The one thing I hate about moving is answering all the questions from the new people surrounding you. “What’s your name?” “Where do you live?” “Where are you from?” “No, where are you really from?”
That last question always gets me because my answer of “x” never suffices. See, most people think I'm white. Especially with a name like “Melissa,” I have been able to "pass" as white all my life.
I am not brown enough to be an actual Mexican or Puerto Rican, apparently. I get “You sound too white to be Latina” or “You talk just like a white girl would!” Telling someone these things, as well as “You don’t look Hispanic” is not a compliment. And it isn’t just non-Latinx people telling me this... the racial/cultural dismissal comes from both non-Latinxs and Latinxs alike.
Moving to Florida led to a mix-up that had me in ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) because my mother wrote we spoke Spanish at home. I was with other Spanish-speakers for the first few months and made quick friends. I was the one with the lightest skin and hair.
ESOL classes weren’t all bad. Although I wanted to die of boredom from the teacher explaining “A is for apple. You know it as manzana.” But my friends were there and we all could speak Spanish. Then I took the test to get me out of ESOL classes and passed with flying colors, which bumped me to honors classes. My classmates were thrilled for me and even threw me a “good luck” party. I found the pencil my teacher gave me when I was cleaning out my bedroom before moving to New Zealand.
Things changed quickly though. I made new friends in these honor classes and suddenly both sides made me choose between them: who would I sit with at lunch? Why were you sitting with them and not us? My Spanish speaking friends quickly abandoned me with the ‘leader’ of the group, Cindy, saying, “Melissa thinks she’s so much better than us because she’s white and smart. She’s not even a real Latina.”
What was more "Latina" than a last name like Márquez, a father born in Mexico, a mother born in Puerto Rico and being born there? Being raised in Mexico?
It didn’t start in Florida. When I first moved to the USA, I became accustomed to a new culture, a new language and had people make fun of me for pronouncing words incorrectly. I can still remember the first time I said “Maryland” out loud and pronounced it “Mary-land.” I remember the shame of everyone laughing at me; the feeling of wanting to disappear into a black hole. To this day I still am embarrassed about it.
It was not the first, or last time, my ethnicity would be questioned or mocked. Even in Mexico I was bullied for being different! Middle school proved to be trying years in my life, with the bus rides being the worst. I had razors thrown at me because of my hairy arms. (Thank you mum for not letting me shave them) People made monkey noises as I walked past and told me to go back to where I came from. My mother stood up for me when I couldn’t, confronting the bullies while I licked my wounds.
I was so confused. Why did some people tell me I was too white to be my ethnicity and others say I was… I don’t know. Too different?
Have you ever been told you're not “Latinx/Hispanic enough”? Latinidad is one thing I get asked almost daily… and truth be told, proving myself to everyone I meet is an exhausting task. One that I (and those like me) will never escape.
Yo hablo español, yo puedo hablar español y entiendo todo.
I speak Spanish, I can speak Spanish and I understand everything.
So every time someone hears me speak Spanish and say, “Wow! I can’t believe you’re Hispanic/Latina! You don’t look or sound it.” it’s a slap to the face. It’s the definition of erasure, and is significantly more harmful than people make it seem.
The truth is, there is no such thing as being "Latinx enough." You're Latinx if you identify as Latinx and you or your family are of Latin American/Hispanic descent. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Latinxs/Hispanics are diverse people and we are all beautiful. Some speak Spanish, others don’t. Some were born in Latin American or Spanish-speaking countries and others were not. Some have dark skin, others tan, and some light. Their eyes are blue, brown, green, hazel, etc. Their hair is curly, straight, dark, blonde, red, etc. History tells us that indigenous people, European immigrants and African slaves intermingled to create all sorts of mixes, including mestizos and mulattos. After all, Latinxs can be black, Asian, from all types of indigenous tribes, mixed-race, and so much more.
I’ve seen people share my TEDx video (yay!!) and call me a “person of color (POC).” I struggled with that. I looked up countless definitions and all basically said that “POC” refers to anyone who is not white. "I guess that’s what I am," I thought. A person of color, commonly referred to as POC, is defined as “A person who is not white or of European parentage”. My skin is white, but according to this definition I am a person of color because I am Latina.
But I, as a light-skinned Latina, have had very different experiences than my Latino/Latina counterparts with darker complexions. I don't forget that, not for a second. And this quote from Kim Bjånes hits the nail right on the head.
My Spanish isn't perfect. I don’t write it well, I slowly read it, and I stumble over hard words when I speak it. When I’m out of the sun for too long my brown color fades. My hair is light brown and curly with blonde streaks due to being in the sun.
But I am Mexican.
I am Boricua.
I, like countless others, break the mold. I wouldn’t be questioned about where I’m really from if I looked more stereotypically Latina.
I, like countless others, am criticized for not being Latina enough.
I don’t write this to be pitied but to tell you a struggle I know I am not facing alone. We should all strive for 2018 to be the year we don’t try to guess a person’s race, ethnic background or anything else based on what you think that person looks like. I am just one representative of all the women that make up the Latina rainbow. I am just one version of "Latinx"/Hispanic. There are many more like me and even countless more that are different.
I should not have to prove my ethnicity to anyone. I know who I am. I love being Latina and our culture. No one can tell me I’m not a proud Latina woman.
I am fiercely latina.
Hi! I'm Melissa, an Australian-based Latina science educator, podcaster, and freelance writer. I spend a lot more time on Instagram and Twitter, but blogging is my first love. Thanks for stopping by — I hope you stay a while.
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