What People Actually Mean When They Say Someone Is Exotic

“Exotic” is a beautiful-looking word (That sexy X! That cute lil’ C!) that often describes beautiful things: An exotic bird. A beach house on an exotic shore…the kind you can only reach via a small plane, a ferry, a secret password and more money than any of us makes in two years. Things that are exotic are foreign, different and often, alluringly unknowable. So. Can a person be exotic, too?

Credit: Google

It’s a question many Latinas are confronted with when the word — a word used to describe weird birds and faraway beaches — is used to define us, too. Latinos are, and have long been, an integral part of U.S. culture and history. We’re American. America is us. And yet we continue to be very much an “other” in the eyes of our non-Latino pals, as many of us who’ve partaken in such quintessentially capital-W White activities (e.g. drinking #PSLs or talking back to a parent) will tell you.

Is it that some of us look exotic? What would that even entail? What’s the metric that features commonly branded as “Latina,” be it olive skin or full eyebrows or a curvy figure, are being measured against?

Is it the accent? Some of us have one, for sure. Maybe our L’s are a lingered on a little longer, our R’s slightly more curled and pronounced. Is that exotic? And if so, for whom?

Credit: ABC / Giphy

The idea of exoticness is, I think we can agree, meant to signal something positive, alluring, maybe even a little sexy and adventurous. There’s the thrill of being presented with something new and different, a mystery you’d like to solve. But many stereotypes based on the very best of intentions and praise can fall flat when it comes to truly understanding any group of people as just that: People.

Nothing drives this home as succinctly as the top definitions for the term on Urban Dictionary, that time-honored barometer of cultural zeitgeists:

Then there’s the added reality that Latinas also occupy a very defined space in a particular industry: Porn. To wit:

Credit: Google

Kind of adds an additional little spin on the term’s cultural currency on the internet, no?

To that end, I asked fellow Latinas on Twitter to weigh in on the term, if they wanted. Here’s what they had to say:

Credit: Twitter / @katbee
Credit: Twitter / meligrosa
Credit: Twitter / @ameliaabreu

But what do you think of the term? Love it? Hate it? Think it’s a great word as long as it describes weird birds and faraway beaches? Tell us; we wanna know.

READ: These #LatinasAreNot Tweets Slays Stereotypes Perfectly

So, what are your thoughts on the term “exotic”? Share them below!

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