- 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. ”