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The Economist's chili pepper cover gets Hispanic Americans all wrong

This week's issue of the Economist reduces the vast diversity of Hispanic Americans to a single fruit: chili peppers.

(The Economist)

The Economist's intentions here are, in fairness, well-meaning: the magazine wants to characterize Hispanic Americans as people who are "firing up" the economy, and, since chili peppers originate from Central America, the spicy fruit was seemingly a good metaphor to do that.

But by representing Latinos and Latinas through a particular spicy food, the Economist is buying into offensive stereotypes and inadvertently minimizing a diverse group of people in the US. Chili peppers are typically associated with Central American and especially Mexican cuisine — but not all of Latin America, where cultures, food, and even languages vary. And many Hispanic Americans, including those of Mexican origin, may have no cultural or personal attachment to the country their parents or grandparents came from.

On social media, many people took to Twitter to voice their disapproval of the cover image:

The Economist has not responded to Vox's request for comment.

The cover helps perpetuate a pervasive stereotype against a diverse group of people

Venezuelan protesters

People march in Caracas, Venezuela. (Leo Ramirez/AFP via Getty Images)

As a Latino American, I was personally offended by the cover because my own identity has nothing to do with chili peppers or Mexican food. I was born in Venezuela, but I moved to the US when I was six years old. And if you ask me how I identify, I will almost never say Venezuelan — I am American.

But I can't even begin to count the number of times I have been referred to not even as Venezuelan, but as Mexican, or as being from a country I have never visited. My teenage years were filled with racist jokes and references about sneaking over the border and particularly offensive stereotypes about food. One of the most common racial slurs I heard — beaner — is an explicit reference to the popularity of beans in Mexican food culture.

This is like reducing American culture to hamburgers and french fries

The limited sense of identity I still have to my country of birth has nothing to do with Mexican dishes. It has to do with my family, music, TV shows, the country's troubled politics, and the daily sights of poverty and crime in Venezuela that shaped my worldview and gave me a deep appreciation for the blessings I have in the US. Food is just one aspect of Venezuelan culture — and, when I think of it, I imagine arepas and empanadas, not tacos, burritos, or chili peppers.

This is comparable to stripping American culture of Hollywood, rock 'n' roll, hip-hop, the politics of Republicans and Democrats, the vast ethnic and racial diversity of its people, and so much more — and reducing it to hamburgers and french fries.

I would guess many Hispanic Americans, Venezuelans, Colombians, Argentinians, and Mexicans feel the same way. Yet all too often, members of the media genuinely seem to not understand why depicting a diverse group of people through pictures of spicy foods is offensive and inappropriate.

Ironically, the diversity of Hispanic Americans is acknowledged in the Economist's special report on the rise of Latinos in the US, but unfortunately many people who would otherwise be receptive to this type of analysis probably won't get through the prejudiced cover art. The report, for example, notes that the population growth among Mexican Americans is driven mostly by births, not immigration, and that people of Mexican origin made up about 64 percent of the US's Hispanic population in 2013. And the overall analysis is actually very supportive of Hispanic immigrants, who are far too often maligned in American politics through explicit and implicit racism.

If only the Economist's artwork reflected the same diversity and understanding.

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