Yes, they both are Cuban. The look of shock never ceases to amaze me. Is it because I’m blonde and have green eyes…yes! Is it because of where I live…yes! Growing up in New York, everyone I knew could tell me about their heritage. My neighborhood was a perfect melting pot – Italian, Jewish, Filipino, African-American, Irish, Indian and German families all on one street. It was a blessing to learn about the customs, culture and food of all my childhood friends.
Then after high school, I moved to Miami. I went from being a Latino minority to the Cuban majority. No one asked me where I was from, strangers addressed me in Spanish even though I look very “White”.
After graduating college, I moved to Georgia to work as a journalist and here, in the “South” is where all of a sudden my race became a big topic of conversation. I worked as a news reporter for a television station in a very small city. My first week of work, I received a phone call from a viewer who asked if “I was married to a Mexican”, since my last name is Rodriguez. I carefully explained that I was not married and that I was Cuban. That surprised him even more! The question “Are both of your parents Cuban?” quickly became the norm. I even created a quick explanation about my blonde hair and green eyes. Well, “My great grandmother is Irish, she married my great grandfather in Spain and my grandfather moved to Cuba.” And that seemed to appease their curiosity. In Miami and New York, it was not odd to see a blonde Hispanic person but in the South, apparently it was quite rare. I also quickly learned that a lot of Southerners didn’t really know what country their descendants came from. Their culture is “Southern”, not Scottish or Irish, a big difference from New York where just about every culture has a pride parade.
My appearance does give me a sort of disguise and I unfortunately over hear conversations in both English and Spanish which are racial and not morally or politically correct. People seem to forget that I am a minority because I don’t look like one. I hope that meeting the blonde Barbara Rodriguez can only open their hearts and minds, even if just a little bit.