Stereotypes and Honey Boo-Boo

A conversation I had with Aaron this past weekend got me thinking. And a question just posed by my host mom got me really thinking. What about?… Stereotypes. We have all heard about (and possibly thought/think) about some of the common stereotypes in reference to Latin Americans: dirty, lazy and illegal to name a few. You may not believe in these inaccurate and offensive stereotypes, but they are all around us. Even some our politicians use similar jargon to rally the public behind immigration “reform.” But what happens if we flip the stereotype around? How do people view us, Americans in a foreign land?

For starters, I cannot tell you how many Nicaraguans I have spoken with assume everyone in America is rich. They believe the McMansions on TV shows are what every American lives in because that is all they see. In a similar stride, tonight as I was watching TV with my host family, a commercial appeared about Honey Boo-Boo (for those of you uneducated about Honey Boo-Boo like myself, she is a TLC child star most famous for her show Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo). The commercial says something along the lines of “Honey Boo-Boo, part of America’s next First Family.” My host mom proceeded to ask me if Honey Boo-Boo and Co. will be indeed taking the Obama’s place in the White House. I laughed because it seemed absurd, impossible, ridiculous! Yet, some people may actually believe this junk because it is all they are exposed to. Wouldn’t you?

When talking to Aaron, we admitted to buying into similar stereotypes about other cultures. I always assumed Chinese food was beef and broccoli and eggrolls. It’s not. I also thought Mexico was dusty, flat and empty, as it is often portrayed in movies. Wrong again! I did not have exposure, and made incorrect assumptions. Unfortunately, many people go their whole lives believing stereotypes because that is all they see. Or, they may have had one negative experience with something or someone that influences their opinion on that group for years to come (for example, some Nica’s really dislike all Americans because of our involvement in the Nicaraguan revolution over 30 years ago). So now, as an ambassador of the United States, I am actively trying to correct some of those stereotypes by projecting myself as a responsible and polite human being. Though some people may have their minds made up about me and the country I am from, there are always those open to the new truths- my host mom wants to tell practically everyone she sees not all Americans live in luxury, she is amazed! But, raising people’s awareness is not just important in countries like Nicaragua or Kenya. I’m sure there are some Gettysburg folk that believe all Gettysburg students are heavy drinking, destructive party animals (yes, some are, but many are not!). For me, this experience is as much about working with the two organizations as it is about breaking down some of the erroneous stereotypes.

Mary Maloney
León, Nicaragua