On Poetry and Culture Shock

Whatever you do, don't mention the "P" word

The Deconstructionist critic Barbara Johnson has the theory of “the difference within”. She suggests that when Group A assigns characteristics to a Group B as defines itself as different to it, as it happens in racism or sexism, Group A is trying to exorcise its own fears about not being always coherent and unchangeable. Unable to accept “the difference within”, Group A constructs “the difference with”. That is how stereotypes are born; for example, if a society wants to see itself as controlling over its feelings, calm, responsible and hardworking, it tries to see itself in the mirror on another culture to which the opposite features can be attributed.

“Passionate” is shorthand for the stereotyping of, erm, people who speak Spanish as a first language, either South American or Spaniards (I’ll say it again: Spaniards are not Latinos). I don’t like stereotypes, and I don’t like things that belong in different categories to be put together, and I don’t like the current American stereotype on “Latinos”.

What the hell does passionate mean? Sometimes it applies to love, and we are back at the Latin Lover myth, which is every bit as racist as the Asian-woman-as-pleasure-giving-submissive-geisha myth. Sometimes it means we get very easily carried away by our feelings, and then it is extremely condescending. Besides, it shows poor vocabulary and a lazy train of thought. Say that I am enthusiastic, opinionated, extrovert, expressive, emotional, quick-tempered. Just by a lucky coincidence, I am all those things. I am not “passionate”. That label is so overused it doesn’t mean anything any more.

There is also the idea that Spanish-speakers share one culture. We don’t really, no more than English or French speakers worldwide do. Someone from León shares with someone from Venezuela as much as someone from Yorkshire would have in common with someone from Seattle.

And the funniest thing of all is that when I was living in the US, and to a lesser extent when I was living in Scotland, the locals tried to see in me the features they expect in their idea of a Spaniard/Latina. But when I am at home, I don't really fit in easily. A number of personal traits I won't go into make me very different from the Southern-Spanish stereotype on ourselves!

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