“But You Speak So Well”: How Latinos Experience Subtle Racism

blog-latino-microaggression

By Silvia L. Mazzula, PhD (Asst. Professor of Psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY). Dr. Mazzula is also the President-Elect of the Latino Psychological Association of New Jersey.

Last month marked the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and across the U.S., many Americans proclaimed that Dr. King’s dream had indeed come true. Perhaps many people believe this because overt acts of racism aren’t as common and are typically frowned upon. However, covert forms of racism are all too common.

These more subtle forms of racism are called “microaggressions” and communicate hostile and racial insults. Microaggressions are things said or done – many times unconsciously – that reflect a person’s inner thinking, stereotypes and prejudices. They are difficult to recognize because they are brief, innocuous, and often difficult to see.  Why are they important to talk about?  Because microaggressions are pervasive and have a detrimental impact on people’s psychological and physiological well-being.

What kinds of microaggressions do Latinas/os experience?

If you are Latina or Latino, you may have heard comments such as, “Wow, you speak so well… You are not like them… You are really smart… OR You are different and they will really like you.” You might even be asked repeatedly where you are from if your first answer is a city or state in the U.S.

The take away messages from these simple statements are clear for many of us who study microaggressions and racism: You are not acting like those Latinas/os who don’t quite behave like the “norm” – which essentially is referring to White Anglo-American.  After experiencing a microaggression, you might wonder, “Were they giving me a compliment or telling me that people from my culture are less than” or “Were they really curious about where I live or were they telling me that I don’t belong – that I’m not American?”

As a Latina, I have heard similar comments over and over again- as a student, as a professional, and as a faculty member.   When you bring it up to someone, you might get responses similar to the ones I received in the past –  that you are overreacting, thinking too much about a simple statement, or bringing up the ‘race card’ when it wasn’t there.

Research tells us microaggressions are an all too common experience for Latinas/os

My colleague, Dr. Kevin Nadal, and I recently presented a paper at the 2013 APA Convention on Latinas/os’ experiences with microaggressions1.  Our findings prove microaggressions are very real experiences for many Latinos/as living in the United States. Almost all of our participants, 98%, had experienced some type of microaggression within the last six months! We also found that when people experience microaggressions, they tend to experience mental health issues like depression and a more negative outlook of the world.

When examining gender, ethnic background and place of birth, we found the following:

  • Latina women experienced more microaggressions at work and at school than Latino men,
  • Latinas and Latinos of Dominican descent experienced being exoticized and treated as a sexual object more than other Latinos,
  • Puerto Ricans experienced being treated as second-class citizens or as criminals, more than any other Latino ethnic group,
  • Young Latinos/as, and those with lower levels of education, experienced being invalidated more than older Latinos and those with more education, and
  • Latinos/as born outside of the U.S. were more likely to be treated as inferior compared to Latina/os born here.

Our study highlights how very real microaggressions are for Latinos/as and how having multiple oppressed identities can increase the impact of these insidious acts. The challenge to end microaggressions is a difficult and often painful task.

Because we all have biases and prejudices, we can start by asking ourselves one simple question. How do I participate in microaggressions in my day-to-day interactions and conversations? When we start to reflect on this question honestly and deliberately, we will begin put a stop to microaggressions.  But, it must start within each one of us first.

How I personally check against microaggressions

I  am conscious to not laugh or participate in racial or ethnic jokes that demean, stereotype, or “other” groups that are different than me (even like me).  When I’m feeling a little bold, I even point out to the “jokester” that they are being microaggressive.  This also includes ending racist and microaggressive jokes at my own dinner table. It may not be much, but it’s one simple thing that I can actively do.

What you can do to address microaggressions

Addressing microaggressive acts can be difficult and taxing to your emotional well being, especially with your loved ones and in your professional lives.  Sometimes, it’s helpful to first process the experience with someone who understands.  Speaking to someone who understands will not only help you think through what happened, but also help validate that what you experienced was real and that there is nothing wrong with you.

We want to hear from you – Tell us in the comments:

  • What do you do to stop microaggressions in your day-to-day interactions and conversations?
  • What do you do to take care of yourself if you are a target of these insidious and harmful acts?

You may also be interested in:

The Shared Impact of Immigration and Acculturative Stress for Latino Populations

Is It You or Is It Racist? The Insidious Impact of Microaggressions on Mental Health

References:

1 Microaggressions were assessed with The Racial and Ethnic Microaggressions Scale (REMS; Nadal, 2011).

Nadal, K. L. (2011). The Racial and Ethnic Microaggressions Scale (REMS): Construction, reliability, and validity. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 58(4), 470-480. doi: 10.1037/a0025193

153 Comments

  1. As a Latina professional and woman, it pains me to experience a microaggression. However, it also pains me when I inadvertently (and hopefully infrequently) commit one against another person. We need to begin by being aware of our biases and places of privilege to be more intentional about our interactions with others.

    Like

  2. I think I finally realized why I was feeling that the problem was me. I am Puerto Rican, living in the USA since college, have a masters degree and am a professional in higher education. Yet, I am constantly, either passed on for opportunities I am clearly qualified for, or being pigeon hold and only being good for translating a word, here and there. I do my best to use an asset, like being bi-lingual, as a tool for success and a way to help others and the organization, but again, feel overlooked too often. My language, cultue and perspective was praised by one colleague and when I discussed it with another, they brushed it off saying “there are 25 other people that can do the same thing you can, why you”- I had never taken it personal in the past, but now it hurt.

    Like

  3. Great article Silvia! It’s important to keep building awareness around these types of covert actions/behaviors that permeate our every day interactions and contribute to the ongoing cycle of bias and prejudice that we often experience. My office provides professional development and training to educators on issues of equity and one of our trainings is on Micro-messages, which addresses this very topic. Our strategy is to help teachers understand how to reduce the “micro-inequities” they exhibit towards their students, and replace them with “micro-affirmations”. As Carmen said, helping to understand how to be more intentional in our interactions is a great start!

    Like

  4. Powerful stuff and data. Thank you. I am reminded again how fortunate I was to go from graduation at Berkeley directly into being a military officer and flying. None of that stuff was present in the officer/aviator ranks of the United States Air Force. Apparently I got lucky. 🙂 Then after completing my graduate degree, I worked for a company headquartered in Munich. Again, feeling fortunate to have missed those microaggressions. What’s the takeaway? Surround yourself with people and a professional environment where those characteristics don’t matter, don’t surface, because everyone would rather focus on the mission.

    Graciela Tiscareno-Sato, U.S. Air Force Captain and Veteran
    Author of Amazon bestseller Good Night Captain Mama/Buenas Noches Capitán Mamá  -[ISBN: 978-0-9834760-3-0] the first bilingual (English/Spanish) children’s picture book showing young children why women and mommies wear military uniforms and serve in our nation’s armed forces;  http://www.captainmama.com

    Like

  5. Thank you for pulling this out of the dark. This happens ALL the time and it isn’t always about race, it also includes gender, sexuality and many other things that make us different from the norm who is doing the aggressing. This microaggression stems from the fascination with “the other” that also happens to be “the unknown”, which in turn, “the unknown” is met with aggression until it is something familiar and comfortable.

    My way of dealing with microaggression is to be the best of me that I can be and take pride that I break the mold of whatever stereotype they are boxing me into. So when they tell me I speak very good english, I respond with, “Most american latinos do. And I would love to have an educated conversation with you that explains how latinos are not all one big classification, why we all speak various forms of both English and Spanish and the history that has brought is to this current crossroad.” As an example, I talk about how the previous latino generation was beat for speaking spanish in schools and therefore they refused to teach children their language in an effort to save them from the violence, but now regret the loss of cultural connection.

    I guess I prefer to enlighten people instead of be offended by their ignorance and lack of integrated socialization. I know it is not easy to be that confident and not everyone can keep their cool in these situations, but we have to start somewhere. We educate one person and they will educate someone else and hopefully, not pass their stereotypes onto their children.

    Here’s to hoping.

    Like

    1. By far the best response on this board. I do find the original article to be a little overboard in playing the victim card business. Before anyone tries to rake me over the coals, last night I had people shouting (from a moving car) “thank you come again” at me. And I get the “your english is so good” all the time. But, it is from people who have stereotypes in their mind. No educated person says that to me.

      Like

    2. Hi Judy

      Thank you for including the line “This happens ALL the time and it isn’t always about race, it also includes gender, sexuality and many other things that make us different from the norm who is doing the aggressing”.
      My mother is 100% Irish and came from a very strict Catholic background. My father is 50% Cherokee ,50% Scottish and is the son of a southern Baptist minister. I grew up with prejudice that came directly from members of my own extended family. However I was never as hurt, furious and blown away as I was by the criticisms and comments my husband and I endured when we announced we were going to foster and eventual adopt a five year old (adorable) child.
      Family, friends and mere acquaintances felt they were allowed to take part in our decision. I should mention we had already fell in love with this child and were not shy about telling this to people. We had people hand us business cards of adoption lawyers and say ” You want to get a baby, they have not been through as much”. “Are you sure you want to adopt,you don’t know what problems she will have”? “I don’t know if I could love someone else’s child”. The strangest one, ” Don’t you want to find a child that looks like you and your husband so no one knows the child is adopted”? We were not purchasing furniture.
      At first I would have to walk away from the person and cry to my husband. Than I started making comments back that I thought would hurt or embarrass them. Now my husband and I just smile and try to educate people. We also realize that adoption is not for everyone. It doesn’t matter what is being said it does not change the love we have for this amazing child.

      Like

  6. I enjoyed this article immensely. We have to remember that the macro-aggression seeds were planted/cultivated many years ago and because of education and the compilation of human Beings on the International level, we have what is focused in this article micro-aggressions. I am of mixed ethnicity and Mestizo is included. I laugh among and with educated friends when we socialize and I look at my T-Shirt and say what? to many bean stains. . we laugh. . . there was a video that is still on the shelves, where the actor Cheech tells his followers’, “looking good”.

    Like

  7. I am a very light skinned Puerto Rican woman who has a degree. I get a lot of people who say, you don’t look like you are a Latina. As if that is supposed to be a compliment. The strangest thing that has happened to me was cashing a check at my bank that my sister had sent from PR for my birthday. The teller said, she needed to get the manager to find out the exchange rate…

    Like

      1. KiKi:
        Myself and a few friends were returning from a great session at the beach, over the summer we tanned dark. . . I’m wearing a t-shirt/boardshorts/sandals. . . Nordstroms cashier asked me if I spoke English (laugh). I was going to present to her an example of the correct Eng. venacular (laugh), I let it go, looked at my T-shirt and said yes mam, very well.

        Like

  8. Wow, can someone do a study about discriminations Brazilians in the US, in particular Brazilian women? I relate to all of these, and on top have had all types of discrimination fueled by stereotypes, from all sorts of groups. I feel that I have to constantly fight stereotypes about Brazilian women, even though I grew up in the US all my life. Yea, no one believes when I say I’m from California, there’s always a follow up question…and ‘you don’t really look brazilian’…and let’s not get started on the fact that I’m educated, successful, and got a ‘booty’-why, I gotta be ugly and flat to be smart!? Lol! Aiiii!!! I’m not my appearance, or my nationality, or my gender, or my race! Or my soccer team!!But many people are not ready to let stereotypes go to be sensitive.

    Like

  9. This is a nonsensical article. Miniaggressions? They are not, only reflect how ignorant anglo amerocans are. Next time they tell you that you dont speak like a latino, scratch your crotch, and tell therm “merah men, wassop”? Then proceed to educate. Latins are as diverse as the american people. Youll see they will never again incur into that nonsensicality.

    Like

  10. I loved your article. If I may, we have to add two important words and their definitions: racial means the color of the skin; ethnic means the country where you or your ancestors come from. Unfortunately, Latin Americans suffer from both. An example of my experience: If you’re light-skinned or white (yes, white) and you tell them that you’re Puerto Rican, you’re doomed. Don’t think that we get micro-aggressive remarks from anglo-americans; we also get it from our own people. A lot of the Puerto Ricans in New York asked me why I didn’t date a “trigueño”, or how I didn’t behave like a Puerto Rican. That bothered me quite a bit. I do appreciate my culture, so I was able to live in the greatest cosmopolitan city in the world. However, Puerto Ricans also get a lot of grief from fellow Latin countries due that we are American citizens by birth. Many “borincanos” don’t like it, but it is a reality…a reality we have to carry for the rest of our lives. I think the best bet is to move to Europe. Believe me, they love Puerto Ricans there 😉

    Like

  11. As dominican people often tell me, sinnce I am not black, that I don’t look dominican as if it was a compliment of some sort. I say, dominicans come in all colors, I have blonde, redhead, blue eyed people in my family as much as I darker almost Hindu looking. But their ignorance doesn’t bother me, it makes me feel sorry mostly for them.

    Like

  12. in the future we will all be referencing a PC app on our smart phones to be sure we’re not committing a microaggression, laughing at an off-color joke/comment, fat-shaming a person by telling them about our workouts or inadvertently appearing homophobic by the kind of pasta we eat. People get a freekin’ grip. Take control of your self esteem and don’t allow peoples’ wacky or ignorant comments send you into a state of depression!! GOSH!

    Like

  13. I have felt microagression more painful from other Latinos than from anglos. When I arrived as a teenager to USA I did all my effort to learn the language. One day in a shop, I was trying to explain the cashier what I needed, she was Latino, when she started to laugh and told me in Spanish “please, you are so ridiculous, tell me in Spanish what you want”. So I told her, in English, well your job is to understand me even if I am ridiculous. Other miccroagressions I have heard from other Latinos are “Oh. are you a Mexican? You really suffer a lot with your drunkard men. Is she marring an anglo, but why, does she need a Visa?

    Like

  14. This article reminded me of a microaggression I experienced earlier in life by one of our own. In the 6th grade, my local school district finally decided to have a trial run of an advanced program at a school in the barrio and I was one of the original 30 students chosen to be in that class. The director of the program (a Latina) would occasionally stop in for visits. On this particular visit, our teacher (a white male) was doting over our progress. I overheard her telling my teacher, plain as day, that there was no way we could be as smart as the other kids in that program at the other (middle class, suburban, white) schools. He had a look of disbelief on his face but changed the topic. I could see that this particular white man wanted to stick up for us, but I could also see that his boss wasn’t having it.

    Like

  15. Taco Bell…
    I want to go to heaven…
    Not to seven eleven…
    Oh, What the heck… Oakey… ha ha,,,
    I confess. I was in trouble for saying hell…
    Oakey, yes… I’ll eat tacos…
    And… Oakey, I’ll eat burritos…

    But… oh well…
    What is next if not Coca-Cola?
    Pepsi Next is an image of what we call Cola…
    What will sell next?
    The picture of Beyoncé…
    Her cola shaking…
    What will she say?

    Double dribble down the line.
    Only in soccer… Wait… what line?
    You’re not me, and I’m not you…
    “Nothing is worth it, but it is worth it.”
    Yes… I fought my tears…
    I am still working on my career…
    And I have set my sights on different rears…

    I am nearly to the front,
    And those who are with me will prosper.
    Why would you leave me?
    I am almost near…
    And do not ask why
    I am sad. I am your man. I put a ring on it, and
    I double dribble my fears.

    J.j. Mercado

    Like

  16. “Puerto Ricans experienced being treated as second-class citizens or as criminals, more than any other Latino ethnic group,”
    In NYC perhaps – This is definitely a NYC study, because this is hardly the perception across the USA. Speaking as an American of Mexican descent living in California I would regretfully say Mexicans are more likely to own that distinction. The fact that Mexican and illegal is used synonymously by the media speaks volumes. Even educated “Liberal” satirists like Bill Maher are guilty of the faux pas. It infuriates me that no one tries to correct the misconception.

    Like

  17. My husband and I resided in PA for 4 yrs while he completed his residency in obstetrics and gynecology. I am a licensed mental health counselor in FL and a licensed professional counselor in PA. I called the hospital to have him paged and I was told by the operator that Jose Rivas was the janitor not a doctor.
    On many other occasions I have been told I don’t “look” Nicaraguan or that I don’t have an accent.
    At times, when they catch me in a bad mood I will say “and u looked human and not racist before u opened your mouth”, most of the time however I just stare at the person for a few seconds and walk away.

    Like

    1. I understand exactly what you mean, Blanca. I also am Nicaraguan, and often get that phrase: “You don’t look Nicaraguan. You don’t look like one of ‘them'”. I always ask myself, what “model” of Nicaraguan are they speaking of? As if there’s a specific mold or image I’m supposed to portray due to my ancestry. I think most times, we Latinos are guilty of a lot of those microaggressions towards each other. Most of my experiences since I’ve been living here in California (20 years), have been from other Latinos (the majority of Mexican descent) who feel and see me as “inferior” because I’m not one of them. I usually just look at them, shake my head and walk away. You learn to grow a tough skin but sometimes some comments get through because of how ignorant and blatantly racist they are.

      Like

  18. I’m not Latino, but I am Polish. I have heard every Polack joke known to man. If i got offended all the time, I would be an angry person all the time. This article is what hurts our society, dredging up hate, and angering people, for what reason, for political correctness. ….. All I can say is grow up! Are you 6 years old getting offended by petty comments? I think this article is egotistical, you think the world should treat you better than anyone else? Getting offended by petty comments, I will leave that to the kindergartner. …

    Like

  19. I am light skinned with green eyes and my 2 daughters are light skinned with hazel eyes and brown eyes, respectively. We barely have an accent when speaking English. Once my daughters say they are from Puerto Rico, they are not considered WHITE by college friends, particularly from the Midwest, and the demeanor changes, especially regarding racial/ethnic issues. When I say I am from PR the usual reaction is “Really!!? Born and raised?.. Wow!” I usually try to educate them about PR and the diversity you find here and how travelling is so important to have a clue on what other countries are all about.

    Like

  20. This really touched home for me. I was born and raised in Utah. My boss recently asked me “Wow, you speak English so well. How is that?” I have had my answer down since I was a child but in all honestly I wanted to say and sometimes do say, “Wow, so do you!” and that usually ends the conversation. “Another was where are you from?” “Utah!” “No WHERE are you REALLY from?” then I would give them my address. . . I then sometimes would say you mean, “What is my heritage?” As my cousin told me recently being raised in Utah made us more aware and made us stronger for it. But after reading this article it supports my own theory that it was unnecessary.

    Thank you for this article and all the work that you are passionate about to make it happen!

    Like

    1. When I get that one, I just tell them “don’t call me a liar! You want to be sued for slander, keep calling me a liar!” It usually gets them to back off. Yeah, 16 years after graduating law school, I finally won my first case – for racism. I had to sue the guy who hired me sight-unseen based on a telephone interview – for the racist bullshit “microagressions” that avalanched and started the minute he SAW me. If they’d SEEN me they would have done that “surprise” thing that “YOU went to Yale” – hiring me based on my application and my transcripts and being unable to see me over the phone they were surprised that “YOU” were the Yalie” after they saw me. Same old, same old. I just got tired of it happening my entire life and finally fought back – and won. I got that bastard fired for racism…not before they fired ME for starting the lawsuit in the first damned place, though.

      Like

  21. As a Mexican I have often been told that “you don’t have an accent.” I tell them that I probably don’t because it was removed by the school system thru their paddling in the primary schools I attended. After getting your ass paddled you learn and hate the language that you are forced to learn.
    What do I speak now? English, only when I have to, otherwise, it is Spanish. Both foreign languages, I did not have the luxury of even knowing my original roots and original language.

    Like

  22. I would recommend first of all to move away from the conflict and victimology analysis. Terms like “microaggression” imply ill-will on purpose. Yes, I have suffer these things too on weekly basis. These things happen all over the world. It is natural. We do it too when we meet people with other accents in our own countries. It is not necessarily “racism”.

    The problem we have is that we think that the U.S. is what it is, “the melting pot”, the land of the Statue of Liberty and immigrants these things are not supposed to happen. Have you tried Europe? It is the most “accent conscious” place in the world.

    If you are anywhere in the world and have an accent that is not local, people are going to ask themselves and you about your origins. To act uppity and offended, and even hostile does not help in reducing prejudice but in reinforcing them.

    Be a Gandhi or an MLK and use the opportunity to educate, correct and even win an “enemy” or prejudiced person to your side. When you are asked “Where are you from?”, turn it around. Tell them, “I’m glad you ask. It gives me the opportunity to express myself and practice your wonderful language. I detect an accent on you also. What part of the U.S. are you from?”

    Like

    1. Agree100% with you!
      In my line of work I have encounter clients who asked if I had a green card, I’m from Puerto Rico, if I speak English “good enough” then I hear theirs! I have learn to not feel that microaggression I felt many years ago, I have matured. 🙂

      Like

    2. Thumbs up!

      Don’t get why we have to become victims, and like a said earlier, many of these comments are not ill intended. Many are just curious, all they know is that Hispanics are supposed to look one way and speak the same, you take that opportunity and educate not create a bigger mess and victimizing ourselves because we feel
      “offended”.

      Like

      1. Very nice!!
        Unfortunately I hear this as an Indian (male) too.. “Your english is so good” I can also usually spell much better than many of these “loosers” (wrong spelling on purpose), but ..you just brush it off and carry on with your main purpose in life – instead of letting these “microaggressions” control you.

        These are mostly “ignorant” remarks from small minded people and I tend to use this as an informal interview to decide who are going to be better friends and business partners going on in life. What is more annoying is half drunk people shouting “thank you come again” from a car, which just serves to reinforce stereotypes I have about central PA (this happened last night).

        Like

    3. thank you so much for your educated response. I am a half breed of Caucasian and Iranian. People have told me that I do not have an accent (this is because I was born here). This is not offensive! It is a legitimate question because in all truth most Iranians that come here have an accent so the person may be trying to learn something about me. Most of the time they are very interested in learning my roots. When I go to Iran I have a very strong accent for Farsi and I can tell you that people always remind me of it,. Is it offensive? No! Its the truth and they are not accustomed to hearing accents like mine so they are interested! Maybe the asker is truly interested in your response and trying to learn something from you rather than being racist. I have told Iranians here in the USA from the bottom of my heart that I think their English is really good….I was in no way trying to be insulting but rather was offering a compliment on their skill. People expect too much from others. Noone can know everything about other cultures and customs and even the way everyone from a particular region looks. People should give others a break if they are a LITTLE ignorant. I am positive that many times the people getting offended are only being rude back to a person that had no ill intention toward them.

      Like

    4. Couldn’t agree more, im form el salvador and we tend to ask foreigners where they learnd spanish and things like that, i would say that its just the way humans are, nothing bad there. Perhaps is better to look at the face expressions to detect real racism. I’ve never lived in U.S. (hopefully never will) but in canada and europe everytime im asked where im from its been more a curiosity than anything else. It ends up in a conversation about my region… and things to do. In the case of US people they will ask where you learned english even if they are not in the states, so i bet that was not taken in to consideration for th study, and definetely is not an agression to me or the locals.
      .

      Like

  23. Can it be that society feels threatened by someone not born here, who has a higher education with a vast knowledge of other cultures? I was at a Mexican restaurant, a woman thought all spanish speaking countries have rice and beans as a main dish eat the same food. She did not say it as an insult she honestly did not think otherwise… maybe we need more latinos and latinas in our school system

    Like

  24. I’m a blonde, light skinned Puerto Rican, with basically no “spanish” accent. (but Spanish is my first language) Most people don’t believe me when I say where I’m from. I have to constantly explain my heritage. I’m fine with that, I like to educate people. Also, I don’t mind that people think I’m Caucasian. Which brings me to my next point.
    You may also want to note that Latinos are racists as well. Puerto Ricans (both in the island and mainland) are racists, especially towards Dominicans and African Americans. If you look at past census data, most of the island consider themselves “white” even though they are not “white” by US standards. It’s an assimilation mechanism. Due to the strange relationship with the US, we’ve always find the need to be “more American” and assimilate. I have found the same with other Latino cultures. Everyone has “Micro aggressive” tendencies it’s unavoidable.

    Like

    1. Totally agree, Puertoricans are very racist specially towards the Dominicans and when they move the the mainland some turn racist towards African Americans as well. Is a matter of educating people and not feeling victimized by ignorant comments.

      Like

  25. As a puertorican I am a target of what you call microaggressions. I also partake in it by laughing and telling jokes but its also my way of dealing with it. I just dont put much thoufht into it and keep on with my day.

    Like

  26. Interesting but don’t get why “but you speak so well ” has to be taken as an aggression instead of a compliment? Guess it’s a matter of opinions but I would not take that way. I have been asked if I have my green card ( from PR) I don’t take it as a aggression or microagression, I take it as a open door and opportunity to educate someone that is ignorant about a specific subject. I have been told “I did not know you are Hispanic until I heard you speak Spanish” Again, non offensive to me, another great opportunity to educate someone. If I go through the world trying to victimize my self what do i gain with that? I know most of those people that said those things to me did not come from a bad place when saying it, it was pure ignorance. Now, I have been a victim of people just plain not liking me because I am Hispanic, and that is a completely different situation.

    Like

    1. because the implication when you are either from somewhere else or of non-European American heritage is that people don’t expect that you should be able to, say, speak English well, Otherwise, the often Caucasian-American you’re talking to probably wouldn’t have said anything. I’m American and a native English speaker. I have disabilities and an above average IQ. I get the “You’re smart” and “You’re not like them” ones all the time. People who say that way too often, or when it’s one of the first things that comes out of their mouths before they talk to me,) say it because they think that being in a wheelchair means there’s also something wrong with my IQ. On the other hand, when I tell them I have a BA in Latin (Latin, not Latin American Spanish), people tell me to say something. This usually comes from people who believe it’s totally dead and not valuable, and from people who tell me they hated it as kids. This makes the whole conversation sort of oxymoronic. I can write and speak now, as well as read, mostly because I decided to mess with output on my own and had 8 years of input first. I’m not anywhere near as good as a 10-year veteran of most other languages would be, but I have it, and I love it.

      Like

  27. The specific case of “you speak so well” more-or-less necessitates bad faith on behalf of the observer to be considered even a micro-aggression. In all likelihood, it is a genuine compliment (or flattery…)—and not one that can be considered a sign of e.g. racism, seeing that there are easily observed differences in average language performance between various groups. (Differences that to boot are only indirectly race related through the direct mechanism of migration.)

    (As an aside, living in Germany where the third language I learned is spoken, I know quite a lot about the experiences of non-native speakers. Believe me: Such statements are quite likely even when both parties are White Europeans of different nationalities who optically easily pass for natives in each others countries.)

    Several of your other examples and/or your reasoning could be vulnerable to similar objections, noting observable differences in typical behaviour of groups. This will to a large degree depend on how the various statements were delivered and contextual information not present in the post. Claims of racism are particularly vulnerable, seeing that the examples can typically be seen as related to non-racial aspects or be explained by other phenomena than racism (even when actually micro-aggressions).

    Like

  28. Since I moved to the states I have been asked all kinds of questions like: Where did you learned your English? It is very good. How long have you lived on the states? Crazy questions about my country’s weather, politics and my point of view in terms of wether Puerto Rico should or should not be a state. Once I was even stoped while walking on the Mall just to be asked What is my nationality?! At first I didn’t realize some of those questions had hidden intentions. I have informed myself of my country’s history and USA’s history to be able to defend myself with informed arguments and try to think that most of those comments come from ignorant minds. The saddest thing is that a lot of those comments come from military people and my husband gets microaggressions constantly from fellow soldiers.

    Like

  29. Wow, great article. I constantly hear these microaggressions in my community and where I work. It’s never towards me and often they’re degrading their own heritage. I never laugh and actually get quite irritated because when they act out like this they’re not only hurting themselves but everyone else; including my eight year daughter whose roots extend into the Latin heritages. My co-workers tell me I am too quiet. I have told them that my lack of inclusion in their conversations is a much louder response to their actions… A stand against racism of any kind. They say I am overreacting and that they’re just having fun. I don’t find it fun or funny.

    Like

  30. I am a professional woman of Mexican heritage. I have a master’s degree and am the clinical director at the community mental health agency I work for. My experience with microagression has been around the stereotype of Mexican women being submissive. I have had comments such as; you must be an excellent cook/housekeeper. My boss once said, I should have married a Mexican woman so I can have a home cooked meal. I’ve been asked by clients, are you the receptionist? The way I take care of myself when these questions/statements are made, I ask them the simple question of why? Why do you think that? Challenge them and their thoughts. Ask them have you ever met someone like me? A professional Latina is no longer rare in 2013.

    Like

    1. Malena, I think the answer to “why” he thinks that is largely due to Ms. Longoria and her white male friends with political anti-immigrant agendas continuing to flood the television airwaves, that reach almost every home in America, with stereotypical crap of submissive women with thick accents in housekeeping roles. Meanwhile, author Alisa Valdes, who has written books with characters like you and me, professional Latinas with graduate degrees, struggles to get a penny of “traditional” Hollywood money. She’s finding other ways. My theory is simple: we terrify guys like Marc Cherry (the REAL producer of Eva’s maid show.) The idea of millions of professional Latinas running around this country, taking away their political power- it’s just too much for them to consider.. so they do everything they can, including throwing their money at shows to continue reinforcing the tired stereotypes. That’s “why.”

      Like

    2. I married my Mexican husband because he is such a phenomenal cook. I’ve gotten the receptionist question too, it’s less of a ethnicity thing and more of a female thing as far as I can tell. And I agree with you the best way to address is to politely ask ‘why’ and challenge their ridiculous stereotypes.

      Like

  31. I definitely understand the feeling. I was born in Colombia, but came to the US at age 17. Being here for 14 years and I feel more American than Colombian per se. Not that I’m ashamed of my culture, but simply I developed, studied, and worked in an environment predominately Anglo. I get the same questions you describe in your article and have been even sexually harassed because of the misconception that all Latinas are “calientes”. My last relationship, with an American guy failed because he kept on treating me based on negative stereotypes about Latinos in general. He wouldn’t trust me, would be always thinking I wanted to “live off” him and abuse the system because that’s what “Latinos/immigrants do” even though I’m an educated and independent woman that never asked anything from him. He would label me as “jealous/controlling” because that’s how “Latinas are” when in fact I am a very confident and laid back person when it comes to relationships. Labels where always there, all related to my Colombian heritage even thought I didn’t have or act with those “traits”. He’s not the only one, but I find that when I meet people and learn about my heritage they immediately assume things and create expectations. The most common one, since I’m Colombian I should do drugs or have any relation to the drug business even though I have never tried a drug in my life, not even pot. I find useful to describe what your article recommends. I don’t tolerate racist comments about any ethnic or religious group and I call out whoever is saying it. I found people usually get embarassed about it and apologize immediately, some of them don’t even realize what they are saying, or they speak of pure ignorance. I don’t pretend to change anyone’s thinking but I do believe we all have to stand up for what we are and should not allow or tolerate stereotypes in any form.

    Like

    1. Sorry to hear about this negative stereotyping you had to experience, especially in your past relationship. Good you stand up and recommend others to stand up too. Good wishes to you!

      Like

  32. I am from Puerto Rico born and raised and at 16 came to the US. My mom is from Maryland but raised in PR. I have been bilingual all my life. I spoke both languages by age 5. I just love it when they tell me, “you have such a beautiful accent”, or “your skin has such a pretty tan”, especially when the people telling me have a southern twang or they are 4 -5 shades darker than I am. I have developed some answers throughout the years that throws the issue back at them. I work in a VERY WHITE employer. My skin again is lighter than a lot who work there but stil I am the token Latina.Literally, there is no other minority there. And we are a pretty big place. If it were not for the freedom of doing my own schedule, my patients and my supervisor who is great I would have been gone in a heartbeat. It is sad. Educationally I have more formal education than most there but not even that matters. I can only hope when Latinos forget which country they come from and advocate for the issues of all Latinos in the US and unite to further those issues.People focus on Immigration and such issues but we need to stand our ground. We were expected to be the #1 minority by 2015. We met that goal 4 years ago. Still Mexicans are viewed as free loaders coming through the borders, Puerto Ricans as this image of gang members or terrorists perpetuated for eternity by West Side story and bombings from the 60’s revolution, Cubans, well they are the best of the lot,”at least they are white”, I guess they have not seen any Black Cubans.. “Poor Cubans who had to flee , but hey, do not overstay because you cost the US money”. What a perception this land holds. The US holds this myth that they are the only Americans.They need a geography lesson. They are part of NORTH America, There is Central and South America. We are all Americans, even Mexico .My land is a a US territory and has been since the 1800’s.
    One day I can only hope that people see others as people no matter what.Until then, Latinos let’s work for a common goal!

    Like

    1. I’m PuertoRican born and raised for 33 years living in the southeast of the past 2 years. I’d be exhausted if had to get mad or try to educate people about this. I would probably waste years trying to educate and loosing all kind of relationships over for getting mad at those comments. Most people come from a good place and just admire the fact that – for example – I speak 2 languages because they just speak one (and not even as correct as I learned because didn’t live with the slangs and the pop culture) and also they’ve tried to learn another besides theirs and failed. Racism and having a bad outcome because of your ethnicity will always exist. I have lost a job because racism and my ethnicity, I’ve been treated poorly and unfairly. I’ve been stereotyped. And what do I do? I just don’t even think about it. Why so indifferent? I tried and tried and this is where it got me, to a place of serenity. If I’m aware, i ask myself: Where is it coming from? Are there any bad intentions here? And 80 85% don’t mean to offend or hurt and only not even 4 people in my whole life really meant to hurt me because of where I’m from and were mostly African American or latinos themselves which is kind of ironic.

      Like

      1. My previous comment might read a little bit silly all together but it’s late and I’m sleepy lol. But I’m sure you all get my point 🙂 Good night my peeps!

        Like

  33. Is this some satire like “The Onion”? If not, there is medication for paranoia nowadays, did you know?
    Sincerely yours,
    Latino living in Australia.

    Like

  34. I often get questions about where my family is “originally” from, especially when I travel, so I make it a habit to ask whoever asks me where they are from. When they say, “U. S.” I ask them the same thing, “I mean originally?”

    Like

  35. You can’t have it both ways. Either it’s a microaggression to assume that someone was born and raised in America, or it’s a microaggression to assume that they weren’t. If you don’t want anyone to make any assumptions about anyone ever, you’re going to have to change the nature of neuroscience, because brains categorize. That’s how we learn, how we retain information, and how we navigate the world.

    Like

  36. Love this topic and I really enjoyed studying this topic in one of my doctoral level classes. I totally agree that first generation born Latinos as well as most other first generation Americans do experience subtle racism frequently. In my opinion, some of the racial microaggressions seem to be intentional, while others are expressed by ignorant people.

    As a light-skin first generation American born Latina, I have experienced very few of these incidents. However, other friends of mine report that they have encountered these types of incidents frequently, both in social and in work situations. In any case, this is my favorite article about this topic, which was covered in my class and thought that I would share the link. http://www.units.muohio.edu/saf/reslife/reslife/manuals/manual/CPR_Committee/Cultural_Proficiency_Articles/Wing- Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life.pdf

    Like

  37. micro-aggressions are probably are found every where in the presence of ingroup outgroup feelings and are subtle demonstrations of behaviour, such as deliberately avoiding someone even to greet; helping others, etc… people usually stereotype on the basis of your body appearance and your clothing, skin color, posture and overall look! Anyone looking at me would not guess that I have family roots, upbringing and connections that are truly global….for example i have ties from Pakistan, UK, India, Iraq, America, and Africa.

    Like

  38. I love this! I especially appreciate how you became an agent of change by altering your sense of humor. I presented my research team’s findings on multicultural competence at the APA Conference last year and we value professionals like you who bring awareness to even the smallest racial cues. Thank you for your work!

    Like

  39. The terminology isn’t very clear. The expressions given above aren’t necessarily aggressive, they signify ignorance more than (micro) insult. A micro-aggression would also be directed at the person, instead of their purported group. People can be idiots but that doesn’t mean they want to cause interpersonal friction, which would be the point of a micro-aggression.

    Like

  40. I have to say that I frequently as people about their heritage but they need not be black or Latino/a. I am just as likely to ask a tall blond girl from Minnesota the question since, apart from Native Americans, everyone’s family comes from somewhere else. Like some other poster said, it is a natural curiosity. Maintaining a connection to my children’s heritage is very important to me. (They are Mexican, Franco-American) so talking about different people’s heritage is just par for the course in our family.

    I will say that I was fortunate to grow up in New York City and attend a very international school and I do remember being taken aback at how differently say someone from Korea with a heavy accent was treated vs someone who was clearly 2nd or 3rd generation and sounded like ‘from here’. I think no matter what, we all have some form of ingrained assumption or prejudice and we must stay vigilant to try and break those habits of thought.

    Like

  41. I am from Puerto Rico and I lived for 1 year in Texas during high school and I lost count of how many times I got asked where PR was located, how did I learned to speak English so fast (thinking that in PR english doesn’t exist), where did I buy my clothes back home, if we lived in huts or lived like indians and so many more similar questions. Their ignorance was astounding (students and teachers). And just for curiosity I checked my school history book to see what they said about PR and there was only 1 sentence that said that PR was a US territory, nothing more. Not even in world history PR is taught.
    Also when my mom went to change her license for a TX license they wanted her to take the driving test again and when we told her PR is territory and we didnt need to take the test, both workers got angry. We had to call the manager to explain what PR was. This was in a small town with a really large PR population.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s