Judith Ortiz Cofer

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What is the thesis statement of the article "The Myth of the Latin Woman"?

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A thesis statement for Judith Ortiz Cofer’s article “The Myth of the Latin Women” could be expressed like this: The author is the product of a Latin American culture which is continually misinterpreted, misunderstood, and reduced to stereotypes by the mainstream culture of the West.

The majority of the article is taken up with examples of this misunderstanding and stereotyping, beginning with a British man who drunkenly serenaded the author with a song from West Side Story on a bus while she was spending the summer studying at Oxford. Even in a foreign country, while studying at a prestigious university, the Latin American stereotype had followed her.

The author gives numerous instances of times when her style of dress has been misinterpreted or regarded as inappropriate. At her high school Career Day, students were told to come dressed for a job interview. However, Cofer writes:

It quickly became obvious that to the barrio girls, "dressing up" sometimes meant wearing ornate jewelry and clothing that would be more appropriate (by mainstream standards) for the company Christmas party than as daily office attire.

The flamboyant and colorful style of dress which was normal in Latin American culture was regularly misinterpreted “as a come-on” by employers and men on the street. The image of the Latin woman as a “sexual firebrand” is also used by advertisers, further embedding the idea in mainstream culture and increasing the stereotyping and harassment faced by Cofer and women in her community. Although Cofer has been luckier than most, she has still been subjected to frequent stereotyping, including being mistaken for a waitress at her first public poetry reading. She writes that:

Every time I give a reading, I hope the stories I tell, the dreams and fears I examine in my work, can achieve some universal truth which will get my audience past the particulars of my skin color, my accent, or my clothes.

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I think the thesis statement for this article could be encapsulated in the phrase “you can take the girl out of Latin America, but you can’t take the Latin American out of the girl.” It’s a stereotypical phrase, but Cofer’s intention in this essay is to show that the culture of a very rich and familial nation like Latin America is very hard to be rid of, even when coming to a new country.

Cofer analyzes some of the ways in which this can be difficult or cause culture shock for some of these people when they come to America. One particular way that this happens is with dress and relational norms. It is common for people to date relatively young and also to wear bright colors and more revealing clothing due to the culture and to the heat of their native islands. This can lead them to be categorized as promiscuous when it is more of a cultural difference that is difficult to shed for the people who immigrate to the United States.

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The essay "The Myth of the Latin Woman" is a powerful statement addressing stereotypes placed on Latin women, focusing especially on the Puerto Rican girls Judith Ortiz Cofer grew up with.

This essay discusses the way Latin women are perceived by mainstream American culture in depth. As an example, Ortiz Cofer analyzes the difference in dress. She talks about why girls dressed differently in Puerto Rico and what it was like to be judged and questioned for this in the United States.

She also talks about some of the central stereotypes that are put on Latin women, especially by the media. Latinas are often sexualized and presented as the "fiery lover," or else they are reduced to a domestic worker who can hardly speak English.

You could pull a few different thesis statements from this piece. One way to think through this is to ask yourself, "What is Ortiz trying to say here?"

I think one theme of her essay is that "Latina women deal with these stereotypes all their lives." She is trying to show what she has overcome and share her experience of being different with the reader.

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I think Cofer's own thesis statement comes at the end of the essay's first paragraph:

you can leave the Island, master the English language, and travel as far as you can, but if you are a Latina, especially one like me who so obviously belongs to Rita Moreno's gene pool, the Island travels with you.

She argues that depictions of Latinas in mainstream (i.e., white) American culture convey the idea that Latin women are either sexual objects or servants, and she says that a fundamental misunderstanding of Latin cultural values and customs is largely to blame. Therefore, I think a good thesis might read as follows: Judith Ortiz Cofer argues in her essay "The Myth of the Latin Woman: I Just Met a Girl Named Maria" that myths concerning Latinas pervade mainstream American culture as a result of a critical misunderstanding of Latinx cultures and their values.

You can then analyze, for example, the anecdotal evidence Cofer provides regarding the more provocative clothing often worn by Latinas as a result of the protection they are afforded "on the island" by the laws of a "Spanish/Catholic system of morality and machismo whose main rule was: You may look at my sister, but if you touch her I will kill you." Further, the hotter climate means that smaller items of clothing are more practical for staying cool. In the United States, bright colors and visible skin are often perceived as invitations for sexual advances (which, actually, says something pretty huge about rape culture in this country—another potential thesis and essay topic).

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