A few years ago, when I was in high school, a teacher told me I was a big flirt. He said this because he watched me allow boys to put their hands on my knee, for one, and didn’t think I was the type of girl who needed this type of validation. He wanted me to continue doing well in school and not be deterred from my goals because I was getting male attention. He wanted that I be taken seriously, appraised for my brain and not for my looks.
Yesterday, at a family gathering, I saw what this teacher didn’t see. A family member, trying to have conversation not only placed his hand on my knee but my thigh and my shoulder and my arm. It was really uncomfortable because today, I am no longer part of this culture where touching is very welcome, I am part of a new culture. I am part of the American culture where this type of touching is considered sexual and taboo.
We learn what is okay and what isn’t from what we see in our own homes. Growing up, touches on the knee were probably ubiquitous and probably, amongst family had not ill intent.
Yes, the boys in high school were likely doing it sexually, but they had learned it from family whereas my teacher, having grown up in suburban America, had not.
But it is perception that matters! Here in America, the women who allow this touching are seen as hussies and they don’t even know it. They don’t realize what they are being called by the American people who watch who also just so happen to hold the power.
What do I mean by power? Who is going to take any overly salacious individual seriously, let alone hire them or provide opportunities for? It is yet another way that we are held back. Akin to institutionalized racism, these sexual people that are Dominican Hispanics are only good for certain opportunities and would not last a day at others.
We are perceived the way we are because Americans were brought up one way and we another. As unfortunate as it is, in order for us to reap all that the land of opportunity has to offer, it is probably required that we assimilate in some ways—that we at least in the presence of Americans, act a certain way, be perceived a certain way, in order to be taken seriously.
There is an additional something to be said here at the worth of women in the eyes of men in these two distinct cultures. The man that was placing his hand on my thigh all afternoon also at one point said “eat more, you are so skinny, if you gained another ten pounds, you would be sought after by everyone, men and women!” I think he saw in my face how odd that was for him to say to me. The thing is that this is what I have experienced women strive for in the Dominican culture, to be sought after. We work hard to create these voluptuous breasts and seats, even if it is just an illusion, all to appeal to men. Sexuality is our currency and the only power we hold. What does it say about Dominican culture that women can only feel they are worth something if we are sexy enough in the eyes of Dominican men?