Every time I think about race, especially when I’m asked to indicate it, I feel three things: anxiety, resentment and shame.
Even if I have the option not to indicate my race I feel a wave of anxiety.
I have a “White name” and light skin, English was my first language, I have privileges my brown family members don’t.
I have no right to claim I’m Latino and mixed race.
Then I realize how stupid I’ve been: I have every right to check Latino and mixed race.
Then I remember how they speak to me in English at mercados, where I get a lot of dirty looks.
How they ask me, “Where are you from?” or, “What are you?”
How “You aren’t White, are you?” is an ice breaker.
That if I say I’m Latino or a person of color around people of color I get “the look.”
And then I remember everything I’ve been told:
“You think you’re Mexican? No. You’re White.”
“But you don’t look Mexican.”
“I thought you were Asian.”
“You mean you’re not Japanese? Korean? Filipino?”
“You look Greek.”
“I thought you were Italian.”
“You could be American Indian.”
“You’re White, NOT a person of color.”
“You’re not White.”
“You look like a ‘Jose’ to me.”
“Are you Latino?”
“You look Spanish.”
“Your features are too foreign to be White.”
“We all asked each other what we thought you were when you weren’t there. We thought you were Asian.”
“Wait, you’re Mexican-American? But you look Japanese! Some Mexicans look so Japanese!”
“Until you told me, I thought you were half Asian.”
“Your skin’s too light to be Mexican.”
“Do you like spicy food? Then you aren’t Mexican.”
“Have you had X? Did you watch X? Do you even speak Spanish? Then you aren’t Mexican.”
“Your mom looks like she could speak Spanish, you don’t. You’re White.”
“Your mom looks mixed.”
“That’s your grandma? But she’s so dark!”
“You don’t represent us.”
“You don’t represent Latinos.”
“You don’t represent mixed people.”
“Just call yourself White.”
“If you’re mostly White, then just call yourself White.”
“If you aren’t brown, then call yourself White.”
“If it’s causing you so much trouble then just make it easy on yourself and call yourself White.”
Is what I feel when I finally decide on what box to check.
When I remember how I feel like I’m the “safe” person of color to my White friends.
How I feel like a fraud around people who are darker than me.
How I felt when the professor asked me to share my identity in my Chicano studies course and I said, “I don’t know.”
It’s how I feel when one memory drowns out the rest:
“People like you are self-absorbed, too reactionary; compared to the problems other people face, yours are nothing.”