By Adriana Adarve – Owner of Adarve Translations
I am sure most of us have plenty of things in our dwellings, and even at the office, that contain labels—labels on all sorts of jars, boxes, drawers, books—labels here, labels there, labels everywhere! The use of labels is something that allows us to differentiate and recognize one thing from another. Labels actually simplify our lifestyles and can even help save our lives.
What I find troublesome, though, is when I think of the day when we crossed the barrier of human empathy and compassion and started labeling human beings as well. When we fell into the persistent and damaging habit of using classifications as a means to differentiate and identify people or groups of people. It is something that, according to sociology, many people—mainly the labeled ones, of course—consider as being harmful and hurtful. Some people even consider it a form of prejudice and discrimination.
But why do people need to put other people into categories and differentiate them by way of labels?
Labels are put on people when the majority of the population in a society holds stereotypes—the overly simplified way of thinking about a person, group, etc.—against “other groups” within or outside their own society, thus affecting the way these “other groups” are perceived.
These labels are nothing more than carapaces that hold assumptions, and assumptions are simply an extremely narrow view of the expansiveness and complexity of human beings. Stereotypes, classifications, labels, etc. are then nothing more than suppositions that cloud the true nature of the individuals categorized and differentiated by them.
Even though many societies in the word differentiate the population by putting them in groups, such as “The Black Community,” “The Hispanic Community,” The Jewish Community,” etc. I will just mention here what touches a deep place within me: the group of people who has been labeled as “The Hispanic Community”—a community of which I am supposed to be a member. But why do I say “supposed to be?” Am I not Hispanic then? Not really; personally, I do not consider myself as belonging to one “group” or another. I shed the label and simply consider myself as a human being who happens to have been born and raised in a Spanish-speaking country, but who now lives in an English-speaking country. The same is true, by the way, of the rest of the group of people labeled as “The Hispanic Community.”
Many stereotypes are held concerning people from Latin American countries. Some are really bad, while some others are supposedly “good”: poverty, low-income labor jobs, overly sensual or extremely virginal and submissive women, the Latin lover, and uneducated men and women, due to the fact of some of them not being able to speak fluent English, are just the tip of the iceberg of the labels put on us.
What people who uphold these stereotypes fail to grasp is that they cannot be fully applied to what is called “The Hispanic Community,” just as any other list applied to other groups of people cannot be applied to these groups either. We are all individuals, and as such possess characteristics and ways of doing things that cannot be made to fit into a mold, but that can, at every turn, enrich the world we live in.
The human race is a mixed group of people: the rich and the poor—and all others in between—the educated and uneducated, happy and unhappy, sensual and not so sensual, hard-working and not so hard working, fluent in just one language, or in several or many languages, with many different shades of skin colors, hair textures, body sizes and builds, and more.
No matter who we are, no matter where we come from, no matter what our mother tongue is, our customs, our way of thinking, working, looking at what is important or not in our own personal lives, we are all part of this world. We are all a kaleidoscope of human richness and beauty.
Taking pieces and bits of this richness and putting them inside a box with a label, and using that label to separate us from one another—even if we wrongly think that by putting labels on groups of people we are actually acting out of the goodness of our hearts in order to “help them adjust better” to what we perceive as our ‘perfect’ society—robs us of the richness we are truly here to share. It robs us of our very souls.
How about if we stopped putting labels on one another and started truly treating each other as human beings who have such wealth of values to offer and live by, especially thanks to the different places we come from, our vibrant languages, customs and diverse knowledge?
Adriana Adarve, Asheville, NC
About the Author: Adriana Adarve is the owner of Adarve Translations and is fluent in three languages (English, Spanish & French), as well as pluri-cultural, multi-cultural, plurilingual and multilingual.