In the Heights has a curious exchange that’s been bothering me.
A 50ish female character named Daniella (Daphne Rubin-Vega) is moving out of her Washington Heights apartment and has hired movers. But when an overweight mover addresses her as “ma’am,” she barks at him for not addressing her as “Senorita.” He quickly apologizes and says “uhm, sorry’ ma’am…I mean Senorita.”
Like the film itself, Daniella is driven by cultural pride and, one gathers, a certain amount of resentment of Anglo culture, and so her irritation is understood. But my reaction was “whoa, sensitive enough?” The term “ma’am” is, of course, not a slur. In every English-speaking territory throughout the world it conveys deference and respect, and there’s really no debate about this. So why bite the guy’s head off?