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Analysis of “The Myth of the Latin Woman”

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In “The Myth of the Latin Woman”, Judith Ortiz Cofer intends to dispel several stereotypes about Hispanic women by expressing her own personal stories and observations. She starts off by relating an experience that happened on a bus in London, then she goes into explaining how her parents made her home in America a microcosm of the home they used to have in Puerto Rico. She explains why Puerto Rican women dress the way they do—because they’re protected by an honor system—and goes on to relate two more encounters with people who mistake her for someone else because of her appearance.

In weaving her personal stories with explanations of stereotypes of Hispanic women, Cofer tries to show what stereotypes exist—the menial and the seductress—in order to condemn assumptions and present a more “universal truth” about Latinas.

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Cofer uses several modes to get her aims across. She mainly uses the mode of example in order to show her audience how stereotypes can be encountered and experienced by a wide variety of Hispanic women.

She illustrates the drunk Irish tenor on the bus to Oxford who serenades her with the song “Maria” from West Side Story. She gives a scene in which a drunk “Daddy” serenades her with “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” and then goes on into an obscene revision of “La Bamba”. She also gives the example of the woman at her poetry reading who orders coffee from Cofer, mistaking her for a worker instead of the presenter. These examples serve to prove Cofer’s idea that most people, upon seeing her typical “Rita Moreno” looks, will intrude into her life with obnoxious, wrong, and offensive assumptions. Cofer also uses the mode of compare and contrast to support these examples. She contrasts herself to any Anglo woman, whom she is sure would not be treated so offensively by “Daddy”. She compares the Puerto Rican girls, who “wear everything at once”, to their Anglo peers on Career Day to show that Hispanic females are sometimes inappropriately dressed. Her examples prove how other people compare her to Rita Moreno, Eva Peron, and kitchen workers because of the way she looks. These comparisons serve to segregate Cofer from other females because they show that her appearance is what sets her apart.

This leads to the use of classification as a mode. Cofer implies that Hispanic women are categorized into two main groups: the worker and the seductress. Either Latinas are uneducated menials, most often found in the kitchen or cleaning houses, or Latinas are the sexy and passionate sirens who succumb to every come-on because their tempestuous libidos can’t help it. This mode serves to limit most of the women by putting them “’in their place’”.

Other modes Cofer uses are description and definition. She describes how Puerto Rican females typically dress by evoking many bright colors to get her point across that the loud, vibrant colors are only a result of growing up on a tropical island and not an effort to seek attention. She defines piropos, which are “erotically charged street poems” given by young men upon seeing these young Latinas in their skimpy, island attire. She also, most importantly, defines stereotyping by doing what she is seeking to delete. For example, she shows the reader how she has been defined by her appearance: Rita Moreno, Eva Peron, “hot tamale”, and “sexual firebrand” are all typical assumptions, Cofer is trying to say, which other people make when they see a Hispanic female. In other words, they automatically define Hispanic females as voluptuous, sensuous, working women with dark features and seduction in their eyes. Cofer also defines other people by their own stereotypes: she implies that the singer on the bus in London is a drunk Irishman. The “daddy” who drunkenly accosted her with a song about gonorrhea must surely have been an Army man who treated foreign women awfully; the nuns have no fashion sense; the British are people so reserved and cool that they don’t even smile.

Because of this last mode, I can’t agree that Cofer’s use of definition, and even classification, are effective in supporting her claim that people should rise above stereotypes, in her goal to “replace the old stereotypes with a much more interesting set of realities”. If her purpose is solely to inform her audience of the stereotypes that exist toward Latina women, then this essay would be effective. But I believe she also seeks to persuade people to rise above these stereotypes, especially as she promotes this in the last paragraph. If she seeks to rise above these “old stereotypes”, she does a sorry job of doing so herself. In referencing Irishmen as drunks,
Army men as women-haters, nuns as bland, and British people as non-smilers, she only does exactly what she’s saying people should stop doing. If her plan is to speak up only on behalf of Latinas, then this goal only undermines her entire claim altogether. What is so special about Latinas that they should not have to be subjected to assumptions, but no other cultural group is given that opportunity in her essay? This could certainly be seen as an effective expressive essay because Cofer uses personal experiences; there are several modes which exemplify the use of literary styles like symbolism and imagery; and the reader ends up knowing a lot more about the author because of the amount of self-expression going on. Her ultimate aim of expression is well-covered, but her minor aim of persuasion is undermined by her use of definition and classification.

In Cofer’s last paragraphs, she really qualifies her entire plan for a “much more interesting set of realities”. She talks about trying to get her audience to see past her skin color, past her accent, and past her clothes. Yet her poem is written to all Latinas, who are, interestingly enough, “’God’s brown daughters’”. If she wants people to see past color, accent, and clothing, then she shouldn’t write in such a way as to promote those very things she’s seeking to get past. Overall, Cofer only succeeds in showing the reader exactly what she’s trying to avoid, and I think this seriously undermines her ultimate claim that people should stop looking at Latinas and categorizing them based on cultural stereotypes.

Cite this Analysis of “The Myth of the Latin Woman”

Analysis of “The Myth of the Latin Woman”. (2016, Dec 26). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/the-myth-of-the-latin-woman/

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