Every time I meet someone new, there is a moment when they try to figure out my ethnicity. “ Are you half white?” “ Are you half Mexican?” “ You look really white.” Then there are some who just assume I am either white or Mexican.
This started with the kids on the playground. There were the Mexican kids who mostly spoke Spanish and the white kids—and then there was me who did not fit in with either group. Since elementary school, I have learned to defend myself when a person says I do not look or sound Mexican enough; I say my family is not as light complexioned I am, or I say my first language was actually Spanish. Regardless of my answer, I should not have to defend myself.
For someone to assume that I must not know my own background is insulting. I have no reason to lie about who I am or my heritage. This is what I call “Latino/Hispanic shaming,” telling someone they do not look or sound Latino enough and therefore cannot call themselves Latino or Hispanic.
Being Latino is not a club where being a member means you must be brown. Latino people look different across the nations and are not defined by how they look or act. A Latino can be blonde and have blue eyes. No one should be criticized by the community they identify with just because they do not look like the majority.
I am not the only person who has experienced this. Actress Gina Rodriguez was told she was not Latina enough when fans saw one of her Instagram posts and criticized her Spanish. “I am as Latina as they come. I am not defined by anybody’s definition of Latino,” Rodriguez said in an interview with HuffPost live. Like Rodriguez, when others question me I begin to question my own identity.
Yes, I know my complexion is very light. I know that my Spanish is not perfect and I am trying to work on that, but I am Mexican and incredibly proud of it. To say I do not belong in the culture that I love and embrace is an insult. I have gone to Mexico six times, I watch telenovelas, I enjoy Spanish music and I continue to hold onto food and traditions that my parents and grandparents taught me. I have known the words to “Suavemente” since I was a child.
It is an easy mistake to assume someone is a certain race or ethnicity when they are not, and it is understandable, but to continue to question someone after they have explained their background is hurtful. I question whether I am really a member of the Mexican community. I feel excluded. I feel hurt. I feel as if I need to prove to my other Mexican friends that I am a valuable member of their community.
This same idea applies to other groups as well. Telling someone who is black they do not act black is just as insulting. A person’s ethnicity is self-identifiable, people should not be able to exclude others from a group they did not create or define themselves.