‘Don’t let other people tell you what you are and what you’re not’: Anya Taylor-Joy speaking Spanish stirs discussion on TikTok

At the Dior Spring/Summer 2024 show during Paris Fashion Week on Sept. 26, actress Anya Taylor-Joy was seen introducing her husband, Malcolm McRae, in Spanish to singer-songwriter Rosalía and actress Jenna Ortega. Actress Rachel Zegler was also seated next to them.

While Rosalía, who is Hispanic, responded in Spanish, Ortega responded in English — which has since prompted an online discussion surrounding Latino identity and what it means to accurately represent your heritage. Taylor-Joy, who was born to an English-Scottish father and an Anglo-Argentine mother, claims Spanish as her first language.

Latina creators on TikTok have taken to the platform to further discuss the interaction and the ensuing discourse.

“For those who don’t know, Anya Taylor-Joy is of Argentine descent. She lived in Argentina but was born in Miami. Jenna Ortega is…one-third Puerto Rican and three-fourths Mexican [sic], and Rachel Zegler is half German and half Colombian,” Fernanda Cortes (@fernandacortesx) said on Sept. 28. “The only one of those three who is fluent in Spanish is Anya.”

Cortes then referenced a series of tweets in which users criticized Ortega and Zegler for not speaking Spanish, while Taylor-Joy, “the whitest one in Hollywood,” does.

“Going back to the looks thing and how Anya is the most white, I think we’ve established that Latinas can look like this…and everything in between,” she said. “Jenna has said millions and millions of times over how proud she is of being Latina. I haven’t seen Rachel talk about it as often, but she has talked about her Colombian heritage, and the three are doing really big things in Hollywood for representation.”

Deciding whether or not someone is worthy of identifying with their heritage, said Cortes, is not our call to make.

“I just think it’s unfair for a stranger to tell someone else what they are and someone else as to what they should and shouldn’t identify as,” she continued. “Don’t let other people tell you what you are and what you are not, and that’s coming from a Mexicana born and raised in Mexico.”

Critics have also previously criticized Latin Grammy winner Rosalía of “Latino-fishing” and appropriating Latino “genre and aesthetics,” despite actually being Hispanic.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve had to explain to people that Rosalía’s not Latina,” Venezuelan-American music journalist E.R. Puglar told NPR. “It still shocks me. Do you not hear the accent? I don’t know if it’s a lack of [understanding of] geography. I don’t know if it’s the very successful marketing of it all.”

Taylor-Joy, who has previously admitted to being “very wary” of auditioning for Latina roles, has also been embroiled in controversy for identifying as a white Latina. Upon winning a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Miniseries or Motion Picture for TV for “The Queen’s Gambit” in 2021, Variety published a now revised article praising her as “the first woman of color” to win in the category.

A 2012 study by Pew Research Center found that 95% of Latinos believe that future generations should be able to speak Spanish, given that the language is “an important part of Latino culture and identity.”

At the same time, however, “most Latino adults say it is not necessary to speak Spanish to be considered Latino.”

Brittney Garcia Dumas (@brittneygarciadumas) shared a perspective similar to Cortes’s on Sept. 28.

“People are saying Anya is the only one who’s actually Latina representing Latinos because she speaks Spanish. Please listen to me very closely,” she said. “We self-select out of so many opportunities when we tell Latinos who don’t speak Spanish that they cannot be Latino, that they cannot be leaders, that they cannot be helpful, that they cannot be a part of the community. It is hurting us. Someone benefits when we are divided and it’s not us.”

Dumas’s video has garnered mixed responses from other Latino-identifying creators on TikTok.

“They can be part of the community, but how can they lead the community if they don’t speak the language of the community?” @ratatat183 asked.

“If you don’t have the cultural identity nor do you speak the language, then you are not. That’s literally the whole point of calling yourself Latino/a,” @eviecervus also argued.

“We need to be united!! We as a people should not be defined by whether we speak or don’t speak Spanish!” @cindyluwho60 asserted.

Several TikTok creators who identify as Latino or Hispanic, however, seem to be taking control of their narrative regardless of whether they speak Spanish. In a recent trend, users have been “reclaiming” the expression “no sabo” and what it means to be a “no sabo” kid. Not speaking Spanish, they argue, does not make them any less deserving of their heritage.

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