31 agosto 2010


1. 'I have a surprise,' my mother said as I looked up to see Janet standing there holding a teddy bear exactly my height. I wrapped my arms aarround her neck and told her I missed her and held the bear. Her hair was choppy, pulled back in a pony tail so high and to the side it was nearly atop her head. Her shirt was loose. Seven years later I would cry when my mother placed the bear in a box along the curb of our street before we moved.

2. Christina never cooks without the radio. She sets it just above the cutting board and sways her hips left and righ and taps her foot to the beat. Our favourite song is by Los Flans - 'No Controles.'

At night, Cristina screams in her sleep and cries. At night when she closes her eyes Cristina sees El Salvador and walking over the bodies of her family members. Sometimes I think she wants to sleep with her eyes open because all her memories are behind her eyelids but she cannot.

When she puts on the radio we sing into the silverware as though it were a microphone.

3. Susana came with her husband to California to start a family. She tells me she has a daughter and years later she still has a daughter and an ex-husband and lives alone with two cats in an apartment near the big box store at which she is employed. I see her crying behind the counter one day when she tells me that the landlord has discovered the cats and has demanded that she find them a new home or that she find one for herself. She tells me that one of the cats is extremely shy and that it is like her child. She tells me that her daughter doesn't care to take the cats, nor does her ex husband.

Susana lives alone in an apartment near the big box store at which she is employed, but now she has no cats.

14 agosto 2010

Latinidad: What it means to be Latin@


A photo taken with my family while in Bogotá.

I am still on the issue of race, ethnicity, nationality, culture, what it means to be 'Latin@.' This is my identity crisis, or maybe what I mean is 'This is my inability to deal with the fact that people constantly question my identity or the authenticity of it based on their pre-conceived generalizations.'

Not too long ago on the Model Latina forums (a guilty pleasure, minus the guilt) a user commented questioning the 'legitimacy' of the women who were competing in this season's Model Latina. She claimed that they didn't even look Latina and that - gasp - some of them didn't even have Latin surnames.

I can't ask 'What does that even mean? Look Latina?' because I know what it means. It means brown, but not too brown, and definitely not too light. It means brunette and maybe it means curves. I am not sure where the line is drawn, only that someone like Zoe Saldaña is too brown and I am too light. My best friend is constantly confused for being of Indian background, so I guess she is supposedly too brown as well - especially in the summer.

There are certain statements that always bring my irritation to a head. Years ago, for example, a friend's older brother had told me that his girlfriend was much more Latina than I because she made tamals with her family (her family was from Mexico, she the States) on a weekly basis. What do you say to that? At the time I was just dumbfounded and left speechless. Now I wish I had said 'You idiot, my mother is from Colombia and never made tamals.' His girlfriend at the time, like I am, is light skinned. She was adopted by the family into the States & I don't particularly think that has any effect on her Mexicanness because she was raised by a Mexican family. She identified culturally as Mexican-American.

Other statements that come to mind are the constant assumption that I am Spanish or Argentinian. If I speak Spanish and am light skinned my background must be associated with those two places. To be fair though, my paternal grandmother is from Argentina and her parents from Spain. My mother's side is from Colombia for as far back as she can remember. I identify more with that side because it was my mother who raised me.

People have also guessed that I am French or - of all things - half Japanese or half Chinese. Dark hair & bangs does not make you Japanese or Chinese but I have to say I guess it's better than any comparisons to Bettie Page whom I loathe.

Picture 11004

Look! That is the face of a girl who is not Asian, SUP.

I am not the only person who suffers from these identity issues. My best friend, mentioned earlier, had found herself frustrated by the 2010 census. It is always easy for me to mark down my race. I am White enough to have the privilege of passing, but I know that I am Latina.

What do you do when you are visibly non-White but you are not dark either? She's not African-American or Afro-Latina, so the dichotomy of 'Black' and 'White' don't apply to her. Then what? Her sister had called her up also frustrated and nearly in tears wondering what the hell to check. One might ask 'Why in tears?' and the answer is that it is very frustrating to be placed outside a dichotomy and to wonder where you fit in the world around you or to feel that you are invisible or alienated.

To conclude this entry - but not this issue because it will always weigh on my mind - here is a video blog I made to accompany the entry.

Maybe I should forward this to some of the people who have actually bowed upon meeting me (so embarrassing) or the people who have asked my BFF if she is Indian.