BY ESTHER J. CEPEDA, Washington Post Writers Group
CHICAGO -- A word about Mitt Romney's
fruit preferences: Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
Confused? I was too when people started posting virtual smirks on social media
about Mitt Romney, papaya, and how in the Cuban-American community, the fruit’s
name is slang for vagina.
While Romney was campaigning in Florida last week, he did a radio interview on
Miami's Radio Mambí, a station with a large Cuban refugee listenership. The
show’s host asked Romney: “They’re waiting for you with a mamey and a guayaba
-- Cuban fruits -- here in Miami, do you like those?”
In the recording of the interview – the website Mediaite posted it and others
have linked to the audio snippet -- Romney replies: “I am a big fan of mango,
papaya and guava.” You hear some chuckles from the host and a translator and
then Romney's answer is restated in Spanish without mentioning the papaya. The
host then adds, “There are mangoes there too.”
This, supposedly, is “Romney’s latest gaffe,” “Papayagate” and, yes, “The
Papaya Monologues” as the incident has been dubbed by bloggers, social media
pilers-on, and anyone else with the ability to “publish” on the Web and a
12-year-old’s naughty instinct to see the word “vagina” in print.
Give. Me. A. Break.
First, let me say that cultural awareness and respect should be a top value
that everyone -- and not least for a political candidate hoping to become a
national leader -- should strive for. But c’mon.
I hate to jump to the defense of politicians because they never fail to
eventually disappoint, but multicultural me is with Romney on this one: After
years of living in Hispanic communities, reporting on them, and maintaining
relationships with people representing all of Latin America’s diversity, this
is the first time I’ve ever heard that, to Cubans, “papaya” is slang for lady
I’m not alone in my ignorance. As the Latino Rebels blog pointed out: “From
Mediate to Salon to NyMag to Jezebel, there is now this shocking revelation
that Romney told the mostly Cuban exile listeners of Radio Mambí in Miami that
he likes vaginas because to some Cubans (but not all), that is what a papaya
means.” But even they criticized Romney for not knowing this double-entendre.
That’s not fair. Fault the guy for his policies, fault him for his pandering,
but you can’t really fault him or his staff for not being aware of all the
linguistic nuances of every single racial, ethnic, geographic or special
interest group in America and beyond.
This would be a healthier country if we could replace some snark with A’s for
effort -- even if Romney’s outreach is falling flat, he’s trying. But the
present-day adage “Haters gonna hate” is all too appropriate in this case.
Romney's detractors would have ripped him if he’d done no Spanish-language
community outreach in Florida or if he had spread his message in flawless
Spanish without any figures of speech that could have been misinterpreted.
Either way, the snickering about Romney’s professed love of "papayas"
says more about Americans’ maturity level than about candidate Romney.
Esther J. Cepeda's
e-mail address is estherjcepeda(at)washpost.com