I am a proud Latina. But I’m also proud to be mixed, and I should be allowed that. We live in a racially diverse country where feeling torn between cultures is a cultural identity in and of itself.
by Briana Hernandez
The night before I sold my copy of Rosetta Stone: Español on eBay, it had mocked me for the last time. I completely failed a dictation test. My perros sounded like Pedros. I can’t roll my Rs. One of my friends once described the sound I produced instead as a snake sneezing. It’s a good thing I wasn’t trying to reclaim my Mexican roots rather than be a more useful Californian. Still, this failure brought back bad memories.
There are two main contributors from my past that have molded me into the bad Latina you see before you. But let’s start with the one I remember “othering” me first. I was a nerdy kid who grew into an alt-culture teenager. Now, socially inept dorks and flamboyant freaks of all cultures exist and it’s not like all Latinx kids are tough, fast-talking and street smart. But there is something about nerdiness and alternative culture that can’t shake a “perceived whiteness” — a concept I found apt as fuck when I first read about it in a piece by Inda Lauryn (For Harriet):
“We keep the lines of what constitutes ‘authentic’ blackness within rigid boundaries and those, especially women and girls, who step out of those boundaries are scrutinized heavily and assumed to reject blackness in playing with styles and aesthetics outside of the accepted ones.”
When the kids your color reject you, guess who’s there with open arms? White freaks. Actually, they were skater punks in my case. Goths, stoners, it didn’t matter. They all promised a “do you” utopia because that’s what it seemed they were fighting to do themselves. What really sealed the deal for me embracing all-white groups of friends was my mixed heritage.
I’m so mixed, I can’t even explain my mom’s half of my ancestry in fractions (mostly Portuguese, though). I’m a fourth-generation American on one side and a third-generation on the other. Therefore, I’m basically as confused about my DNA as most white people. That, combined with the basically all-white world portrayed in mainstream media in the ’90s (which has only marginally improved 20 years later), makes it no wonder I so easily bought into white normalcy while growing up. It’s no wonder I rejected all the things about me that were antithetical to that normalcy.
But I could only outrun that for so long. What’s funny is, when your culture isn’t strongly rooted in tradition, it’s the nuances floating to the surface that remind you you’re different. Being the only person in the room to laugh at George Lopez jokes, understanding the guy in front of you at 7-Eleven when he asked for “esquart esoda” — the little things. Well, well, well. I was Mexican after all. I did kind of belong in my family.
At the same time, that warm blanket of acceptance from my chosen family grew cold when I started noticing how they regarded people who looked like me but didn’t “act white.” Again, this is California. So it was subtle. They jokingly called my cousins “ghetto.” They crossed the street to avoid a line of day laborers. I eventually cringed every time a white friend said, “You’re just like me.” That’s when I realized that’s what it takes to be seen and respected. My little group suddenly wasn’t racially diverse. It required culture homogeneity to survive. One of us. One of us.
What, then, do you do? How do you reclaim your roots when your tree is a sprawling expanse through the continents? Do you pick the biggest one and follow it down the rabbit hole? Or do you pretend you have more than 24 hours in a day and you can actually achieve a sampler platter of knowledge to respect each root equally?
There may come a day where I will want to explore my heritage deeper, to choose traditions and customs I would like to share with my growing family. Some I have already taken from my own background and kept alive, like giving my son a Nino and Nina (Godparents). This is because I am a proud Latina. But I’m also proud to be mixed and I should be allowed that. We live in a racially diverse country where feeling torn between cultures is a cultural identity in and of itself. It’s a quintessentially American experience we do not talk about nearly enough (aside from the fetishization of noticeably mixed babies. You guys need to stop that shit).
Living life as a mixed American without embracing a particular culture of origin is a luxury only afforded to white people. I don’t ask my husband why he doesn’t speak Gaelic. You should stop asking me why I can’t roll my Rs.