Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez & The Damaging Myth Of The “Fiery” Latina

Frances Solá-Santiago

On July 20, Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida reportedly accosted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the steps of the Capitol, calling the Congresswoman “disgusting” and “out of your freaking mind.” The Congressman then proceeded to call Ocasio-Cortez a “fucking bitch” in front of reporters. The following day, Rep. Yoho delivered a non-apology that attempted to excuse his behavior because he has a wife and two daughters.

In response to his “apology,” Ocasio-Cortez delivered a 10-minute-long speech on the House floor that shines as one of the most remarkable examples of political oratory in recent history. “This issue is not about one incident,” she said, pointing out that Rep. Yoho is not the only man in politics to have used dehumanizing language against her (see: Donald Trump). “It is cultural. It is a culture of lack of impunity, of accepting of violence and violent language against women, and an entire structure of power that supports that.”

She added: “I do not need Representative Yoho to apologize to me. Clearly he does not want to. … But what I do have issue with is using women, our wives and daughters, as shields and excuses for poor behavior.”

The speech was measured, thoughtful, and deliberate; a powerful stand against the brazen, casual misogyny of men like Yoho. But media commentators were quick to label it “fiery,” “disruptive,” and “emotional” — adjectives that are commonly lobbed at Latinx women to squeeze the power out of our voices. It is yet another dehumanizing example of how Latinas are automatically stereotyped as overflowing with a flaming passion that runs through our veins. 

The practice of pigeonholing Latinas as “fiery” is rooted in TV, film, and media that have for nearly a century filled the American imagination with images of improbably passionate, and even violent, Latinx characters. Lines like “I am not a hothead! I am Colombian! We get excited!” from Gloria in Modern Family and characters like Magda and Cassandra in the short-story collection This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz perpetuate the narrative that Latinas are easily angered and emotionally volatile.

This cultural narrative carries with it another insidious suggestion. Writer Judith Ortiz Cofer identified this as “the myth of the Latin woman” in her essay “I Just Met A Girl Named Maria,” which recalls the title of the infamous West Side Story song. Ortiz Cofer describes a moment in her adolescence when a white boy leaned over to give her a kiss and she did not respond. “I thought you Latin girls were supposed to mature early,” Ortiz-Cofer recalls the boy saying. “I was supposed to ripen, not just grow into womanhood like other girls,” she writes. 

It’s not hard to see why this stereotype endangers the lives of millions of Latinas in the U.S. By 2050, the number of Latinas who have experienced some form of sexual violence during their lifetimes could reach 10.8 million. Statistics also suggest that Latinas are less likely to report sexual violence and seek help. During her speech, Ocasio-Cortez recalled being harassed working as a bartender and while walking down the streets of New York City. “I could not allow my nieces, I could not allow the little girls that I go home to, I could not allow victims of verbal abuse and worse to see that,” she said. “To see that excuse and to see our Congress accept it as legitimate.” In addition to abuse from politicians like Yoho, Ocasio-Cortez has been the subject of more sexualized memes than you can count.

Even as a Congresswoman, Ocasio-Cortez cannot escape the “myth of the Latin woman.” As the youngest Congresswoman in history, she’s led the fight against climate change and income inequality in her two short years in Congress. Yet she’s treated as a “fire” that needs to be put out before it burns down the racist, classist structures that have long oppressed communities of color. 

Ocasio-Cortez is keenly aware of the narratives spun against women like her. It’s why she turns them on their head, sporting gold hoops and red lipstick to be sworn into Congress, modeled after Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Wearing a bright-red blazer and her signature lipstick during her speech, she delivered a subversive take on the “fiery Latina” stereotype.

“Women like me aren’t supposed to run for office,” Ocasio-Cortez said back in 2018, when she introduced herself to the world. But she proved that statement wrong, and has remained exactly who she is: a proud daughter of Puerto Rican parents from the Bronx and Arecibo, refusing to shed her identity, ideology, or style to conform to the constraints of American politics. For that, she’s been labeled “embarrassing,” “illiterate,” “not talented,” and, most recently, a “fucking bitch.” 

But with this speech, Ocasio-Cortez once again proved that women like her — Latinas who are forced to contend with demeaning stereotypes and labels — belong in Congress, and the time to stay quiet in the face of harassment and violence has come to an end.

Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?

AOC Doesn't Need An Apology From Ted Yoho

Some Random Republican Congressman Cursed At AOC

It's Time To Stop Putting Latinx Beauty In A Box

More From

  • Two Florida Men Were Arrested For Selling A Deadly COVID-19 “Cure”

    Colombian officials arrested two Florida men who were wanted in the United States for illegally selling a chemical solution similar to pool cleaner through their church as a miracle cure for the coronavirus. Mark and Joseph Grenon, father and son, were arrested in Santa Marta where they were shipping their “Miracle Mineral Solution” to clients in the U.S., Colombia, Africa, and elsewhere.Mark Grenon is the archbishop of the Genesis II Church of Health and Healing in Bradenton, FL. One of the beliefs it espouses is the use of toxic chemicals as a sacrament to cure all manner of illnesses and conditions —from cancer to autism, and now COVID-19. The Food and Drug Administration received reports of people being hospitalized and developing life-threatening health conditions after drinking the solution. The FDA analyzed the “Miracle Mineral Solution” and found that it contained chemicals commonly used in treating textiles, industrial water, and paper. At least seven Americans have died from using the substance; it is unclear if there have been any deaths from it in other countries. But Grenon are part of a larger wanted party dispersing the deadly “cure.” In April, the Food and Drug Administration issued an injunction against the church for marketing “Miracle Mineral Solution” as a cure for the virus. It was ignored. Federal agents responded by showing up to the church with search warrants, a federal order, and a hazmat team in July, reports CBS Miami. Inside, they found 50 gallons of muriatic acid, 22 gallons of the miracle solution, and 8,300 pounds of sodium chlorite. The same day, Mark Grenon and his three adult sons Jonathan, Jordan, and Joseph Grenon were charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to violate the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, and criminal contempt. According to court documents, a federal judge ordered all websites selling “Miracle Mineral Solution” to remove the product, and all supplies involved in making it are required to be confiscated and destroyed. Furthermore, the creation of future websites to market the product is prohibited. The church is also required to reach out to everyone who bought the chemical solution to notify them that the product was distributed unlawfully and is dangerous to ingest. This also isn’t the first time the family has peddled their concoction as a cure. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the Grenons marketed the solution as a treatment for preventing and curing Alzheimer’s disease, brain cancer, autism, HIV/AIDS, and multiple sclerosis. Investigators first discovered it being marketed as a coronavirus cure in March. In April, Mark Grenon wrote to President Donald Trump encouraging him to embrace the product as a solution for containing the virus, The Guardian revealed. MMS “can rid the body of COVID-19,” reads the letter. A few days later, Trump was now-famously quoted raising the idea of injecting disinfectant into the body as a cure for coronavirus. “Is there a way we can do something, by an injection inside or almost a cleaning?” said Trump. He later insisted he was being sarcastic.Mark Grenon has since admitted to U.S. investigators that the church “has nothing to do with religion” and that it is solely to “legalize the use of MMS” and avoid “going to jail,” according to court documents filed in Florida. The Grenons were reportedly making around $120,000 a month selling the solution, a four-fold increase from previous sales prior to the pandemic.“We will NOT be participating in any of your UNCONSTITUTIONAL Orders, Summons, etc.” an email from Mark Grenon to U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams. “Again and again I have written you all that…you have NO authority over our Church.”If convicted of all charges, they all face at least 14 years in prison with the possibility of more than 17 years.Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?19 Women On The Long-Term Effects Of COVID-19Would A Coronavirus Vaccine Be Free For Everyone?Trump Dangerously Suggests Disinfectants As Cure

  • 10 Bestsellers That Outdoor Voices Can Hardly Keep In Stock

    Athleisure's been having its moment in the fashion spotlight for a while now — but 2020 is officially its biggest year yet. As we've collectively found ourselves stuck at home amidst a global pandemic, the casual-cool style is what we've been living in. Our go-to brand that checks the boxes of durable enough for a workout, comfy enough for the couch, AND cute enough for a Zoom meeting (all things we've been doing a lot of lately)? Outdoor Voices. The Austin-based athleisure-wear staple has continued to serve up cult-favorite styles from sports-bra crop tops to super-soft leggings and much more in an array of refreshing colorways — most of which almost always sell out. We went ahead and combed the site's ever-popular selection for the top-rated styles that shoppers can't stop adding to cart. Whether it's a pair of TechSweats to get you through the hottest of summer runs or an Exercise Dress to serve as your new WFH uniform, better nab these OV bestsellers now while they're still in stock. At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. If you buy something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?Outdoor Voices' New Collab Is Biking Goals8 Pairs Of Lighter Than Air Leggings For SummerThe Best Summer Workout Bottoms Are Bike Shorts

  • Why Are Republicans Mispronouncing Kamala Harris’ Name? Racism.

    Since Kamala Harris was announced as Joe Biden’s pick for Vice President, the negative immediate media coverage of Harris has, as expected, been swift and vicious. She’s already been attacked by right-wing commenters, and called ‘nasty’ by the President. But another big, underlying trend has been far simpler: Harris’ first name has been regularly mispronounced, often intentionally by the likes of seasoned political commentators like Tucker Carlson. But Harris, who pronounces her first name “COMMA-luh” and not “kuh-MA-luh,” shouldn’t have to deal with this. She’s been in the political spotlight for years, including her own presidential run just a few months ago that turned her into a household name. She explicitly instructed readers on the pronunciation in her 2019 memoir. And when she was ran for a California senate seat in 2016, she released an instructive video of cute kids who could say her name without a problem. The failure to correctly pronounce Harris’ name — especially among those whose jobs it is to know — is just a racist dog whistle being used to belittle Harris, who is Black and Indian-American.On Carlson’s show Tuesday, the host mispronounced Harris’ name. When guest Richard Goodstein, an advisor to Democratic campaigns, politely corrected him, Carlson shot back: “So what?” he said.“Out of respect, for somebody who’s going to be on the national ticket, pronouncing her name right is actually kind of a bare minimum,” Goodstein responded. “So I’m disrespecting her by mispronouncing her name unintentionally?” Carlson replied while laughing. “So it begins! You’re not allowed to criticize ‘kuh-mah-lah Harris’ or ‘camel-la Harris,’ or whatever…I love the idea that she’s immune from criticism.” After Goodstein corrected Carlson, he went on to intentionally mispronounce her name three more times.> Tucker Carlson loses it when a guest corrects his pronunciation of Kamala Harris’s name> > — nikki mccann ramírez (@NikkiMcR) August 12, 2020While Carlson might attempt to explain this as holding political leaders “to account,” there is nothing productive about mispronouncing the name of a former presidential candidate and potentially, our future vice president, when your job as a broadcast journalist literally requires you to do so on air.“Being able to pronounce people’s names is part of being in broadcasting. You’re a professional talker,” tweeted podcast host Touré. “You don’t get to say Kamala is too complicated to pronounce it right (but Klobuchar is easy). You’re making your disrespect clear.”Many women politicians of color have experienced the distinct disrespect of having their names repeatedly mispronounced. Congresswoman Rashida Tliab admitted that “People still can’t pronounce my name, but they remember the things that I do for them.” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called out Fox News for omitting the “Ocasio” from her name.And yet people have learned to properly pronounce “Kavanaugh” and “Buttigieg.” The same has not been afforded to non-white figures — political or otherwise. As Hasan Minaj pointed out to Ellen Degeneres, people seem to have an easier time with Timothée Chalamet’s name than his own. Similarly, Uzo Aduba’s mother explained to her about her own Nigerian name, “If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, they can learn to say Uzoamaka.” Studies have found, over and over again, that there is a bias that assumes people in leadership roles will be white. That’s because, for most of history, they have been. But as each election has set records for women and people of color being elected to Congress, it’s been proof that the tide is starting to turn.Harris is testament to that: American leadership is changing and whether bigots like it or not, they’re going to have to get used to it. This includes Carlson, who will — and should — continue to face criticism if he refuses to respect Kamala by calling her by her name.Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?

  • $7 Face Scrubbers, Rice Cookers, & Other Top Buys Of The Week

    The goods that we buy on a fleeting basis may not ultimately wind up on our monthly most wanted list, but that doesn't mean they're not worthy of their own shopping spotlight. Welcome to our newest series that details just that: peeling back a more of-the-moment curtain on the top weird to wonderful items that people purchased this week. Each of the products ahead was anonymously sourced from both top-performing R29 stories as well as shopping data that details the most current bestsellers. This means that everything you'll find featured — from the $7 silicone face scrubber to the pink miniature rice cooker — is a freshly baked slice of what's trending in virtual carts across the web at this very moment. Scroll on to see what else is on the menu (spoiler: it involves perfect hair in a bottle and more than one sitewide sale). At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. If you buy something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?What We Actually Bought For Under $100 This MonthThese Were The 29 Top-Bought Items In JulyThe Epic Beauty Deals From Nordstrom's Major Sale