Erlinda Sanchez is thirty-three years old and was born and raised in Highland park, Los Angeles, California. She is a first-grade teacher at a Catholic Elementary school in Tujunga, California. Sanchez identifies as Mexican American and has grown up with her Mexican-American, Spanish speaking family. This “Mexican- Americanness” has created for Sanchez a unique experience. In my interview with her, Sanchez details her relationship with her Mexican-ness and how much she loves and appreciates her culture. Along with this, she speaks of the racial profiling that she and her family members have experienced, the experience of a Mexican-American who does not speak Spanish and tells of her encounters with police. Her experience, although unique to her, demonstrates how our implicit biases hinder others in the workplace and otherwise and is a testament to working hard even when others may doubt you.
A Hispanic who does not speak Spanish?
I had asked Sanchez if she had grown up speaking Spanish and this question sparked a story. Sanchez said that she had spoken Spanish at home with her parents when she was very young, but when she went to kindergarten, she began to be taught English. Having been mainly taught Spanish, when Sanchez arrived in kindergarten, she became frustrated as she could not easily communicate with the other kids. This frustrated led to a core memory that Sanchez has from being a little girl.
“I remember being in my grandmother’s kitchen and she said something to me in Spanish and I turned around and I said, “don’t talk to me in that dumb language anymore”, and instead of my grandmother getting upset or like being the adult and stopping me from talking like that, I broke her heart, and she never spoke to me in Spanish again.”
Sanchez credits this conversation as to why she was not taught Spanish anymore as a young child. She also saw it as a way for her grandparents and parents to protect her. Her not speaking Spanish, in combination with her light skin made it so maybe she would not face the same discrimination that they (her grandparents and parents) had faced.
“But my grandparents also faced a lot of racial discrimination, stereotypes, prejudice. So, I think my grandmother- I don’t think- I know this, we’ve had talks about this. As I was an adult, but she saw it as a way to protect me. She saw that I wasn’t liking the Spanish language because she thought maybe I was having…bad experiences speaking Spanish because they had bad experiences here growing up here speaking Spanish, and she thought the best way to protect me was just have been focused on my English language.”
This idea of protecting your child/ grandchild from racial profiling and inequality by not teaching them Spanish and subconsciously (or in some other peoples’ cases, directly) is seen in the Cherrie Moraga work, “La Guera”. Moraga states, in relation to her not being encouraged to keep up her Spanish speaking, “it was through my mother’s desire to protect her children from poverty and illiteracy that we became “anglocized”; the more effectively we could pass in the white world, the better guaranteed our future” (Moraga 28)
This is a sad reality for many Mexican- American descendants, me included. Sanchez did state that now, as an adult, she wishes that she was fluent, but she does not allow that to lessen her identity as Latina.
As our interview continued, I asked Sanchez if she had ever felt like she was treated differently by anyone due to her ethnicity. She stated that growing up she never felt that way, as she was surrounded by Mexican-Americans in Highland Park. It was not until she began to work on the West Side, specifically Santa Monica and Marina Del Rey, that she felt as if she was looked down upon from being Latina. Her exact verbiage was “second-class citizen”. She then specified that she was “lucky” when it came to not having too many “horrible” experiences. She does add however, when I further the discussion and asked if anyone in her family had ever experienced unfair, racist treatment, that her they have not been as “lucky”.
“Yeah, yeah, my grandparents saw a lot of things. My grandparents were kicked out of Chavez Ravine, where Dodger Stadium is now. My grandparents were ummm -police brutality was a real thing- my grandfather, my grandmother were both harassed by Glendale and Pasadena police departments. My brother went to school at the University of Redlands. And like I said, we’re all very light skinned, but my brother has little more of “Mexican features” and he was harassed constantly. He would come home almost every weekend because of the prejudice that he faced up there.”
Another question that I asked Sanchez was if she, as a Latina, ever felt underrepresented in the media. With this, she responded with a resounding yes.
“100% yeah 100%. I thought all princesses ,you know ,had to look a certain way and like had to act a certain way”
Sanchez, similarly, to what I have heard from my mother, also a Latina woman, described how the Eurocentric beauty of dolls and Disney Princesses made her feel as if she was not beautiful. Her experience with not being represented in the movies she watched growing up or the toys she played with really affected how she saw herself and is a testament to how important representation is.
The lack of representation in movies and popular media was examined in a study by Stacy Smith, a social scientist, and was described in a Ted Talk thats she gave. Her study looked at minority (gender, racial,ethnic,LQBTQ+) representation in films by the numbers. This study demonstrated how important story-telling is, but acknowledges that, ” stories don’t give everyone the same opportunity to appear within them” (Smith 0.55)
The marginalization of POC, women, and LGBTQ+ individuals within large scale, American movies, is a reflection of real-life marginalization. Movies, as a means of documenting and commenting on life, by actively excluding many individuals who make up our world, uphold the hegemonic narratives that support the patriarchy and white supremacy-while simultaneously continuing to “other” those they exclude.
Sanchez’s experience as a young girl, of not feeling like a princess because she was not represented as one, is a reality that many POC have faced and continue to face today.
Further into our conversation, I asked Sanchez if she had ever felt unsafe around the police. This question brought about a story, one that was truly shocking to me and something that definitely needs to be shared.
Sanchez first began by describing how she had saved up for and purchased a BMW when she was a bit younger. She recalls being pulled over “all the time” and questioned about whose car she was driving, how she got it, and where she was going. Sanchez cites these reoccurring incidents as biased and racialized stops that targeted her for being a young, Latina woman, in and around Highland Park with a nice car. This instance alone is extremely upsetting to face, but Sanchez detailed that this was not even the worse kind of encounter she had. She began to detail a story about how one night, she went to go pick up her boyfriend from his late night shift at Home Depot. Due to it being almost midnight and due to her simply picking him up, Sanchez was wearing a sweatshirt and sweatpants with no undergarments. On her way back, with her boyfriend in the passenger seat, she was pulled over, presumably for the reasons she described previously. The officers asked her and her boyfriend to exit the car and preceded to attempt to pat them down. Sanchez, knowing her right to only be pat down by a female officer, asserted that right. What proceeded after that is truly horrific…
“I told them “no, I want a female officer” and so they wait and they finally brought a female officer and I let her know that I wasn’t wearing a bra or anything underneath, I just put on a sweatshirt because I was just rolling out of bed to pick someone up. And she still decided to lift up my sweatshirt and pull down my pants, I was still in front of my boyfriend you know, but these other officers, these other male officers…”
This event should have been counted as a sexual assault. Yet, the power that the police had over the situation left Sanchez and her boyfriend helpless, as they had their rights taken by the very people who are supposed to protect them. The racial profiling that is rampant in the police system is a continuation of the assertion of white supremacy, as it attempts to hold “white” as a societal norm. Sanchez’s position as a young, Latina women with a nice, new car, made her susceptible to the racial profiling of the police as it stepped out of that “norm”. I could only image how traumatic and violating that experience must have been, and I thank Ms. Sanchez for sharing it with me, and allowing me to share it here. It holds those police to some form of accountability.
Have you ever felt uncomfortable at work? … yes…
Sanchez responded to the question, “Have you ever felt like a man who is less qualified than you got more respect from your coworkers or bosses or anything like that that you’ve experienced?”, by stating that she had experienced that.
“Yeah, I have definitely, I used to work for an after school program that was sports based so like you had to know how to coach, you had to know how to play sports, and I felt like I had a coworker who was younger than me, but was given a position because he was a male- but I knew more about sports and how to coach. Little did this program know that I had two older brothers and a dad who treated me like boy.”
This situation was straight discrimination, on the basis that because she was a woman, she MUST know less about sports. Along with this, Sanchez’s position as a Latina woman made her even more susceptible to this unfair treatment. Latina women, as expressed in the article, “Latina workers have to work nearly 11 months into 2019 to be paid the same as white non-Hispanic men in 2018” by Elise Gould states that, “The wage gap between Latina workers and white non-Hispanic male workers persists across the wage distribution, within occupations, and among those with the same amount of education” (epi.org). Even though Sanchez was more qualified for this promotion, she was passed up for it by a young, newer man with less experience. Sanchez stated that she tried to not let this get her down, as she is hopeful that that sort of discrimination is “getting better” as time goes on and more people are educated about sexism in the workplace.
To continue our conversation about her work, when I asked Sanchez if a man had ever made her uncomfortable at work, she responded with a momentary pause, then a simple, “yes…” When she asked if she needed to further explain, I replied that she only had to share whatever she was comfortable with. We left it at that.
How matter of fact Sanchez’s answer was, as if it was expected, falls into what Bell Hooks has deemed patriarchal violence. It is the experience perpetuated and normalized by the patriarchy that it “is acceptable for a more powerful individual to control others through various forms of coercive force” (Hooks, 98). This exertion of force is normalized, whether it be in the workplace, walking around a public place as a woman, or being scared to deny unwanted advances from men. Patriarchal violence is found throughout society.
Conclusion/ My Perspective
Erlinda Sanchez and I talked about many aspects of her Latinidad and experience as a woman in the workplace and the world. Overall, however, what stood out to me the most was her love for her family, her Mexican heritage, and her self -confidence. When asked how she felt when she was underestimated or treated unfairly, she said,
“I try not to think about that too much. I try, I try to just be like, I’m going to do the best that I can do regardless of what other people think of me or what other opinions people have with me. I try not to let what I think other people think of me influence me.”
This confidence is what has allowed her to follow her dreams of becoming a teacher and what motivates her to not only be proud of herself, but proud of her family and culture. She said, when asked what she loved the most about her Mexican heritage,
“This value of togetherness and I love how there’s so many traditions revolve around food, like during Christmas time, we all come together we make the tamales and just you know… It’s just big! I don’t know, I feel like the culture revolves around family. It’s …it’s very family-oriented and I just love it. I feel like that that’s what I love about it; very family- oriented.”
This was such a positive interview to have and as a Mexican American myself, I felt like I could relate to a lot that Erlinda Sanchez said. Her light skin in combination with her lack of fluency in Spanish is something that I can relate to. It leaves us both in a limbo that grants us a lot of privilege in many aspects, but also allows for much confusion as far as identity goes. I think that this interview has taught me a lot about my own intersectionality and how I can be a proud white Latina. She also has encouraged me to want to learn Spanish better, just as she is trying to do. I hope that a little of her confidence wears off on me and I thank her very much for this interview.
Click here to listen to the full interview
Gould, Elise, “Latina workers have to work nearly 11 months into 2019 to be paid the same as white non-Hispanic men in 2018”. epi.org. November 19, 2019
Hooks, Bell, Feminism is for Everybody. 2000
Moraga, Cherrie ,“La Guera”. September 1979
Smith, Stacy, “The Data Behind Hollywood’s Sexism”. Ted Talk. March 21, 2017