dress. The girls and women also frowned upon her choice of attire and viewed her as too mature for her age.
As a young girl, Cofer is influenced by the women who had grown up on a tropical island where wearing bright colors and showing their skin was a way to keep cool as well as to look sexy (205). Cofer needs to realize she doesn’t live on a tropical island and that her family will not always be around to protects her from the American’s misconceptions. Even though Cofer suffers socially because of the way she dresses, she also stands a chance of suffering professionally as well. Cofer has no idea what to wear for a job interview and no one to positively guide her.
On Career Day at her high school, Cofer was made the negative model by the nuns (204) instead of giving Cofer ideas on what would be acceptable for a job interview. If school is this harsh, Cofer can only imagine what it will be like when she goes for an official job interview. Cofer continues to dress according to her Latino traditions and continues to suffer the repercussions. It is painfully obvious to her that others view her as “hopeless” and “vulgar” (204) and that in the real world employers and men on the street will misinterpret her tight skirts and jingling bracelets as a come-on (205).
Cofer will continue to struggle unless she begins to follow the American traditions and leaves some of her Puerto Rican traditions behind. To make things even more difficult for Cofer, the media steps in and affirms American’s views of Latino women. Now these women are being portrayed as nothing more than the hot and spicy foods they are known to prepare. Advertisers have designated “sizzling” and “smoldering” as the adjectives in their television advertisements (205) and they aren’t just meaning food. These types of ads say that it is okay to mistreat and sexually harass Cofer and other Latino women.
It isn’t only when these women are walking down the street that these women are sexually harassed. They also faced sexual harassment at their place of work. The boss men would give them the choice of submitting to their sexual advances or being fired (205). Not only did these women have to give in to something they didn’t want; they were also being forced to turn against everything they have been taught as young girls. While Latino women face much sexual harassment for the way they dress, they also face a different stereotype.
As Latino women grow into adults and enter the workforce, they find themselves being held back from success. Because a lot of Latino women speak poor English and have few skills the stereo type is “They make good domestics” (206). The media helps promote this notion by portraying Latino women as maids and mispronouncing words. Cofer is able to overcome this stereotype by becoming proficient with the English language and furthering her education. However, this does not make Cofer immune to the stereotype.
While at her first public poetry reading on a boat-restaurant, Cofer is mistaken as waitress by an older woman who proceeded to order a cup of coffee from her (207). This incident left a lasting impression on Cofer that she has never forgotten. In her essay, Cofer does a good job of detailing how stereotypes affect her and other Latino women. Cofer goes in to great detail about how the way she dressed when she was younger made her perceived as something she wasn’t. Cofer was able to overcome these stereotypes by gaining an education and becoming a successful writer.
She is also able to “call Americans out” on the way they treat women of the Latino race and , in her case, prove them wrong by educating the people who come to listen to her readings. If not for her journey through a mixed cultural world, Cofer would not have gained the personal strength to persevere through all of the stereotypes she struggled to overcome and would not have been able to have the opportunity as she does now to fight the stereotypes that are beginning to fade.
Cofer, Judith Ortiz. “The Myth of the Latin Woman:/Just Met a Girl Named Maria. ” EH 101, Blackboard. November 5, 2011. PDF file