Opinion: With Schwarzenegger’s Housekeeper, the Latina Spitfire Stereotype Strikes Again

The Latina spitfire stereotype strikes again:

When TMZ reported yesterday that the physical relationship between Arnold Schwarzenegger and his immigrant housekeeper started when Mildred Patricia Baena began to “pursue” her boss, the then-movie star and future California governor, in the early 90s, the news spread fast. Countless outlets accepted the story on face value, displaying large, color images of Schwarzenegger’s “identified mistress” and their son’s blurred face.

(SLIDESHOW: Celebrities Who Had Affairs With Their Employees)

The media and blogosphere were quick to issue Baena the scarlet letter, calling her a “hot-to-trot housekeeper” (the New York Post) who “bragged” about having unprotected sex with the former governor (TMZ).

But why isn’t anybody talking about the obvious power dynamic in place here?

Arnold Schwarzenegger was the governor of California until January of this year. In his role as commander-in-chief of the United States’ most populated state, he managed multi-billion dollar budgets, signed (and blocked) major legislation, and presided over the California national guard. Baena, an immigrant from Guatemala, worked in the Schwarzenegger/Shriver household for 20 years, managing domestic duties like laundry, cleaning, and preparing meals.

Why didn’t TMZ mention that Schwarzenegger was accused of sexually harassing at least six different women over the span of 25 years in a 2003 lawsuit? Does it not occur to anyone that a man worth millions and his immigrant employee can never be on equal ground? First reports were that Baena had retired this year—but those have recently been called into question, with other accounts saying she was fired in a bid to save the Governator’s marriage. Of course, all of this is simply alleged, since none of the sources on either side are named.

What if Baena felt her job was on the line if she didn’t respond Schwarzenegger’s advances? What if Schwarzenegger threatened or coerced her into the relationship? Only two people, at this point, really know the answers to these questions.

Meanwhile, the word is out. Schwarzenegger can always make another Terminator film or find a way to laugh off his womanizer ways. But Baena is likely to carry the brand of this scandal for the rest of her life. (Much like Monica Lewinsky before her, who interestingly enough, happens to be half El Salvadoran).

And this brand will likely trickle down to her (and Schwarzenegger’s) son. Already, Baena’s family pictures are all over the Internet (including a photo of a tiny baby on his back in a diaper, grabbing his toes—with his face blurred like a perp). Though TMZ and others blurred the boy’s face, a quick Google search yielded plenty of original pictures. Not that the search was necessary. The 14-year-old boy’s friends and peers can also easily identify him from his mother’s picture.

But I guess they deserved it, right?

Michelle Herrera Mulligan is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn. She co-edited "Border-Line Personalities: A New Generation of Latinas Dish on Sex, Sass and Cultural Shifting" and blogs at michelleherreramulligan.com.

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