White privilege: being a white Latina in the US
“Are you white?” she asked me as we got ready to go into the next youth leadership conference session filled with high schoolers that were visiting Texas A&M. “Uh, yeah, uh…” I said, not truly understanding her question. Why would she ask me if I’m white? a stupid, young me thought. I clearly have white skin… I had never really been asked that since I tend to think I wear my Latina pride like un nopal en la frente.
After sitting quietly, listening to the interesting story of the ex-CIA spy from our session, I quickly realized she meant my ethnicity. I never knew how to check those boxes. I’m not White (although my skin is), and I’m not really Mexican (if that means ONLY people born on “Mexican” ground. So… what am I? I just fill in “Other…” like some strange alien that is revealing its true nature despite the fact that people wouldn’t recognize the difference at first glance.
Not quite white: a choice
I am… Latina. I am a white-skinned Latina. I am a woman who speaks passionately in both languages and says “te amo” and “I love you” in the same breath because I can and it means and feels the same. I told myself I had to choose. I always thought of myself as an American citizen because, well, I was born in the US, but I also felt I had a beautiful connection to my Mexican ancestry. We used to travel to Mexico to see my family every other week. I remember dreaming in Spanish and praying in Spanish and feeling so connected. Then, I grew up. I was told I wasn’t doing it right. I messed up here. “Eso no es una palabra” (That’s not a word), I was told when I would make a word up thinking it sounded alright. I was laughed at for sounding too gringa, like an American trying to learn Spanish and messing up. So, I chose. I loved reading and writing and I thought I had to choose so that I could attempt to master one language. I chose English. I fell in love with it and the literature as I studied it more and more for my degree.
As I grew up, I realized that I did not have to choose. No one truly masters language; no one knows all the words in the dictionary; and no one is perfect at writing and speaking any language. So every day, I talk to my daughter in English and in Spanish and delight in her speaking back to me in both languages.
Labels and blends: give and take
Just as I didn’t have to choose a language, I didn’t have to try and choose to blend in to my labels. American. Mexican. No! It’s Latina! No! It’s Hispanic. Who cares? Some do. Some choose to blend in when they can. I could.
I could be a good-ole’ Texan white girl that knows nothing of her heritage as some choose to do. I refuse to do that. Some have chosen to because they have been made fun of for not being Mexican enough or speaking Spanish well. I know white privilege exists because I have lived the ability to blend in to this privilege. I, unlike my sister, father, brother-in-law, and father-in-law who are all darker than me, have not had to deal with racism served up straight and on the rocks with its bitterness. I have not been told that I clean well and should consider being a cleaning lady for some white woman. I haven’t had someone call the cops on me for walking into a gas station.
Insults light: taste bad but maybe better
I, like many women, have had enough sexist remarks to not call myself completely “privileged.” I can also say that because of my skin-tone, I have been called gringa (white girl). I have had to speak up in Spanish just in case that lady who was staring me down thought she could gossip about me in Spanish. I have been insulted by extended family members who have made me feel less-than for not speaking Spanish as well as them. Yet, this is probably the first time I mention it. Why? Because I know that I can blend. Because I know that my little complaints have nothing on my friends and family who have experienced much worse because their skin tells people a different story. Because, even when people aren’t racist, but simply have a hard time seeing outside their own perceptions, I am somewhat safe. I can try to blend if I really want to. That’s why I choose not to. Racism and color bias are difficult to eradicated because it goes into our instincts. I know it is hard for people to see outside of themselves and their immediate experiences. I can feel the white privilege because I try to look around and my family and friends. I can feel it when I go into a room that sometimes people may not see me as a threat because of my skin tone just like I felt the opposite when I would go to Mexico. “No hables Ingles! Nos van a cobrar mas.” (Don’t speak English! They will charge us more.), my mom would say when we visited the markets in Mexico. I could feel people thinking, that girl, she has privilege. And I did. Because I could blend in. Unlike my sister, unlike my father, I had the choice to move up because I didn’t appear to be threatening or an immigrant in a place that more and more doesn’t seem to welcome immigrants.
I refuse to blend: true identity
Some videos that inspired these thoughts:
Samantha Bee’s segment that mentions a white boy feeling offended that he was called “white boy.”
Bill O’Reilley talking about white privilege to viewers and with Megan Kelly.
PS In case it wasn’t clear: not being feared allows for faster upward mobility and upward movement because people are drawn and not judging you in annoyance. I also saw this as a student and teacher. Self-fulfilling prophecy. If you think I need to talk more about this issue than I already have, let me know.