AAAh, latin@s in fantasy are what I breathe for. The thing about authors from other ethnicities writing latin@ characters is that most people fall into this idea (reproduced endlessly by USAmerican media and onto the entire world) that latin@s look and act a certain way.
Like when ‘Disney racebends’ give the princess they are turning latina that one look? The Basic Latina Stereotype: The full lips, small nose, straight or kinda wavy dark hair, skin in some warm and not too dark shade of brown. If the portrayal is positive, her accent is sweet. If it’s negative, it’s too strong and makes the words sound weird. If they’re young, they are generally sassy, sensual and angry. Older latinas fall into motherhood roles, and are stern but patient, with the kind of wisdom that a life of poverty and hard work gives you.
Latino men have tattoos like 90% of the times they appear on anglosaxon TV. And mustaches, don’t forget those. Young and gorgeous means he’s a latin-lover, with the cocky attitude and probably an issue with commitment? A little older, stocky and muscular and he’ll be a criminal. Threaten people in Spanish. Probably a drug dealer, because cartels are all there is in Latin America? Really old latinos are allowed the wise grandfather role sometimes, though.
All of that is bullshit. Like, yeah, there are latinos and latinas (and latin@s) that fall under any of those stereotypes. My aunt, Virginia, has definitely the looks of the Latina Stereotype, from the hair to the nose, even the high cheekbones. All drug dealers I’ve met have been lightskin as hell, but there are probably brown drug dealers with mustaches and tattoos on their necks too. Stereotypes are, to a point or the other, based on someone. But there are a million other latin@s that look nothing like the stereotypes.
I like this one post because it shows you in six easy examples that latin@s definitely don’t fall under any only category. Afro-latin@s, Asian-latin@s, white-latin@s, native latin@s whose families have never mixed with any other ethnicity. Jewish latin@s, muslim latin@s, pagan latin@s! Infinite combinations of any of those.
I don’t need to stretch my mind to give you examples. I can look into my own family, at my neighbors (my building is 50% made of first generation Korean immigrants and second generation Korean-latin@s. also some gangsters, a bunch of kids who grow marijuana on the roof and at least three angry spirits, but that’s a story for another day), anywhere. When they first teach us about immigration and ethnicity in school, we are usually asked to find out how our family was formed.
We can have a Brazilian kid whose grandfather moved to Uruguay in the fifties from Finland because reasons, met an afro-Mapuche woman, had this kid’s dad; who met a half-Irish, half-Aymara woman traveling from Rio, and they moved together to Brazil and then had this kid? Then moved to Argentina and at age 10 this kid tried to explain the class the story of his family, and everyone understood because all our families are a huge knot of races and ethnicities and cultures.
So, this got super long and really out of hand, but what I’m saying is: pick up a map of Latin America. Find a country with a cool name. Read on that country’s story, the immigration waves, the native population; the culture and dialect.
Don’t get too scared when you find out that Spanish alone has hundreds of different dialects in Latin America, Portuguese has a handful too; there are a hundred of native languages too, and the mixtures that grow between those languages is impossible to explain in a Wikipedia article! Latin America is gorgeous but very confusing. If your characters are Latinas living in the States or England or wherever else, you’ll also have a laugh trying to figure out how Spanglish works.
You can decide your protagonists are going to be Colombian, and they could be of the aboriginal Embera; or they could be afro-Colombian, or maybe even among the huge percentage of Colombian people that are so mixed that don’t really care to break down their ethnicity anymore. But that’s just an example.
Basically, writing respectfully about latin@s isn’t hard, but it can give people a headache, because a lot of writers/creators expect latin@s to be one unity they can read on once and voilá! You know everything about us forever. I don’t know everything about Latin America myself, so I doubt any gringo will, ever.
But by choosing where to start, giving your characters a defined identity and reading up on their particular story and culture before expanding into the rest of the continent, you can make the job a lot easier on yourself.
Make sure to not pick any ethnic group that has no Wikipedia article or some big section in the state-approved websites; and you can totally ask in writingwithcolor or diversitycrosscheck if anyone has a story similar to that of your characters, and can help you with the details.
I’m sorry about this answer, I hope I didn’t scare you from writing about latin@ characters. A million kisses, good luck with that story (I hope to read it!) and if you don’t hate me already, message me if you need anything!
I am proud of this post. So important. <3