I Found a Job That Honored My Latina Voice — and Was Instantly Tokenized

Despite a rising interest in Latinx culture, white media gatekeepers continue to sensationalize our stories

Jessica Hoppe
GEN
Published in
11 min readFeb 20, 2020

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Latinx writers after meeting with publishing executives to protest the novel “American Dirt.” Photo: Laura Bonilla Cal/Getty Images

ByBy the summer of 2017, Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito” remix featuring Justin Bieber had become the top song in the country. While it was already a hit pre-Bieber, Justin’s auto-tuned Spanglish brought the song into the consciousness of many Americans, qualifying a predominantly Spanish-language song as “mainstream,” i.e. not only digestible but desirable to the wider American public. No small feat.

I was at a popular lounge in New York City when a DJ played the record. A woman sitting at the neighboring banquette, partying with her daughter and friends, reached for my arm, bending my ear to her lips. “I love watching you dance,” she spat, “Your people are so fun.”

Interest isn’t translating to opportunity for us, it’s just further commodifying our culture.

Growing up in a predominantly white town, I often confused fetishization for flattery. I wanted to fit in no matter the cost. As a grown woman living in New York City — one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world — still finding myself the object of a Midwestern tourist’s entertainment felt like depredation of my dignity. The cultural trend toward inclusion shone a spotlight on the Latinx experience, with eager capitalists preying upon bland curiosities. Unfortunately, as is the case with American Dirt, a narco novela written by a suddenly Puerto Rican-identifying white woman meant to transform the humanitarian crisis at the border into a parable for white readers, the calculated exploitation of a trend in market share poses a real threat to Latinx people like me. Interest isn’t translating to opportunity for us, it’s just further commodifying our culture. Diversity is leveraged as an asset to the dominant class — entertainment for white audiences and a social service for people of color.

As a freelance writer, there aren’t many jobs that come to you. Each one is hard-won. After years of independently contracting my words, I was accustomed to the landscape of freelance. I’d also grown…

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Jessica Hoppe
GEN
Writer for

New York based-writer and creator of @nuevayorka. Work featured in The New York Times, Paper, Vogue, and elsewhere.