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.

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