DARE TO ASK: Are remarks harassment or flattery?
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
Is Latino culture more sexist? I can't walk through the mostly Latino
neighborhood near my house without getting harassed by men who think it's
acceptable to make sexual comments or catcalls.
Katie, 23, Korean and white female, Washington, D.C.
In Latin cultures, men give out piropos ("little gems"), poetic compliments
to get a woman's attention, like "You have eyes like the dawn." Also, Latin
women don't fall apart at the slightest perception of "harassment" like some
Anglo women do. They aren't assumed to be so weak that someone whistling at them
should make them cringe in fear. It's a far healthier attitude that encourages
women to own their own sexuality, and I plan to pass that along to my daughters.
A.C.C., 38, Mexican and American Indian male, Phoenix
Perhaps Latin men should stick to sending their piropos to Latin women since
they won't fall apart. White women don't usually appreciate this kind of
attention and wouldn't want their daughters to, either. By the way, is it
necessary to grab your crotch when complimenting a woman on her eyes?
William, South Carolina
My many Hispanic male friends hate their catcalling brethren. It's low-class
and makes all Hispanic men look bad. So teach your daughters it's OK to be
objectified. That's a really positive message to give young girls.
Jay, female, New York
Let an Asian/white girl spout one racist lie after another, and that's OK.
But let a righteous Latino brother give them the truth, and one racist Anglo
after another drops a load in their pants.
Marisol, 23, Hispanic female, Nogales, Ariz.
The Austin-based Latino Comedy Project (www.lcp.org), an award-winning sketch
comedy ensemble, pokes raucous fun at this very situation in a popular stage
sketch, part of which goes like this:
ANNOUNCER: "Ladies, are you tired of constantly getting hit on every time you
go out? Tired of unwanted advances from unsavory characters? Well, pendejos
(jerks) can be a thing of the past with the new, all-purpose Pendejo
Self-Defense Kit for Women!"
Founding member Adrian Villegas says the skit touches a huge nerve.
"Whenever we do that, the Latinas in the audience go crazy, particularly when
the Mojado Pendejo [a male jerk who also happens to be an undocumented border
crosser] comes out."
"These women know that [catcalling] is not acceptable," Villegas said. "By
mocking it, it's a cathartic release."
Lobbing verbal assaults isn't unique to Hispanic men, he added; all groups
contain such rogues. Among Hispanics, it's mostly lower-class Mexican immigrants
who haven't assimilated into U.S. culture, may lack a sense of power and "if
they can get away with it and someone doesn't say -- -- you, they may sense
someone is being flattered."
"My girlfriend would make them wish they'd never done it."
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers, or mail to
Phillip Milano, c/o The Florida Times-Union, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL
32231. Include contact information.