Sex & Health

A dive into the degrading world of fetishization Latinas live in

Kat Sotelo | Sex & Health Columnist

Latinas are degraded through society's fetishization of their ethnic background, argues Sex & Health Columnist Kat Sotelo.

UPDATED: Sep. 26 at 11:56 p.m.

We were lying in bed when he asked me, “So you’re a Latina?” A point of clarification, I thought, as I had just explained three intersected bases of my identity — Mexican, American and Texan — to a boy who was ethnically white and regionally Northeastern. He took the former as title.

“Yeah,” I responded, unsure of why my ethnicity was being questioned. I was new to the college hookup culture. He smiled. “That’s great.” A kiss. He pulled me closer.

Our conversation continued, and we saw each other for months. In bed he would ask me, kindly, to speak in a language I wasn’t fluent in — Spanish — instead of the one I was assimilated into — English. Here, I laughed, and didn’t know what to say.

“Hola?” I giggled off. I didn’t get it, but I felt it was harmless.


“Something else,” he’d push. “Like, papi?”

This was a word I’d never used. A word I didn’t feel comfortable saying. A title I didn’t want to give. It wouldn’t be until a year later, when our hookup ended, that I would realize my friend with benefits had looked past all that made me me, and placed me in a single category: Latina.

In my naivety, my skin color, my ethnicity and my personhood had been placed in the sexual group of a racial fetish.

For the rest of National Hispanic Heritage Month, I will cover aspects of sex and health within the American Latinx community based on mine and others’ lived experiences. The fetishization of Latinas and other ethnic groups is something that is minimally covered in academia, but stems from a base of stereotyping and objectifying bodies or body parts.

It manifests through chosen language, with statements like “I’ve never been with a Latina before” or “I’ve always had a thing for Latinas.” It’s also evident in describing someone as “exotic” — an identifier I’ve received several times since starting school at this predominantly white institution four years ago.

Though words like “exotic” may not seem insulting, the message they convey is that “exotic-looking” individuals have features that are outside of the social norm. For example, if the “fetishizer” is white, this perpetuates the idea that white culture is the norm — a destructive narrative that holds roots in this country’s controversial colonialist history.

The exclusionary nature of white cultural normalcy may act as a barrier to the cross-cultural understanding necessary in the United States’ tumultuous socio-political climate. Racial fetishization, an issue inside and out of the bedroom, degrades an individual to a single identifier and suggests a notion of bodily conquest. Instead of valuing the person, a “fetishizer” values a fantasy.

Janet Flores, a senior geography major, said she was fetishized in a previous relationship with a white man.

“One night after sex as he caressed the side of my stomach, I pointed out to him that I’d gained weight and asked if he’d noticed,” she said. “His response was, ‘I don’t know if I’d ever notice something like that; you’re just a curvy Latina.’”

Flores said she felt offended to be a stereotype in the eyes of a white man who claimed cultural “wokeness” and attended social justice rallies. Flores said he was “oblivious” that what he’d said was “utterly offensive.”

Television and film promote Latina fetishization with the spicy Latina character archetype. A popular example is Gloria, Colombian actress Sofia Vergara’s character in ABC’s “Modern Family.” This archetype portrays a woman who is hot, tempered, curvy and seductive, leading to potentially harmful body, personality and social standards for young Latinas.

Though in my experience my “fetishizers” have been white, racial fetishization can occur by people of any ethnic group. Within the Latinx community, women may be looked upon to live up to the spicy Latina stereotype by Latinos, because that’s what the media has depicted as ideal — and most dangerously — normal.

Similarly, it’s almost as common to see a black man fetishize a Latina, a white woman fetishize a
black man or an Asian girl fetishize a white dude.

Growing up a book-loving, awkward kid, it was difficult for me to understand why post-puberty, I didn’t have the same body that the women who were supposed to represent my ethnic group on TV did.

My breasts weren’t D cups, my waist had a normal layer of chub and my accent is that of an American who grew up in a racially diverse city. Though I am proud of my culture, I felt like my hips were a lie Shakira never let me in on, and I dealt with body image issues throughout my teens because of the detrimental images “fetishizers” idealized and woefully expected Latinas like me to fill.

On college campuses nationwide, it’s cuffing season, and given my experiences with being racially fetishized within the SU dating pool, I have grown wary of the men I let into my life, sexually or romantically.

Wariness, insecurity, disgust and disappointment are all feelings that I’ve experienced since my first time getting racially fetishized as a freshman. Being called “exotic” because of my honey butter skin and dark hair color leads me to envision the image of a tropical bird, far off in a foreign land.

I guess to the Northeasterners who aren’t exposed to Mexican or Texan young women growing up, I am that foreign bird, but just because you’ve never seen someone like me, doesn’t me I am an excuse for ignorant comments. The bird and I are not the same. I am not naive anymore. Words of the “fetishizers” cannot cage me.

I refuse to be someone else’s stereotyped fiction.

This post has been updated for appropriate style.

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