Tuesday, July 28, 2009

am I ethnic enough?

I know where I come from and I'm proud of my family and our history. But every once in a while, I wonder if I'm Latina enough.

It began when I was little at my Catholic elementary school. The first language I ever knew was Spanish. When I started Kindergarten, I was told that I wasn't allowed to speak Spanish any more (despite the fact that 90% of the class was Latino and spoke Spanish). Over the years, I lost my ability to speak Spanish. I could understand it well, but speaking, grammar, and writing became an issue.

Then I went to high school and took Spanish and it all came back to me--like riding a bike. Honestly, it all came back but one thing. My accent.

Some of you have probably heard me speak Spanish and have thought that I speak with the right accent, but I don't. I listen to Honduran, Mexican, Argentinian, Salvadorean, Columbian, Venezuelan accents all day long and my Spanish doesn't sound like that. Mine sounds different.

My accent isn't the only thing.. My appearance apparently makes me less Latina too. I'm pale skinned with green eyes and (dyed) red hair. A few weeks ago, I was doing a first interview with a potential client when he told me (in Spanish), "Your grammar is very good but you don't look Latina." When I asked him why he thought that, he replied, "Your coloring is off." What does that even mean?

Pondering this question over the weekend, I googled this topic and, time and time again, I came across the list. If anything made me feel even less like a Latina it was this:

10 Ways To Tell You're a Latina

You know you are Latina:

1. If you can't fight the urge to clap on a plane that has just landed!
2. If your boyfriend plucks, waxes or in any other way grooms his eyebrows even more than you do, then you are most likely a Latina...dating a Latino!
3. If even though you're fluent in English, you still refer to going grocery shopping as a compra.
4. If you have ever committed the cardinal sin and fashion faux pas of wearing socks with sandals!
5. If something immensely sad or something immensely adorable both elicit the exact same response of "Hay Bendito!".
6. If your grandmother's chancletas seemed to have some mystical boomerang powers, you know, she threw it at you and somehow it was magically back in her hand before you could even look up from your hiding place, then you are definitely Latina!
7. If Vick's VaporRub was pronounced BibaporĂș and used by everyone in your family to cure anything from burns to acne to La Gripa to infertility.
8. If you have ever sat down on a couch and then immediately fallen off because of the slippery smooth surface created by the plastic covering the entire living room set...Latina all the way baby!
9. If you grew up with a mother and/or grandmother who made you eat a ton of their food to prove how much you loved them, and then called you gordita five minutes later while pinching your chichos!
10. If you are completely fed up with being called, fiery, spicy, caliente or any other adjective that could also describe a chili pepper, you are absolutely, positively, undeniably Latina.

In my whole life, I've only experienced #9 (and that's embarrassing to admit).

The fact is that Latinas come in all different colors, accents, sizes and experiences. Think of all the famous Latinas in Hollywood. Did you know that the following people are Latina?

Alexis Bledel (Rory of Gilmore Girls)
Jordana Brewster (love interest in the Fast and the Furious movies)
Camilla Belle (recently broke the heart of a Jonas Brother)
Cameron Diaz
Zoe Saldana (recently in the new Star Trek movie)
Kelis (hip hop artist of "Milkshake" fame)
Fergie (of the Black Eyed Peas)
LaLa (former MTV VJ)

And that's not counting the Latinos, like NFL QB Tony Romo and NBA star Carmelo Anthony.

There is no one single definition of being Latina. Within our own community there is so much diversity that homogeneity is impossible. And it's not just us. After all, what is Black? What is White? What does it all mean and why does it matter? It's as if society forces us to fit into these boxes that probably makes sense to the government (ie. US Census), but doesn't make any sense at all in the grand scheme of things.

So why tear each other down within the community? During the elections, I was surprised to hear people in the Black community claiming that Barack Obama just isn't Black enough. He was making history and this is what people were saying about him? What does 'being Black' mean? How is Obama not Black enough? As minorities, knowing what it is like to thought of as 'other', it's a shame that people within the same community chastise others for not being "(blank)" enough. As if being "(blank)" was some kind of universally accepted standard.

While I don't think the potential client I mentioned above was intentionally trying to make me feel like 'the other' within my own community, that was the end result of his comments.  I may have assimilated very well into this country, but I should not give anyone the power to make feel less like a part of my community.  

The next time someone makes me feel like I'm not Latina enough, I know exactly how to respond. I may not be Latina enough for them, but I am certainly Latina enough for me.


Zipcode said...

I thought you were Brazilian when I first met you -- but you are right on point.

I didn't know my love Tony Romo was latino --- :-)

Jo said...

I fit into 7 of those above but I understand exactly what you're talking about. I'm half Brazilian half Uruguayan and am also light hair, light eyes and "white" looking. Whenever I'm around a group of latinos I feel like I have to prove myself to them.

There's this misconception that all Latinos have to look a certain way, but Latin America is HUGE! I had a HUGE discussion with my husband the other day about how Latinos can be white, black and brown but we all check the same "race" box.

Sorry for the long comment but it's something I've thought about a lot!

Anonymous said...

The paradox of often being the "only" in the community of "same" has been an issue for me since the first time I returned to my all black neighborhood from my all white Montessori and was teased for it. Just sayin' I know the feeling.

King of New York Hacks said...

Como que ?? LOL

Anonymous said...

One (but only when it's a really good landing), seven, nine, ten. I actually find some of the items on the list either very centralized or minorly offensive, to be perfectly honest (and instead of Ay, bendito! I say, Ave Maria! or Uy!). Then again, I'm not a very good Latina myself.

But my dear OC Girl.... Columbia? Tsk tsk.