06 diciembre 2010

A picture about my culture

Despedida de Sarai 002

Dos de las chicas en la foto son de Europa - Italiana y vasca.

This is a picture that represents my culture. I could not think of any other because I fully believe that the whole of culture cannot be described by any image that is monolithic, though a singular image is monolithic in itself. I chose this photograph because these are my friends whom I love dearly and also because it represents a group of women who, for the most part, are Spanish speakers and who all look very different from one another.

This entry could also count as another topic on my list, 'Latin@ stereotypes I wish I could change.'

I discussed with my therapist (does this sound pretentious?) recently the problem of passing. Passing - what so many people aspire to do - gives access to privileges and spaces otherwise denied to those of us who are Othered. It guarantees us a level of safety that may not be granted to some in our communities. I am both queer and married therefore I pass as straight and have the privilege of not facing discrimination due to my queerness. I have to out myself for this to occur because my relationship does not out me.

The lightness of my skin does not out me as a Latina, my status as a born citizen of the United States means that I am not an immigrant and I have no accent that would mark me as such. I am White in any community, and am privileged in that sense even in Latin America, but more so, my heritage is invisible and even erased in the US.

So the problem of passing becomes a question of community identification. Where do I fit? If I am a woman raised by an immigrant, brown mother, and who was also raised by various brown immigrant women (eran criadas), if I spoke Spanish (I admit my resistance but similarly there was no other way to communicate with many of the women who raised me), if I traveled to Colombia regularly as a child and had a high concentration of family - still - residing there, then can I really belong to a non-Latin community? I am aware of myself as a Latina. I am aware of social problems facing various members of the community, be they immigrants or be they darker skinned (or both).

But here in California, latinidad becomes linked to the chican@, who is more often than not brown skinned. My identity is questioned by others who cannot recognize the diversity of Latin@s, and I am sometimes met with suspicion or skepticism. I am not a 'real' Latina, or I am not that Latina.

Similarly, my best friend (also pictured in above photograph), suffers from her own identity issues. She is physically marked and accepted as Latina, but she has expressed to me on several occasions her own qualms with regard to identity - her father is a white, non-Latino man from the Southern US. Even given her skin colour, she feels that she is only half of something, and I imagine that for her she feels that her identities are at conflict with one another. Maybe she wonders if her paternal side makes her latinidad 'inauthentic.'

Though I am white, it had not occurred to my spouse that I would not consider myself 'half' anything because both my parents are from Latin America and I had traveled there extensively as a child. Even someone who knew both my background and that of my friend, my own husband, to some extent did not think of my as 'fully' Latina in comparison to a self-identified 'half Colombian' because of the difference of colour of our skin.

Of course, I am not even certain what it means to be authentically Latin@ or half Latin@ considering the diversity of the Americas due to both colonization and immigration. What of the descendants of Chinese immigrants who live in Peru? To what extent do they feel Peruvian or Latin? Or have they formed isolated pockets and identify more as Chinese - even if they do not speak it - than Peruvian? My guess is that given the absorption of traditional Chinese cooking into Peruvian cooking, the lines of identity are blurred there too.

Another key moment in therapy that revealed my conflict was my constant switching of pronouns: 'We' I would say and then I would stop and say 'They.' This is for two reasons: the first is that I recognize a difference of privilege based on class, and the second is that I want to establish a difference based on immigration status. I am at conflict with this because I see myself as part of my family and my family are immigrants - therefore I say 'we' and then I realize that to some extent I am outside that experience and I quickly say 'they.' This linguistic going back & forth reveals just how confusing and unresolved I am about my identity.

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