Hot, seductive, attractive, and always great in bed: these are some of the ways Latinos are often described. But where does this idea come from?
Before Eugenio Derbez starred in the satirical film How To be A Latin Lover (2017), which embraced and at the same time mocked the "Latin lover" stereotype in the US, there was late actor Ricardo Montalban and his portrayal of the passionate, seductive, and irresistible Brazilian antagonist Roberto Santos in the film Latin Lovers (1953). The film’s plot was as cliché as the title itself: a beautiful yet heartbroken white woman meets an undeniably handsome Latino whose physical attributes, heavy accent, and intense body language, inspire the most powerful desires in her (this is probably where the stereotype originated). Nonetheless, she decides to leave him for her white boyfriend, who comes from the same background as her and she plans marry. As in many other films, the Latin lover here is never the hero, and the character is meant to glorify a white-savior figure, so, after all these years, why are we still reinforcing this narrative?
The problem with this stereotype is not that it portrays Latinos as passionate, but rather that it objectifies us as only that: sex objects, not intellectual, and not worth being in a relationship with – just sex. The myth about the good-in-bed-yet-not-marriage-material Latin lover is a tool used to add flair to a story. It became a way to introduce good-looking characters with a Latino background who weren’t able to fit the “white hero” descriptions of the film industry. Of course, this affects the general representation of an entire minority group in pop culture. Where are the leading roles about Latinos who don’t fit the “hot” description? These are usually whitewashed and reimagined by Holywood to appeal to a white audience. For example, Isabel Allende’s acclaimed novel that was turned into a film The House of The Spirits (1993)is a story that is supposed to take place in Chile and follows the mystical marriage of Clara del Valle and Esteban Trueba. These Chilean characters were, of course, played by Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons. Again, Latinos are kept from playing characters other than the passionate and non-intellectual lovers.
I talk about the film industry as a reference to illustrate the Latin lover stereotype because it’s through this medium that the narrative keeps on being reinforced. For example, Salma Hayek’ film Fools Rush In (1997) is another great example of this problem. In the film, Salma’s character (a Mexican immigrant) marries a white man who loves her but keeps their relationship a secret from his family. This is exactly the kind of situation that follows the Latin lover stereotype. They are seen as the kind of person you want to sleep with, maybe have an affair with, but not bring home to your parents because they would disapprove.
In order for a Latino to be considered a Latin lover, and to get people speculating about their skills under the sheets, they must be “hot” and desirable. In the case of women, the last thing that matters is what they have to say; they just have to be curvy and seductive. Their only job is to look good and to get in trouble, so that a white man can save them and whisk them off into the sunset. In the case of men, extreme masculinity is a must. Latin lovers are imagined as muscular studs whose athletic body is worth cheating on your man, and they are often willing to play the lover role because they get something out of it.
To say that all Latinos are great lovers is to generalize them all as muscular gardeners who have affairs with suburban wives, or that they’re all hot maids waiting for their ideal white savior to come rescue them one day. Derbez’s film tackles these conflicting ideas, and he mocks the stereotype by showing how it doesn’t correspond to society in real life. So, are Latinos passionate lovers? Yes, some of them are, but they’re also normal, thinking, emotional beings. This portrayal of Latino characters needs to stop, and now that more Latinos are becoming leaders in the film industry, we expect them to erase this image forever.
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