We’re All About to Be More Upfront About Ethnicity
I realize I need to show up as a Latina, because otherwise we all miss out
Being “multiethnic” in today’s America is a little bit like being invisible and eavesdropping on someone’s conversation, except that in this case, I’m part of the conversation and people are saying these things right to my face.
I identify as Latina; my father is Puerto Rican and my mother is White. My appearance — my existence — confuses some people. My ethnicity is immediately obvious to other people in the Latinx community, who approach me and begin speaking Spanish. Only White people find me to be ambiguous in appearance, and openly make offensive comments, referring to Latinx people as “they,” assuming I’m with them on the “we” side.
For example, on my last day at a job where I’d worked for four years, I stopped outside the office of a colleague who apparently had never thought much about my background. We chatted for a few moments before she started complaining about people speaking Spanish. “They need to learn our language, Luisa,” she said. “They can’t just come here and make us change things around to accommodate them. Hispanics. Minorities. They’re taking over. We have to watch out.”
I stared at her, openmouthed. “But, but, that’s me,” I said. “I’m Puerto Rican.”
“Well, you’re different.”
I didn’t make an empowering, educational statement. I didn’t storm out. I slouched back to my desk, feeling bad. I knew exactly what “you’re different” meant.
My whole life, I’d let rude or misguided statements about ethnicity slide. Now I realize that I want to tell people that it’s important for them to get it right. This is about more than smoothing out an awkward social interaction. This is about having an opportunity to stand up as a Latina, as myself, and it’s an act of service.
Iris López, a professor in the sociology department at City College and the director of Latin American & Latino Studies, and author of Matters of Choice: Puerto Rican Women’s Struggle for Reproductive Freedom, puts it this way: “‘You’re different’ is a code for, we do not fit into the negative…