I want to tell you a little bit about Sofia Vergara.
The successful actress, model, producer and comedian was born in Barranquilla, Colombia in 1972 to a housewife and cattle producer. She was discovered by a photographer while walking on a beach and decided to pursue a career in modeling instead of dentistry. She made her first appearance as a performer at the age of 17 in a Pepsi commercial.
During the 90’s, when violence in Colombia became too much to handle, Vergara moved to Miami and brought her family with her. Her older brother was murdered during this time. All this while still balancing her career and raising her son, Manolo, born when she was 18. Her career in the United States didn’t immediately take off, but when it did, all kinds of endorsements and opportunities to appear on television shows as a co-host, guest appearances, as well as swimsuit calendars and posters became a reality.
While in the United States, Vergara did not put a hold on her dreams. She continued to grow and appear in various shows and movies. Even after her younger brother was deported back to Colombia, Vergara continued to push herself and her family. She even recruited them to participate in a head and shoulders campaign. Vergara launched her own affordable clothing line designed to fit women of different shapes and sizes. Most recently, she designed jewelry and also co-founded LatinWe a firm used by Hollywood producers to search for Latino talent. This firm has now become a multibillion dollar empire rooted in Vergara’s own immigration story and struggle to make herself known while recently arrived in the United States. She is now paving the way for Latino rising stars to also make a name for themselves.
Sofia Vergara’s story is one of pain, struggle and success. She has created opportunities that didn’t exist before while ensuring a space for herself among other big names. As a former young mother and Latina, it is amazing to see how far she has gone and what she has left to accomplish. However, what is not amazing, is the way she was put on display at the Emmy’s.
As a Colombian woman, I first hand know the stereotypes associated with my country of origin. Growing up, Colombian women are treated as pieces of meat. We’re supposed to fit a certain body type and you can literally see others fetishizing you once they know you’re Colombian. Colombian women are supposed to be the most beautiful and most sexy. Even Colombian mannequins have large breasts and butts. Being considered beautiful isn’t a bad thing, it becomes bad when you are dehumanized, belittled and only valued by your looks. It becomes a bad thing when we use this standard to measure others. A stereotype. This consumption of our existence isn’t new, not for women of color, not for Latinas and not for Black women. The displaying of women dates back to Saartjie Baartman.
Watching Vergara rotate on a pedestal, like an object or chicken being roasted, rubbed me in all the wrong places from the Emmy’s being a white dominated space to the person displaying her being a man. Despite her accomplishments, she is reduced to being a statute, only nice to look at.
Vergara’s response was for us to “lighten up a bit” since she was in on the joke. The thing is, in order to be accepted by Hollywood, Vergara has had to do everything from dying her hair to appear “more Latina” to overexaggerating her accent for laughs. We are always the punch line to jokes or stereotypes. We are always suppose to laugh along while being reduced to nothing. We are always suppose to welcome abusive behavior and brush it off as “funny”.
This behavior isn’t limited to the Emmy’s. For centuries, women of color have been treated as fantasy objects. Blow up dolls who serve only one specific purpose. Our bodies are constantly put on display and degraded while dancing, walking down the street or existing in our homes. Nowhere is safe from the greedy fetishizing gaze and hands that have attacked our bodies for years. Seeing it play out on TV is supposed to be a reminder of where our place and role is.
From one Colombian woman to another, I’m happy at Vergara’s accomplishments. I’m proud to share an amazing culture with her and watch as she challenges herself. There’s a difference between being empowered in your own body and it being used. Here’s to hoping that one day we are valued as human beings.