Latina Beauties

For years, Latinas have worked hard to break beauty barriers in the U.S. Now that we have managed to forge our own identity in American society, a part of me is thrilled with what Latinas have achieved and the role models that are now available for many young girls. On the other hand, I can’t help to think that this progress is not enough.

Through women like Jennifer Lopez and Salma Hayek, Latinas have won Hollywood over with their sexy curves and most importantly their undeniable talents. They have redefined Latina image all over the world. At the same time, their images have formed a stereotype of Latinas as all having dark hair, golden skin and sensual curves. However, this image does not necessarily represent every Latina.

Alyssa, age 22, does not fit this stereotype. Her blond hair and light eyes make her stand out in her Hispanic community of El Paso, TX. Even though her entire family is Mexican, people often mistake her for Caucasian. “I am an image of being different. You don’t have to look a certain way. You don’t have to fit a certain stereotype,” she said.

Despite the fact that Alyssa does not fit the “typical” Latina image, people still try to place her within the Latina stereotype. At times, people have attributed her curves to the fact that she’s Latina. When she was younger, some of her friends would call her names because she looked “white.” “It was frustrating because they defined me based on my skin color,” she remembers.

Because of this, she embraced her Hispanic culture and was inspired to educate people about it. She wanted people to get to know her, so that they might be able to make “more precise judgments.”

“Every individual defines who they are. It doesn’t matter what type of skin, body. It matters what’s inside,” Alyssa said. “I could choose to be Hispanic and not tell anyone else, but I choose to embrace it.”

There are many Latinas in the media who are not associated with Latin American culture because their complexions do not fit the classic Latina stereotype. Like Rosario Dawson, a black Latina who is part Puerto Rican and Cuban, does not fit this stereotype. Actress Zoe Saldana, who recently appeared in the blockbuster hit Star Trek, is also a black Latina of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent. Despite the fact that she is proud of her Hispanic heritage and that she is a Spanish speaker, she is mostly cast in African-American roles.

Another example is Alexis Bledel who is Mexican-Argentinean-American. Bledel starred in the show Gilmore Girls as a Caucasian teen. Hardly anyone is aware that she is a Spanish speaking Latina, and she has not been cast in any Latina roles.

These young actresses are successful Latinas in Hollywood, but their ethnicity goes unnoticed in the media. Consequently, these examples of a diverse Hispanic women go unnoticed by the public as well, limiting the role models available to them.

In her book Hijas Americanas, Rosie Molinary dedicates an entire chapter to Latina beauty, titled “Maria de la Barbie.” Molinary recognizes the need for diversity in the way the Hispanic culture is shown in the media. “Latinas need to see that we do not all need to look like Hollywood’s Latina trendsetters to be compelling and influential,” she writes emphasizing that the best way to show Latinas that “there is no perfect prototype is to show women the range of possibilities among us.”

We should keep in mind Latinas come in all shapes, colors and sizes. We cannot be defined by a generalizations or ideas of what we should or should not look like. If we learn to love ourselves, flaws and all, we can teach other women to do the same through our example.

Molinary writes something everyone should keep in mind about Latino culture: “An important point to make is that there is no typical anything. Just like there is not one typical white, Asian, or black girl, there is no typical Latino — and no typical Puerto Rican, Colombian, or Mexican either. Having just one image of Latinos — when there are twenty-plus countries and immeasurable amounts of culture mixing — is impossible.”

What is special about Latinos is our different cultures from different countries with different histories. Despite the efforts to limit our image, but we come in all shapes, colors and sizes. We are diverse and cannot be defined. As Molinary recommends,we cannot assign generalizations to any ethnicity. The beauty of being human is that we are all unique and that there is only one of you.

March 2011

Living with Diabetes

Danielle, age 17, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was three years old. “I felt scared and did not know what to think. I was not aware of what it meant to be diabetic, but I had a feeling I was going to have it for a long time…” she said. Although she did not find it difficult to adjust because she was diagnosed at such an early age, Danielle’s lifestyle does interfere with her daily activities.

“I have to watch what I eat and make sure I am always putting some sort of exercise in my day, even if I do not want to. At school, if I am to take a test, I [have] to test my blood sugar to see if I am able to concentrate only on the test because if my sugar is too high I need to [take] insulin and wait [until] my sugar is back down to take the test. But if my sugar is low I need to go to the nurse and get a snack to bring my sugar back up to the right sugar, so I won’t be falling asleep while I am taking the test.”

Danielle is aware of the complications that can come from not managing her diabetes. “My mom passed away because she did not take care of her diabetes and went into a diabetic coma,” she said. Like her, her sister also suffered from diabetes. “My older sister had a pancreas and kidney transplant. She had kidney failure because of her high blood sugars and she was close to dying so she was put on a transplant list in Phoenix, Arizona. She also got a pancreas as well which is why she is no longer diabetic and is doing much better…”

Blood sugar monitoring is a vital part of treating diabetes and it can save a person’s life. Danielle herself has experienced complications due to unstable blood sugar levels. “I have gone into diabetic reactions [when] my blood sugar goes way too low and I am unconscious. I have gone into DKA [or] diabetic ketoacidosis [when] my blood sugars were way too high and we were not able to get them back down,” Danielle said.

In situations like these she stresses it is important to remain calm. “The thing to know is that you should not panic if your friend is right next to you and faints…find someone who knows what to do…look in their bag, see what sugar you can find… Sugar is the most important thing to get into the body if [glucose] is too low… whatever you do, don’t panic,” Danielle recommended.

She also encourages people who know someone with diabetes to help through positive support by accompanying them to the doctor or to tests. “[Help your] friends out if they need it, give them smart advice and encourage them along the way …” Most importantly, Danielle believes the best way to help a friend with diabetes is to be normal. “Treat them as you do everyone else. Don’t change just because you found out something new about them, unless they need your help.”

As a young girl with diabetes, Danielle says it’s important to be optimistic if you or someone you know has been diagnosed with the disease. “[Don’t] be down and depressed about it because, yes it puts stress on you, but I mean, you’re still living life, if you take care of yourself you will grow old and be able to see you kids, grandkids, and great grandkids grow.”

November 2010

Diabetes – The Silent Killer

Like many other Hispanic families, my family has its battle with diabetes. My mother was the first to be diagnosed. Her diabetes was set off by her first pregnancy. It later developed into a permanent condition. Afterward, my uncle and my maternal grandmother where diagnosed with diabetes. A few years ago my paternal grandmother was also diagnosed with the same condition. Having so many members of my family suffer from diabetes makes me a potential candidate to suffer from it as well. Unfortunately, there are many young people like me who are at risk.

In the year 2007, the Center of Disease Control and Prevention reported that approximately 24 million people in the U.S. had diabetes. Of this staggering number about 10% were Hispanic. That means that in 2007 about 2 million Hispanics in the U.S. suffered from diabetes. As a matter of fact, diabetes is mostly prevalent among Latinos.

What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a medical condition that causes levels of sugar, or glucose, to rise in the body. The problem starts at the pancreas, an organ under the stomach that makes the hormone insulin which helps regulate glucose levels in body cells. Insulin also helps the body turn glucose into energy. When the pancreas is unable to make enough insulin or the body cannot use the insulin, the insulin starts to accumulate in the blood resulting in diabetes. The reason this can be dangerous is because it could lead to health complications such as blindness, kidney failure and amputations.

Both genetics and the type of lifestyle a person leads can affect a person‘s probability of having this disease. There are two types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. When a person has type 1 diabetes, the body produces very little or no insulin at all. It is usually diagnosed in children and teens and is believed to be genetic. Type 2 diabetes is more common and has been linked to excess weight and inactivity. People who suffer from type 2 diabetes either do not produce enough insulin or their bodies reject the insulin they produce.

Spotting the Symptoms
The main symptoms of diabetes type 1 and 2 are frequent urination, increased thirst and increased hunger which are caused by the increased levels of glucose in the body. Other symptoms might include fatigue, blurred vision, wounds that don’t heal, skin infections, and numbness or tingling in the hands and feet.

“We ask that you learn to identify differences in your body. If all of a sudden you’re experiencing [symptoms] and you know it’s not normal then you should check yourself,” Ms. Krasey said, Marketing Coordinator at the Diabetes Association.

Treating the Disease
It’s important to diagnose and treat diabetes early. “Diabetes is called the silent killer. Usually what happens is that you fail to identify the symptoms and as time goes by there can be complications,” Ms. Krasey cautioned. The sugar accumulated in the body can cause damage to blood vessels. Kidneys are made up of tiny blood vessel clusters and can be damaged severely which can require a transplant if diabetes is not treated. High blood sugar levels affect the eye blood vessels which can eventually lead to blindness. Diabetes can also increase the risk of heart disease and Alzheimer’s.

Eating well and exercising regularly are essential to maintaining control of sugar levels and having a long life. Diabetes has no cure, so a person diagnosed with it who wishes to live a healthy life must commit to lifelong changes in their lifestyle. Blood sugar monitoring is a vital part of treating diabetes and it can save a person’s life. Changing glucose levels can be dangerous. Blood sugar monitoring is the only way to keep track of blood sugar levels which can change suddenly even with a strict diet. When a person’s blood sugar levels are at an extreme high or low, the person must seek immediate medical attention; seek an adult’s help or call 911.

For all type 1 and some type 2 diabetics insulin injections are essential to survive. However, oral insulin is also available for type 2 diabetics who are able to successfully control their insulin levels. There are many groups, such as the American Diabetes Association, that provide classes and support groups to help people learn how to treat diabetes and maintain a healthful lifestyle. If you think you might have diabetes, they can also provide low cost exams.

Living with Diabetes
Maria Teresa Cerqueira, Chief of the U.S.-Mexico Border Office for the World Health Organization stresses that the key to prevent diabetes is to maintain a healthy weight. “People should find a way to move, to keep active.” She recommends people exercise for about an hour a day, by either walking more or doing other activities they enjoy. Group activates are a good way of keeping active while having fun. “You don’t have to be a supermodel, just be healthy.” Ms. Cerqueira also mentioned that to keep a healthy weight, it is important to maintain a good self-esteem and drink plenty of water.

Although diabetes is a serious condition, Ms. Krasey also stressed that diabetes is not contagious. “Some kids hear diabetes and they get scared.” There is no way to contract this disease from other people.

November is diabetes awareness month. Let’s help raise awareness by wearing blue on Nov. 14. Eat well, be active and encourage others to do the same. It’s the only way to prevent and stop this disease.

November 2010