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The Famous Cactus Stereotype in Mexican Culture

At Cal State San Bernardino, a painting hangs on the wall. The plaque underneath it reads, “Nopal” by Cinthia Gomez. There is no description that explains the meaning behind the painting, so I am assuming that it is up for interpretation.

For those who don’t know, the word “nopal” means “cactus” and there is a famous saying among us Mexicans, “con el nopal en la frente,” which translates to “with the cactus on the forehead.”

When I first saw the painting, my initial thought was about stereotypes or the pressure of being part of a stereotype. The phrase “with the cactus on your forehead” is usually said to Mexicans who “look Mexican” (Mexicans who have brown skin), and is sometimes used to invalidate Mexicans who don’t act the way they’re “supposed to act.”

As a person with brown skin, there are certain expectations that need to be met. Speak Spanish, read Spanish, write Spanish, and be a good representation of the people.

I have heard that phrase a lot, even from my own family. “Con el nopal en la frente y que no sepa hablar en español,” which means, “they can’t speak Spanish but they have the cactus on their forehead.”

When I look at this beautiful art piece, I see all of that. I see these words written on the painting. “I am not a disgrace and my skin doesn’t define if I am or not.”

I see how the painting speaks for many people who are tired of being judged based on their skin color.

White skinned Mexicans get praised for being able to speak Spanish but brown skinned Mexicans are expected to be able to speak Spanish and this painting screams for that to stop.

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