Once I was complaining about the challenges of being Hispanic in America to a friend of mine.
I can’t even remember what I was saying, but I remember the person’s response clearly. She said, “Do you think you make it harder on yourself because you call attention to the fact that you’re Hispanic?”
I find that question problematic for many reasons. But in that moment, I ignored it. I didn’t say anything, and when I got home I thought to myself, “How do I call attention to the fact that I’m Hispanic? And why would that be a bad thing?”
See, being Hispanic is such an intrinsic part of my identity that I don’t know what parts of me would be the same if I weren’t. Maybe I would be completely different, but I would never know because I can’t separate me and my personality from my culture. So I truly couldn’t process what this person meant when she said that, but I couldn’t let it go.
It felt as though she was telling me I couldn’t be proud of who I was. It felt as though she was saying the way I looked should dictate my behavior. It felt like a personal attack on my identity.
I don’t look like the “stereotypical” Hispanic person, even though I know plenty of other Hispanic people who look like me. I’m white with light blonde-brown hair. I have a slight accent — if it’s even present at all. People assume I’m just a “typical” American all the time.
I guess by saying I’m from Puerto Rico, I call attention to the fact that I’m Hispanic. But what am I supposed to do? Lie about my identity?
Maybe by speaking Spanish, which is my first language, I call attention to the fact that I’m Hispanic. Is my alternative just forgetting it?
I don’t call attention to the fact that I’m a woman — I just am, and it’s a part of my identity. The same can be said for being Hispanic, even if you can’t see it by just looking at me.
Every time I think about the comment, it makes my blood boil. More than the suggestion that I should tone down my identity, it’s the implication that the more Hispanic I act, the harder it will be for me.
Yes, my life could be easier if I just played the game and “passed” as what is acceptable or preferable. But for me, passing implies leaving parts of my identity behind, not being true to myself and failing others in the process.
Passing as American requires I leave my Spanish at the door, yet the way I think and see the world is based on being able to think in both languages. Passing as American would require I stick to the American cultural norms instead of Puerto Rican ones. My big mannerisms when I speak or my “weird way” of structuring thoughts and sentences are things that come to mind when I think of my cultural identity. These things are so intrinsic to me, though. Who would I be if I tried to pass?
The idea of “passing” to make it easier on yourself is detrimental to inclusivity. Curbing someone’s behavior to fit a cultural norm when they already have their own identity they want to celebrate just promotes the idea that it’s out of the ordinary for non-whites to have certain characteristics. If we keep treating minorities as the exception rather than the norm with statements like “You’re too smart to be a typical Hispanic girl” or anything along those lines, we keep enforcing stereotypes that reinforce the “negative” qualities in race and ethnicity.
Instead of focusing on how other people should behave, we should work toward being accepting of those differences so we can make sure “calling attention” to the fact that you’re a minority doesn’t make your life harder.
Too often since I’ve come to the U.S. I’ve been the only minority in the room — even if you can’t tell by just looking at me. This used to intimidate me, to make me think I had to be more like the people around me, but it’s such a part of me I decided to stop caring and celebrate who I am.
This isn’t the first time I’ve gotten comments with that line of thinking which basically asks, if you can pass, why don’t you?
And here’s my answer: I don’t pass because I’m proud of who I am and where I come from. I don’t pass because it would be a disservice to other Hispanics. I don’t pass because I need to use my privilege and my voice to raise awareness.
I don’t pass because I don’t want to.
Gaby Morera,’17, is a managing editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected]