The Romney gaffe that wasn’t
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 parts.
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 Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is email@example.com.