“Abre Los Hojos” – ​Désirée Zamorano on the dangers of selective perception

A guest post by Désirée Zamorano written during the week of September 26th, 2016.


This week:

  • I participate in a reading series organized for years by a young Chicana poet/activist. The audience, like the readers, is diverse.
  • As I scroll through my Instagram feed I am captivated by the selfies at the PENUSA awards of two Latina authors I know. I smile at their celebration.
  • After class I chat with a Mexican-American mom; her daughter attends my literacy center, at Occidental College. She is a special ed teacher at LA Unified. We catch up.
  • At Cal State Long Beach a student of mine from El Salvador wonders, during class discussion, “What do people see in Trump? Are they uneducated?” Later she comes up to me to ask if she offended the sole Republican in our class.
  • At the bus stop I pick up my housekeeper, originally from Guatemala. We chat about her sons, one in Colorado, one in Georgia.


The week is not yet over, and I’ve interacted with Latin@s of different economic levels, from different countries of origin, and yet of the above examples only one portrayal, alas, is pervasive in the dominant culture.

Some writers rightfully resent being placed by default on the “Diversity Panel.” But diversity, equity and access, is something I revel in exploring with my classes of soon-to-be teachers. In a respectful environment we can peel back the white wash of US history in order to discuss government outrages and connect them to the painful realities of today. I believe and share with these students that in order to make our country better, we must look clearly at the past we have all inherited.

Each time I teach this class I learn something new, from revisiting the assigned readings and from my students and their insights. This semester a phrase that students keep bringing up is “selective perception.

From Wikipedia: Selective perception is the tendency not to notice and more quickly forget stimuli that cause emotional discomfort and contradict our prior beliefs.”

This explains so much to me.

The same selective perception that made the nation at large shudder when Sonia Sotomayor called herself a “wise Latina.” The selective perception of a nation that allows a narcissistic bully to become a presidential candidate.

Selective perception is perhaps the most benign excuse or explanation for limited portrayals of people I know, in print and other media. Or perhaps our blanket invisibility or relegation to hot or subservient roles has something to do with institutional racism. I leave that to you, gentle reader, to decide.

National Hispanic Heritage Month, and months like it, as well as #weneeddiversebooks attempt to redress the selective perception of our culture at large, to display multi-hued lives in their radiant depth and breadth. One of the gifts of teaching diversity is the ability to take a classroom of future teachers and help them examine the lenses that they use to view the world, and to exchange them for something with a wider field.

Back in the classroom in Long Beach:

  • A woman from Mexico, shares in her presentation a memory from elementary school: when she was tested for her English level and properly used the word “shallow” the teacher was offended that people were telling her the answers. (No one had).
  • We, the class and I, are outraged on her behalf.
  • Later, during discussion, another student, whose parents are from Vietnam, connects the intentional destruction of Natives’ languages to her southern California education—where she and her peers lost their home language. We let that sink in.
  • My student from El Salvador presents to the class how she goes back to her small town of origin each December to give the children the celebrations she always dreamed of as a young child.
  • We, the class and I, are so moved.


Each time I sit down to write a novel I have to consider, with whom do I want to spend the creative years of my life? And how is my demographic doing out there in the great (white) world? How visible are the people I interact with day after day, month after month?

Slowly, slowly, aspirational and middle class Latinas are emerging from a national brown out. Class by class, novel by novel, I hope to open eyes to the vibrant world in which we live.

The Amado Women – by Désirée Zamorano

Here’s another great book to read during Latinx Heritage Month, or anytime after! 

Linked by birth, separated by secrets

The Amado Women is the story of four very different women, linked by birth struggling to reconnect.

Mercedes Amado has raised and watched her three daughters grow into women. Celeste, fiercely intelligent and proud, has fled her youth and family in Los Angeles to financial independence in San Jose. Sylvia has immersed herself in the world of her two young daughters, while Nataly, the baby, waits tables in an upscale restaurant by night and works on her textile art by day.

Four women struggle for their piece of the American Dream, but will it evaporate when confronted with family tragedy?

Buy on: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound


About the Author:

Désirée Zamorano‘s latest novel is The Amado Women, a story of four women connected by birth, separated by secrets. She has wrestled with identity over at Publishers Weekly, the Los Angeles Times and NPR’s Latino USA. She is currently looking forward to The New Short Fiction’s dramatizations of four of her short stories with this killer cast: Marina Palmier Gonzalez (Desperate Housewives, The Shield)Sherry Mandujano (Shameless, Telenovela) and Vanessa Suarez (The Adventures of Superseven’s Madame Wasabi).

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11 thoughts on ““Abre Los Hojos” – ​Désirée Zamorano on the dangers of selective perception

  1. I hadn’t heard the perception (slash horrendous stereotype) that Latinx people can’t be skilled, educated, smart, etc. until quite recently – possibly because the UK has a much smaller population of Latinx people than the US does.

    The idea that a non-English language is somehow ‘inferior’ though? That sounds familiar. In the Victorian period, it was decided that the Welsh language made us stupid, dirty, and morally loose (this last was also a result of a misconception around a Welsh courting tradition.)

    As a result, Welsh was banned from schools – any child caught speaking it was made to wear a tag around their neck, and was caned.

    Not that that was the first strike against the language, but it was the most impacting.

    My grandmother’s parents were Welsh speakers – but they would not let any of their children learn it, because they would never ‘get on’ in life if they were Welsh speakers. The verbal tics of a first-language Welsh person would give them away, even if they could speak English, and they would be passed over for jobs, promotions, etc. for speaking their own language in their own country.

    By the time my mother was in school, the language was literally dying and pro-active policies had to be put in place to preserve it. While things are better, the majority here only know a few words of the language of our ancestors.

    Sorry, I’ve gone off on one about Wales again 😉

    But this was a great post – and made some awesome points. When I did Media Studies in school (something which I think everyone should do,) our teacher told us that it’s called representation because you are RE-presenting things. You are taking the things that you see, and repackaging them to show what you want to show. And this post reminded me a lot of that.

    1. What a great connection you make with Wales! And SO many countries intentionally destroyed languages, just look at Spain under Franco’s rule, and what he did to the Basques and Catalunians. Thanks so much for your comments–and one of my chats was titled REpresenting ourselves 🙂

  2. Wow. This is a very powerful post– thank you, Désirée! You make a ton of great points– but I think the most powerful is about selective perception. Sadly, I think that selective perception has been the cause of much miss-learned history. When one group of people, most notably parents and teachers, have selective perception around an idea they educate those around them to what they believe. This can quickly get disseminated among populations, and causes a lot of misunderstandings. In dialogues with my peers around Black Lives Matter I have seen this often. Those who are not black don’t understand the offense of All Lives Matter because selective perception has colored YEARS of American history. It’s quite dangerous, and hard to correct…

    Any ideas on how we can combat selective perception? Even if it’s just something we can do personally?

    1. HI Jackie!
      Thanks so much for your comments, and I’m glad you enjoyed this piece. It’s interesting, in the class I’m currently teaching one of my students confessed to being and “all-lives matter” person, until finding out more about how this country, from its inception, has treated African Americans.
      I think it’s very challenging to combat the selective perception of others. That is why I feel being able to teach the classes I do is such a gift. Where does our area of influence overlap with our area of concern? Those too are the people we can impact. But how?
      I would check out Joel Spring’s Deculturalization and The Struggle for Equality–because he addresses populations missing from Zinn’s iconic works.
      And, of course, we can always work on ourselves. What kind of people do you get along with easily? What kind of people rub you the wrong why?
      Dig a little deeper and ask yourself why.
      Take care!

      1. Thanks for all the insight! I agree that it’s important we start with self-reflection. Your class sounds like a ton of fun. 🙂
        I’ll definitely check out Deculturalization and the Struggle for Equality. Thanks for the recommendation!!

  3. I love all the examples you gave and the stark reminder that only one of them proliferates in our media and culture. Also, that upcoming dramatization sounds wicked!

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