I am one of those annoying Colombians who every time you mention you just LOVE Shakira, I roll my eyes, tell you she’s shit now and narrate a brief five-min-Shakira-history on your ass about how white-washed mami used to be this awesome chubby rocker, with red hair, who actually wrote some poetic lyrics that were once the core of my early teenage years (somewhere in my mother’s apartment there’s still a Pies Descalzos cassette). And when we’re watching TV and you point to the blonde, skinner-than-life Shakira with whiter-than-life teeth selling us CREST my heart transforms into a jaded feminista yelling, “Who the fuck cares?” And “please change the channel” (clearly some unresolved issues there).
To this you think “whatever,” you think “why do these third-world people always overthink it,” you think “Gawd, I’m only trying to be nice,” you think “well I can’t understand her music if she is singing in Spanish, duh,” you think “but OMG your people are so pretty!” Deep inside I’m grateful that after talking about Shakira you didn’t tell me that story about snorting some good Colombian cocaine (we’re not even the lead exports anymore, get with the program homie), or demand a brief update on Colombia’s current state of affairs (i.e. How dangerous is it for gringos there?), or a speedy drug cartel history, but really I’m just grateful you didn’t show me a Sofía Vergara clip detailing how she washes her clothes in the river.
Sidenote: When I was growing up Sofía “La Toti” Vergara was a young model desired by every dude (and, let’s face it, every dudette) in our nation-state. Big tits, curvy body, she was the mera mera ultimate goddess posing as the unattainable femininity we women of the Andes needed to replicate. Of course you wanted to be her, that’s what your man wants! And the magazines! And what will get you a job as the newest talk-show host! And look at the papi she’s dating, my god, if only my papi got me a diamond so big. Etc. La Toti was and forever will be a crucial part of the texture of our collective Colombian consciousness. But now that she’s materialized with her “ayys” and that criolla body into the US collective consciousness too, it sometimes plain sucks.
Now, let me stop right here before I get a thousand hateful messages from Colombians and her fans worldwide: Sofía Vergara is amazing. She’s drop-dead gorgeous, does not give a fuck about her thick accent, carries her love for her people tattooed on her face everywhere she goes, understands she’s being objectified daily, and gives hella money back to the community. The mami is the ultimate Latina queen—bye bye J.Lo—etc. I know her shit is funny. I, too, sat many hours watching Modern Family, giggling at her “Ayyyy Mannyyyyyy!” Okay?
But for all of us Colombian females who live outside of our “third-world” country to be blurred (or rather to be invisible and essentialized) through these two women is exhausting. SHIT GETS OLD. It gets old that when I say “Colombian” to you, what first pops in your mind is exotic Sofía, white-washed Shakira, or pure cocaine. And of course I got a fucked-up gene because I don’t look like Sofía Vergara, what the hell is wrong with me? Where are my birthing hips, my exotic brown body, my highlighted just-wavy-enough hair, my sensous lips and solid abs! Where is that juicy culo carajo. And why am I not belly dancing bien pegao and offering my body in funny soundbites to you? Somebody bring me my donkey!
Yes, mi rey, in case you’re wondering I am talking about “m,” to the “i” to the motherfucking “sogyny”—with some colonialism sprinkled here and there. That archaic machismo that knows no boundaries and lives in that mouth of yours. (OMG girlfriend is using those feminist words, run before she drops the big P).
But what about the river clip, you say? No, we don’t all wash our clothes in the river (also people wash their clothes in the river in the US and in Europe too, Google it), and yes as Gloria from Modern Family suggests there’s hella violence in Colombia, but what about, say, the daily racialized violence perpetuated by police officers in every state in this country? You may think to yourself, “Damn! It was just a question Juliana” (also, “Hoo-liana”). But, amor mío corazón de otro, I’ve been listening to those questions over and over on repeat every week for the past eleven years and even though you think you’re so damn clever to me you’re the same motherfucking gringo keeping me from drinking in peace at a party. I just want to chug this gin and tonic! Let me live!
Side-note II: mind you, Colombia is literally 2,623 miles south from the (center) of the U.S. (to put it in perspective, there’s 2,563 miles between San Francisco and New York), so don’t give me that why-would-I-know-anything-else-about-that-country answer. We’ve been part of your backyard for over a century, homie! Your people be dropping bombs and treaties, be sexually assaulting girls with impunity, be opening this Starbucks and that Victoria Secret like it’s nobody’s business (you’d think we could sell ourselves our own coffee, right!), so would it be too much for me to ask that you don’t reduce my womanhood to a GIF from Modern Family your bro’s been sending you? Na-ha papito, I don’t think so.
When I go back home to Bogotá (and even in Miami) people show me videos of Sofía saying stuff that always begins with “In my country.” My mother is a huge fan of Sofía Vergara and of Shakira. She laughs when Sofía, as she’s sending a text message, mispronounces “sended” while yelling all sorts of unintelligible stuff in Spanish (“Oh por Dios,” she says, “I also say sended!”). Laughing with my mother who is Colombian and finds Sofia’s outrageous takes on Colombianness funny and absurd feels exactly like that: laughing at the absurdity of her performance. At the artifice of her Colombianness. I’m not being essentialized and reduced, my country’s complicated history is not thrown out the window in exchange for a quick laugh and that grandiose feeling people seem to get when recognizing something “foreign” in others (Cough. Othering, I believe it’s called).
You’re thinking: Is this another piece of how I can’t say this and that from an angry Latina bitch? Maybe. But, mi rey, I’m making you push yourself. All I want is for you to try a little harder, si? All I want is for you to get that head out of that buttocks, and if you are so very interested in that place where Sofía washes her clothes, in that river, then dig deeper, my friend. We’re neighbors after all. And not only are we neighbors but you know how many of my people you got in your own house? Roughly 2.5 million colombianos. Of which probably more than half are Colombian women (black, white, brown, short, tall, fat, skinny Colombian women) Qué que! Where did all these motherfuckers come from? We even got a freaking plaza, papá, La Plaza Colombia, in Kendall, that is South Florida for you, honoring Colombian American heritage (OMG! And here you thought it was only Mexicans you had to worry about. My goodness, we’re everywhere). A PLAZA, you know what that means? First they get the supermarkets, then they get the Plaza, then they convert our children and before you know it it’s The White House. Bam. Bam. Bam.
Like my Venezuelan, Iranian, Brazilian, Nigerian, Egyptian, Thai, Argentinian, Indian friends, I want the two stereotypes hanging from mainstream consciousness to stop dictating how you approach me, how you talk to me, how you think I behave. To assume that you understand anything about my womanhood because you’ve watched enough Modern Family to daydream about burros, machetes and river-dancing is ridiculous (and disrespectful), you following?
We could analyze Modern Family through a postcolonial lens for days, or chat about why Shakira is suddenly so appealing to mainstream audiences. But that’s not what I’m trying to do here. We need to recognize that both women are performing an artifice of Colombian womanhood that is in no way representative of who we are. To me the problem is not Sofía Vergara (queen, you may do what you wish, also call me if you read this), but that, in the mainstream collective consciousness, her performance stands in as representation of ALL of Colombian women because everyone is too lazy to Google anything else about us. Also because it’s easy. We’d rather fill our time and mind space (it’s so limited, right?) with… what’s her name? Taylor Swift’s tweets and whoever is the new Kardashian—clearly, I’m super bad at following celebrity gossip but you get the point.
PS: See how there was no “u” in Colombia? Let’s keep it that way.
Bonus: JUST FOR ENTERTAINMENT: a few real-life scenarios:
1. Where are you from?
Oh my God! Sooo cool! I just LOVE Sofía Vergara. She’s like the hottest woman on earth.
2. Where are you from?
You know what they say… Colombian cocaine! (Or, better, just a sniffing sound).
3. Where are you from?
O-M-G Shakira, Shakira!
4. I sense an accent, Where are you from?
O-oh, Colombia? How dangerous is it for someone like me to travel?
5. Where are you from?
My friend’s wife is from Honduras!
FOR THE INSATIABLE ONES… here’s a gist of 90’s Shakira: