Stereotyping or myths about certain attributes of people is not a new phenomenon. This is especially when the group of people stands out as far as its way of life is concerned in relation to the larger community. These myths are talked about in the stories titled, “The Myth of the Latin Woman: Just Met a Girl Named Maria” by Judith Ortiz Cofer and “My two lives” by Jhumpa Lahiri. In The Myth of Latin Woman, Judith outlines how young girls were taught to cloth like Puerto Ricans by older women while still being expected to try to be like their Anglo friends. The confusion in their culture has led to being perceived in a certain way where Hispanic women are regarded as sexual firebrand. Puerto Rican women have endured harassment from their male bosses who talked to them with sexual overtones, as well as having to choose to endure advances or be fired. Judith quips that Puerto Rican women choose to wear a scarlet rather than pale pink as a result of their customs and not because the tendency is wound in their chromosomes. She points out that when girls from Puerto Rica are dressed in the manner that they believe is attractive meets men from the conventional or mainstream culture who views certain cloth types as sexual signals, there is bound to occur a clash. Judith narrates an episode where she and her friend met a man who started singing a dirty song at Judith. While she realized that the man was her friend’s father, she notes that had she been a white lady, the man would not have acted in a similar manner. Unfortunately, Puerto Rican women are thought of as belonging to the kitchen. She notes that her education has given her a footing in the typical or mainstream culture. In “My Two Lives”, Lahiri explains her life as an Indian American. She points out her lack of concern as to being Indian or American when she was growing up. As much as her parents ascribed to the thought that they belonged in Calcutta, Rhodes Island, she ventured into a world of books defined a fundamental part of the person that she became. She points out that there was evidence that she was not completely American even as her speaking was devoid of accent. Initially, she was uncomfortable with being referred to as Indian – American but she eventually outgrew the discomfort and even used the term on herself. She acknowledges that she is American by virtue of being raised in the country and is Indian due to her parent’s efforts. She notes that an immigrant’s journey is based on deprivation and departure irrespective of the ultimate rewards, but it safeguards a sense of advantage and arrival for subsequent generation.
From Judith’s story, issues pertaining to discrimination or rather stereotypes crop up visibly. This is especially when she states that her friend’s father would have acted differently had she been a white lady. This issue also crops up in the story when an old woman beckons her to a table thinking that she is a waitress, simply because Puerto Rican women are thought only to be good with lowly jobs.
From “My Two Lives”, Lahiri claims that as much as immigrants may not be settled in the land, their descendants enjoy the fruits of immigration. However, the most outstanding claim is that stereotype is a state of mind. It is noteworthy that, as much as she was Indian-American her friends saw nothing out-of-the-ordinary in that. Initially, her two cultures left her void due to the conflict between who she thought she was and her parents’ idea as to where she belonged. This is what she means when she says that the conflicting cultures cancelled out. Lahiri examines the complementation nature of different cultures saying that none is better than the other. She states that different cultures would be appropriate for different scenarios but are intertwined, intimately familiar with each other and always forgiving.
Main Thesis: Stereotype is a state of the mind triggered by the subject of the label.
In my opinion, I agree with Lahiri that an individual chooses what other people think about him or her. It is noteworthy that, during the initial stages of her life, Lahiri was very concerned about being termed as an Indian-American. However, when she became proud of the term to the extent of terming herself as an Indian- American, she realized that most of her friends did not care at all. If she had chosen to be cocooned in her world in denial of her state as a child of an immigrant, chances are that other people would have regarded her as such. In essence, it would have worsened the void that she initially felt in having the two cultures that cancelled out.
As much as I agree with Judith on the issue of people having certain beliefs about the way of life of other people, I would say that an individual has control as to what other people think about him or her. Puerto Rican women are not entirely blameless as far as having other people think of them as sex objects is concerned. As much as it is wrong to think of other people as deserving only lowly jobs or seeing them as sex objects, I believe that this is all earned. What else would someone think when these women dress in a “sexy” manner while exposing some parts of the body hoping that their traditions that their traditions that allow men to look without touching will protect them? I have at one time been thought of as too good for a white collar job until such a time when I attained some education, in which case I had earned my place, not among the lowly but amongst the highly-regarded people.