The nun made me mark “white.”

Jackie Loya-Torres
Kansas City, MO

As a small child in the 1970s, I remember having to take some sort of standardized test in school. You know…the ones where you need a #2 pencil to fill in the ovals? On the cover page, in addition to listing my name, gender and age, I was asked to mark my race. As I recall, my options were something like White (or maybe it said “Caucasian”), Negro, Asian/Pacific Islander and American Indian. I remember feeling panicked that my race was not an option. Which oval should I mark? Aren’t I going to be graded on this? My classmates had already flipped the page and were swiftly marking their ovals. I approached Sr.’s desk and informed her that I didn’t know which oval was mine. She looked at me as if I had two heads. She told me to mark “white.” I looked back at her as if she had three heads under that habit. White? How can that be, I wondered. I thought, maybe American Indian or possibly Negro. These didn’t work either, but they at least felt in the ballpark. I tried to explain to Sr. that I wasn’t white and that surely, there must be another form for me to use. Annoyed, she again told me to mark “White.” So, like the good Catholic schoolgirl that I was, I followed her instruction and reluctantly marked white. I went on to fill in all my ovals and as I recall, scored well on that standardized test.

Almost 40 years later, this experience still resonates with me. The forms still don’t work for me. I am well aware that being Latina (in my case, Mexican-American) does not qualify as my race, but as my ethnicity. I know the forms and the Census Bureau want me to mark that I’m a white Latina, but that doesn’t work for me either. My skin is not white. I have never been afforded the privileges of being white and I do not identify as white. I am brown. In my mind and in my experience, my race is brown, Mexican-American, Chicana, Latina and maybe, just maybe, even Hispanic (another word I’m not crazy about), but not white. After all these years, I’m still searching for my oval.


Tweets by Michele Norris