What is it about Latinos that keeps us quiet? When we’re right, we’re afraid of being wrong. Are we lacking a voice? Is it because we're a minority? Is it that our people are too young to embody a sense of authority? Statistically, no. We are multiplying, and we are quickly becoming a population majority in America. Yet, still, our voices continue to scream louder in our minds, or in our homes, rather than where they matter.
“Calladitas se ven mas bonitas" roughly translates into “girls look prettier when they’re quiet.” I was taught this antiquated proverb when I was a little girl. I was a loud child with no inhibitions, but I soon learned to keep quiet. I learned it in my traditional Latino home and my predominantly Latino run school district. Before I knew it, I was shy. In high school, I became the "quiet-but-nice" girl.
The proverb is not gender-specific. I just heard it in feminine conjugation because I am female. However, the proverb is also "calladitos se ven mas bonitos" which translates to "boys look better when they're quiet." So, a whole population, regardless of gender, is subtly taught to maintain a low profile. We don’t gain an active and loud voice for fear of calling the wrong attention. We don’t want to worry about making enemies because we prefer more time to concentrate on what our culture emphasizes: food, music, and familia.
I wrote what you just read shortly after moving out of my parent’s house a few years ago. Yes, I had to edit some, but it’s safe to say I don’t feel that way anymore. Although I don’t feel my voice is oppressed, I do feel my voice has a place. There are contexts that I don’t feel comfortable speaking in because I’m afraid of finding rejection. It’s not that I’m still actively told I look better silenced, rather I’m afraid I will be. I asked other Latinos how they felt about the old proverb.
A young professional Latino in his late-twenties reveals the proverb taught him: there's a time and place. He explains the proverb educates young children about respect and the importance of reading a room. For example, kids look better silently paying their respects at a funeral service instead of giggling. He references an English proverb for comparison, "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." The English proverb suggests children are better when they are kind instead of rude. The comparison between the two proverbs confers both teach children silence. However, the Spanish proverb, unlike the English one, doesn't detail circumstance and exception. Rather, it only concludes a child ought to remain silent.
Another Latino, and father of two girls, feels the Spanish proverb "teaches too much silence instead of promoting a child to speak out." He views the proverb as a double-edged sword. Sure, it teaches, but it also has the potential to teach the wrong notion. What happens when a child is being forced to participate in something that hurts them? Will they speak out or remain silent?
Another person, a recent college graduate Latina, attributed an entire personality trait to the old saying. She feels she went most of her childhood being told to be quiet or being shrugged off. Now, she struggles to speak up. Her comments sparked an observation worth mentioning. Women generally feel more oppressed by the proverb than men do. The observation is made from a discussion with a limited amount of people, but, even in this small sample, there's a consensus among women that men miss-out on.
A study would need to be conducted before it was safe to say that the proverb conditions people to achieve this-or-that, but I found the discussion rewarding.
For me, "calladitos se ven mas bonitos" has too many blurred lines and lacks specificity. As a certified educator, I have read a lot about child development. Knowing what I know about children and their sensitive, absorbent brains, I think the proverb does more harm than good. If the expectation isn't clear enough, if lines aren't drawn sharply enough, and if parameters aren't applied properly, a child will not know the difference. Children test limits, not because they're inherently wicked but because they're inherently curious. A proverb imploring kids to be quiet will teach just that.
In the case of children, or any case, silence is hardly ever the answer. I have spent the past hour trying to conjure up a time where silence reaps the best outcome, but I can't. Secrets are always found-out, refrained comments fester, and abuse can only be stopped if someone knows about it. Maybe it's time to change the proverb. Calladita? No, gracias.