Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Of Latinas and the Word "Spitfire"

Jennifer Farrar of the Associated Press recently reviewed a production of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet at Classic Stage Company. A quote from her review is printed below.

[Director Téa Alagić] spices up the story of two feuding families with Spanish interjections, dynamically choreographed fight scenes, and a flamboyant performance by Daphne Rubin-Vega, who comically portrays the Nurse as a flouncing Latina spitfire in huge platform shoes. [Boldface added.]

Tony-nominated performer Daphne Rubin-Vega, at left,
with Elizabeth Olsen in the CSC production of Romeo and
(directed by Téa Alagić). Photo by Joan Marcus.
Why must every Latina be referred to as a "spitfire" when she seems to be loud, not be docile, or (eek!) express an opinion? Flamboyance is one thing, but I have only ever heard the word "spitfire" used to describe Latinas, which in and of itself is a form of ignorance or discrimination or racism. (The same way "dragon lady" is used for Asian women or "sassy mama" for African American women.) At the very least, it's lazy writing. I have never seen an Asian spitfire, nor an African American spitfire, nor a Caucasian spitfire.

These kinds of words make people who are not Caucasian seem like just the "exotic other", which can be used to make people of color seem "less than" Caucasians. It's not like white people are written about in reviews as "moving across the stage in rhythmless grace". Not because it is true nor false, nor because it is offensive (which it is), but because NO ONE writes like that. I understand that a writer would want to highlight a person for some special quality, but to go to one's ethnicity as a guide to describe that person is just dumb and really not necessary. The word "spitfire" (and words like it) seem to be societally acceptable replacements for demeaning, inflammatory and discriminatory (some might say racist) terms.

The actor who played Romeo in the above production, Julian Cihi, is Japanese-born; luckily no reference was made to his Asian heritage when describing his portrayal of Romeo (the production and the dispute between the two families were not seemingly based on racial divisions; even if it did, why go there with the word "spitfire"?). Daphne Rubin-Vega is a very talented actor, singer-songwriter with two Tony nominations to her credit. Did she deserve to be relegated to being called "a spitfire"? Do any Latinas?

For some other examples of words (specifically adjectives) that are used to describe Latinas, check out Tanisha Love Ramírez's blog in Cosmopolitan, by clicking here

1 comment:

Marisela Treviño Orta said...

A bit of history on the term spitfire: