27 and a PhD

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Monthly Archives: October 2012

Oh!? But you’re white, how come ?? You’re a latina!?

  • Note: this post is not going to contain elegant words. It’s sort of a rant, and if you know me in the flesh, you know I swear like a sailor. So, if you’re too sensitive and get all red-faced when you see swear words, go elsewhere. Thanks


Yeah, that. That comment. It makes my blood boil, or as Dr. Isis puts it, my ass twitch. Who the heck has authority to proclaim that someone is (or isn’t) black/latino/asian/martian/etc enough based only on the colour of their skin (or whether or not they have an accent). The fuck??

Growing up I never gave much importance to the colour (or better yet, shade!) of my skin. My mom and my dad both had fair, wavy hair growing up and so did I. In fact, my dad’s old high school English teacher used to call me Shirley Temple because she liked how my wavy hair bounced like hers, and it even had a similar shade. Today, my hair is dark brown (not black! dark brown) and people don’t seem to believe this is possible (same with my parent’s hair).

My culture is a mix, a blend of sabores and races. It has been for a long time. There are many different aspects of my culture, each one honouring the blend, the mix that has brought us here. Spanish is my mother tongue, and I’m not shy about that. Swearing in Spanish is one of the most beautiful things on God’s green earth, ¡coño!

I had friends of all colours and shapes growing up, Spanish and our heritage was behind us all, a uniting force. I was never aware of how different I was from the “true” white people, never. I lived a sheltered existence.

Then the time to apply for college and grad schools and scholarships came. I marked the white box if there was no other one where I’d fit when the applications and forms came in. If I saw Hispanic or Latino, then I’d mark it. No one questioned this, they were aware of the blend.

I never truly labelled myself white until I was faced with the issue in grad school, sitting around so many different faces and backgrounds. People would come to me and ask where I was from, or what my background was because, “I looked white, but there’s something else in you.” I’d answer, I’m latina, a “white latina” if you would. They’d act surprised. Wait a second! White latinos? The fuck?? What is that??

What many of my peers in the South, and elsewhere, really, didn’t appreciate was that latinos have influences from many, many cultures. There were lots of migration events going on in the different countries. Did you know that one of Peru’s former presidents is a first generation Japanese-Peruvian? (not that I agree with his policies, but to give you an idea of the vast blend of people we are). Or that there was a migration of Italians and Spaniards to many countries of Latin America, including the Caribbean and Argentina? There were also immigrants from Poland and Croatia and one of my good Twitter friends discovered that our great-great-great grandparents were born somewhere in Dubrovnik. I also have middle eastern and lots of Mediterranean in me. My family is of all colours and shapes, with small noses and big ones, with deep brown eyes and green eyes too.

I do not appreciate the remarks on my skin colour (or lack thereof). I burn easily and I burn red, I don’t tan. I have freckles and my hair has had its bouts of red-ish hues. I’m proud of my heritage, my family and the blend that has made me who I am. But just because I do not conform to whatever view Hollywood or whoever has given you of what a latino/a should look like, doesn’t make me any less latina. It does not erase the fact that my family and I have fought hard to get to where we are and it does not diminish the pain that’s been inflicted because of racism, even when some of us have “lighter” skin.

I remember going out with a guy in college who remarked that he’d like to marry someone like me, because I didn’t look like your average latina, I was “white” and had dark hair, so I was unlike him and he liked that and he hoped our kids would look like me and not him (this was a guy with a similar cultural background, so even in our culture, we want to whiten things up so that we blend in with this ideal of the “white” person, the “white” latino, who’s still a latino, only he/she has whitened things up, has tamed down their voice and ideas, is more submissive and blends well with the background).

This is what I wake up with every day, what I see on the street, even in NYC, the melting pot. I’ve had to face men making comments on how I don’t look latina enough and that’s a good thing (apparently, to them) and from hair stylists who remark on my hair and how “easy” it is to deal with it, not the messy, dry, “latina” hair that some have. Some people have remarked on how I’m not loud as many latinos (ha! they’re so cute in their ignorance) and lookie! I’ve got a PhD and no kids! That’s something that not many latinas get to do!!!


I’m a human being, a woman, a daughter, auntie, girlfriend. I’m a scientist, I’m passionate about photography and structural biology. I like to read, to travel, to eat, drink and be merry. Those are labels I like, labels I approve, labels I’m OK with. I’m tired of being perceived as the token latina, or worse, of not being considered latina enough because of some misconception about what shade of white or brown my skin can be. Latinos come in all shapes and colours, in all heights and religious beliefs. There are black latinos, white latinos, japanese-peruvian and half italian. At the end of the day, we’re all latinos and damn proud of it. And we must take a stand to try to stop prejudice, to show how proud we are of who we are and to embrace whatever skin colour and physical traits we have. We’re different and beautiful and don’t just come in one standard size and shape. We can be black, or white or in-between … and that’s all OK.

And to finish it all up, this all got me started thanks to Dr. Isis. Here’s my favourite part of her entry:

“So, perhaps Princess Sofia wasn’t intended to be the first Latina princess and our conflict is reflected in our community’s desperation to see images that its youth can identify with. Maybe she was just intended to have a little bit of sabor. Or perhaps she is intended to be Latina. I don’t know and I am sure that there are people smarter than me that can dissect this issue down to its smallest bits.  What as made my ass twitch from the beginning is the way that it all started – with a blogger asking, “Why is her mother’s skin darker.”

Wht the hell kind of fucked up question is that?

Seriously, those kinds of questions get me lit.  As a woman from a multi-cultural family, I got these sorts of questions on a regular basis growing up.  I’ve got pretty much the same coloring as Princess Sofia, but I have a younger sister who looked like Dora the Explorer as a girl.  She’s 14 years younger than me and I frequently surprised her and picked her up from daycare when I was home from college.  Every time it was the same damned thing.  I would tell the fine folks that “I am her older sister and should have a note letting you know that I would be picking her up today” and they would reply, “Hold on a minute.  We’re going to need to check her folder and we’re going to need to see some ID.”  Even after all of the checking, I still got the behind-the-back stink eye as I walked my little brown sister to the car.  That “something just isn’t right” look. ”

I guess I was wrong

Due to money constraints, I thought I would not be able to attend a conference or a workshop this year. Earlier in the year I went to a workshop a few hours away which was super informative and a great place to network. That resulted in visits from a couple of applications/engineering people who helped a lot with one of our renegade instruments. That beast had been tamed somewhat.

Then my boss and supervisor had a budget meeting and turns out there’s money left to go somewhere, not too far, but still. So, by the end of this month I’ll be flying away from NYC to attend a little conference in my field. I have nothing to present, which is both good and bad. I’m going into new turf and will be talking to peeps who do this thing I do in the lab but which I’m still new at (and apparently the only one right now to do it in my division), so I’m looking forward to getting pointers from more senior people in the field. This was a totally unexpected and very welcomed surprise. I hope to make new contacts and maybe get in contact with a couple of corporate people too. I guess I gave up too soon on the traveling to a conference (however small).

Hon was here for 2 weeks. It was bliss. We went down to DC to celebrate 7 years of being together and we loved it. I apologize for not getting in contact with of you lovely DC tweeps, but we had a little over 30 hours to do some tourism in the area and felt it would have been too short on you to make it memorable. I hope we can go back for a little longer some other time. Hon is still looking for work. I’m also keeping my eyes open for any opportunities that arise at home. I miss my hon, and I want to be near him once and for all.

The air is getting chillier. I’m not looking forward to a bad winter, though I suspect this will be. Bummer.

I’m liking the new place and my roommates. The apartment is homier and I get to interact with the roommates more than I did with my previous one. I’m finally getting used to the new place and settling into a routine. Things seem more normal.

Science-wise, there are lots of projects going on and I’m trying to keep my head straight. Been doing lots of data collection, lots of samples and learning lots too. It’s incredible how much I’ve learned in a year as a staff scientist compared to being a postdoc stuck in a rut. Don’t get me wrong, doing the postdoc taught me many things, but mostly about me and my limits. In this lab I’m learning tons technique- and science-wise.

What’s new with you?

Is this enough? Can I still blog? Anyone out there?

It feels like it’s been forever since I last wrote something with some substance. Other than sharing some links of some of the places I’ve been, I feel tired. Even after going back to my medicine, I still feel overwhelmed by life and work. There are lots of things going on at work, many projects, much testing of instruments, lots of data to collect and process, seminars, webinars, workshops, etc. I’ve definitely neglected the blog, though I try to write something every week, a promise I made as part of my resolutions for this year. One of the things that pains me the most is that I’ve been missing the wonderful and informative discussions on Twitter. I still don’t know how come I get new followers every day, especially when I’ve been tweeting and sharing less and less. In part, I feel overwhelmed, both by the good and the bad of science and life. Has this ever happened to you? I’m reading blogs even less. I’m sorry for that. I guess I have internet overload. And I’ve had it for a while. Also, I feel like I’m out of ideas/topics to write about. Everyone I follow and know seems to write things much more eloquently than I can … or at least that’s my perception. It’s hard to juggle life, science and my online persona at times.

Honey spent a few days with me. It was awesome. We got to celebrate 7 years together by going to DC for a weekend. My apologies for not contacting anyone in the DC area. We only spent a little over 24hrs there and wanted to make the most out of it. It was awesome. I’d been in DC for a day earlier in the year and I definitely enjoyed the vibe of the city. Though the subway system is fantastic, it was ouch-tastic compared to NYC. Seriously, 14$ for a 1 day pass? And pay by distance may seem great, but in NYC I can take a bus and/or subway and ride from Queens to Coney Island for 2.25$. Granted, the systems is much cleaner/better kept, but still. It was awesome. We went to a few museums, ate yummy food, stopped by the Eastern Market on Sunday, which we greatly enjoyed. In NYC we walked tons, ate tons, and laughed even more. I miss living with my honey, I miss his touch, his smell, his sense of humour, his smile, and how he takes care of me. I just want him to find a job, a good job where he can grow and use his talents and see if we can be together at last.

I got an email yesterday from someone from the HuffPo … they wanted me to participate in this panel. Nothing ever materialized, but it was nice (if is was indeed from the HP) to reach out and try to get me out of my job shell for a little bit. It’s nice to see that people in different areas read what you write and find that you may have something to contribute to an even larger audience.

Finally, my phone died. I’ve hate the piece of shite since I first got it. It’s been a pain in the ass and I’ve saved enough money to get me some shiny piece of technology that it’s worth my time and money (hopefully). I’m finally purchasing my first piece of Apple technology. Yes, I know, incredible. I’d been resisting Apple until I started in my postdoc lab, which was full of Macs. I guess I had to learn UNIX/Linux to fully appreciate Apple. Though I’m not an expert by any means, I find that the phone I’m getting is in tune with my needs, more so than my current choice. So we’ll see how this goes. In the meantime, I still have to survive with my piece of crap for a few more days.

For now, that’s it. I just had to get some things off my chest. At times I’ve gotten so discouraged by the internet overload that I’ve felt like everything I have to say has been said, and that maybe I should hang the blogging gloves once and for all. Let’s see what it takes to get me inspired and on track. Have you ever been in a blogging/Twitter funk? What got you back into the rhythm of things? Any advice?