Increasing Awareness Around Our Own Stories and Those of Our Clients: Experiences with Stereotypes and Assumptions

Maria Astudillo, LCSW-R

Yesika Silvana Montoya, LCSW

Editor’s Note:  Guest bloggers, Maria Astudillo & Yesika Silvana Montoya, responded to our call for guest bloggers and planned on having their post tie into Hispanic Heritage Month that generally takes place in October.

This is a conversation among two Latin women about some of the reactions that they have experienced in their years living in the USA. This conversation took place in a loud bar while dancing at the beat of salsa music.

No, we are just kidding, this conversation only took place in a living room with a cup of coffee and a great deal of laughter. The image of two Latinas in a Salsa bar talking is easily conjured up and people find this believable. Unfortunately, it is a stereotype. Not all Latinas hang out in salsa bars, but the imagery is an example of how quickly people use stereotypes when interacting with Professional Latinas and this devalues them as people with unique experiences.  The point of us having this conversation was to address how we have coped with the multiple stereotypes and assumptions that “people” have about those who are different than them.

This is our story:

Both of us immigrated to the USA as young adults without our families, with very limited English skills (or none) and we have successfully adapted to our life here. We learned the English language; obtained our Master’s in Social Work in the United States and currently work as LCSWs in the city.

Another thing that we have in common is that we were raised by very strong, independent, professional, open minded women (way ahead of their time and cultural dictates).

In all these years, we have had many experiences: some funny, some painful, and some full of negative assumptions related to our ethnic identity/origin.

Many times, we had to justify that yes, we are Latin immigrant professional women (that specimen does exist!). Let us share the most common experiences that we have had regarding people’s reactions to us as Latin women.

These are some of our responses to assumptions that people have about us:

  • We like to work and feel independent and our families take pride on that.
  • Not all of us expect or want a man to be the head household.
  • Not, all of us want or are cut out to be mothers.
  • Not all of us are “marianistas” self-sacrificing women suffering in silence.
  • We speak with an accent, but we do not think with the accent. Having an accent does not mean that we are stupid or uneducated.
  • When we kiss you on the cheek, it does not mean that we are flirting with you.
  • Not all of us eat rice and beans! And there is nothing wrong with those that do!
  • Not all of us are good dancers either. It is not part of our genetic makeup.

These are some of the questions/ comments that we have heard when socializing:

  • Are you social worker? My social life needs some work.
  • Being asked what part of Italy I am from….. When I denied such origin and stressed that I was from South America, I was told that I was too educated to be Latina.
  • Being asked if I am my son’s nanny, merely because of the way I look.
  • We like things that common discourse has defined as upscale. Yes, we like to go to the ballet, we like to go to the opera, we travel abroad, and we play tennis among many other things.
  • Going out on a first date and being asked: What is your status in this country? Are you legal?

These are some of the questions/ comments that we have heard in our professional lives:

  • Being told to take messages for doctors “because you are the secretary”.
  • Question: Where does she work? (referring to a Latin woman)
    Answer: At a university.
    Question: Is she part of the cleaning crew?
    Answer: No, she is a professor there.
  • “You will not believe that the new social worker is Latina because she has blond hair and blue eyes” (we come in all shapes, shades and colors).
  • I speak Spanish; it does not mean that I cannot see English speaking patients.
  • Being asked to see two children for therapy that had recently arrived from Mexico. As I got to know them, I noticed that their Spanish was fragmented and that they were struggling to communicate. I proceeded to ask where in Mexico they were from. They happened to be Mixtecas (indigenous group) and they barely spoke Spanish. When I attempted to advocate with the school to have them removed from the bilingual class, I was accused of trying to cut their ties to their culture… yet they did not identified as Mexicans but as Mixtecas. Nobody had thought of asking them, it was easier to assume than to take the time to ask.

We are not angry or resentful about these experiences; they have shaped who we are and enhanced our awareness about how we relate to others. They have helped us to frame our clinical work in a way that these issues are part of our dialogue with our patients, validating the uniqueness of every individual and acknowledging that because we share the same language does not mean that we had the same experiences.

We accept that stereotypes and assumptions exist and all of us have them. Our intention on sharing these stories with you is to increase awareness; particularly, when as social workers, we work with people different than us. Differences can manifest in ethnicity, race, education socio economic status, sexual orientation, gender, marital status, religion, political views etc., and all of them impact our professional and personal lives.

Maria Astudillo, LCSW-R, is the Director of Mental Health Services at Children’s Aid Society

Yesika Silvana Montoya, LCSW, is aClinical Social Worker at University Settlement Society of New York: Victory Guild Consultation Center

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2 Responses to Increasing Awareness Around Our Own Stories and Those of Our Clients: Experiences with Stereotypes and Assumptions

  1. Pingback: Latina bar | Zybis

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