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When intersectionality influences how much you make

September 13, 2021

“Women’s Equality Day” is August 26th, the date selected to commemorate the 1920 certification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote. Obviously, this was not a gift. This was the culmination of a long, civil rights movement carried out by women themselves. 

Women’s Equality Day is a great occasion to reflect on women’s continuing efforts towards full legislative, economic, and political equality. Women in general and Latinas in particular, are still in an underprivileged situation. As of this year, Latinas still make less money than any other demographic. This gap widens for Latinas with higher education levels, according to LeanIn.org

The fact is women get paid less, period.

White women are paid 79 cents for every dollar paid to white men, but this gap is even more significant for most women of color. Black women earn just 63 cents, and Latinas only 55 cents, making it much harder for them to save to weather financial challenges—let alone the economic crisis created by COVID-19.

Latinx have been facing all combinations of racial discrimination, disenfranchisement, educational segregation, and economic hardships. In confronting these challenges, activists

began to organize themselves and their communities. Important figures in this fight for social and political justice are not only men, such as César Chávez but also women, like Dolores Huerta, who both created the United Farm Workers Organization along with other organizers.

Women have come a long way since those days in the ‘60s. Still, Latina workers today face the hurdle of being a double minority (female and Hispanic) to receive a fair salary for their work, let alone achieve success.

The reasons for the Latina economic and political gap are many and complex. To be a Latina in the US is a challenge. It can be a struggle between two identities, two different ways of looking at the world. Some fundamental questions always linger: What does it mean to be a Latina woman? How are we perceived? More importantly, how do we see ourselves?  How can we contribute to change? 

Education is certainly a factor in the salaries that many Latinas earn. Therefore, increasing college graduation rates should increase those salaries over time, leading to better job opportunities going forward. Still, there are many other reasons for the difference in salaries, and they all contribute to slowing the pace toward equality. 

We think there are at least 4 myths that are hurting Latina women in the workplace and in politics:

  •     Calladita te ves más bonita (You’re prettier when you’re quiet)

This is a popular saying in the Spanish language, and it is condescending at best. There is a real gender and racial bias in the workplace, and these types of cultural nuances may discourage Latinas from speaking up, especially in the workplace.  

  •       La mujer tiene que trabajar el doble para ganar la mitad. (A woman has to work twice as much to earn one-half of a man’ salary)

Many Latinx, especially Latinas, believe the myth that they cannot be a motor of change.: A myth rooted in traditional religious beliefs on women being valued by their capacity of sacrifice more than by their intellect.. So they often work harder than anybody else just to get by, thinking this is a fact of life and they have to accept it.  But there are some women, like Sonia Sotomayor or Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, who have proved that they can be necessary and relevant to American society and that women are socially, politically, and economically successful and indeed earn a fair salary.

  •     La mujer es pilar del hogar. (A woman is the rock of the family)

Women are often overrepresented in low-paying jobs and this is especially true among Latina workers who over-index in some of the lowest-paid jobs, such as domestic work, the service industry, and agriculture because they have a more limited access to quality jobs. Employers are not valuing Latinas equally for their contributions: They are stereotyped as only caretakers, and less competent than men; and sadly, as less intelligent, according to leanin.org.

  •     A la tierra que fueres has lo que vieres. (When in Rome, do as the Romans do.)

Another die-hard myth that makes Latinas who come to this country feel their ability to speak another language hurts their mobility. Often as a child growing up in the US, their experience as Spanish speakers was not one of pride but rather one they felt the need to disguise to survive. Moreover, as women, they had to fight systemic racism and lack of infrastructure of support, and they discovered too late that assimilation is not necessarily the path to a better life. 

We already discussed assimilation and how it is hurting Latinas. Added to that, the pandemic hit Latinx harder than any other group. The women were the most affected since they could not work and take care of their families. Just schools closing, for example, meant they had to choose between work and family. 

More than ever, it is time not only to reflect on that question, but to answer it: What does it mean to be a Latina woman? How do we change the mindset that many have when looking at themselves through the lens of “white women”? It is our challenge to shift the “assimilate” mindset to a “growth” mindset. To realise that a home language and an identity of pride is something to hold onto and to build on.

In our podcast, titled Latina representation in positions of power, we talked with Helen Torres, CEO of HOPE (Hispanas Organized for Political Equality). She explained that the best way to achieve sustained equality is for women to change their mindsets.  

If women don’t feel they have a place in their community, they cannot shine. They cannot show the world what great leaders they are. In fact, Latinas have moved steadily forward since the ‘90s. It has been hard work, but it is slowly paying off. Too slowly… Now, in order to build greater infrastructure, we need community effort, Latinas must step up and show up to a better and more inclusive democratic process.

“Women ride on the back of activists that came before them. We all do, men and women. We have to continue paving the way for the future, for next generations.” says Helen Torres.

It takes a village, men AND women working together, to pass legislation to improve the situation of Latinas. Democracy only works when all the people are involved.

Strong women are the pillar of a strong society, not only of their family!  We’re building the foundation of our future because women make up for half of the effort of  giving birth to and raising the future generations.

We are all in this together. No matter if you are a man or a woman, if you are Latinx or not, take a second and think, what are YOU doing to get involved? What can you do to be part of a better future for all in this country?


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