I’ve been asking myself this since I was old enough to understand that being mixed race is confusing to a good deal of people. For some people the topic is so incomprehensible that the first thing they do upon hearing of my heritage is call me a liar. This happens more often than one would think. People can be very brazen.
I get a range of reactions when I say I’m Hispanic. The most common is a befuddled shaking of the head in denial. However, some people think it necessary to interrogate me. They pull out their checklist of what makes a Mexican American and go through the material until they feel they’ve collected enough evidence to entirely invalidate my racial identity. The questioning goes something like this:
- But why are you white?
It’s almost surprising how many times I hear this line unironically repeated by someone other than Karen Smith. Do some people really think light skinned Mexicans don’t exist? There isn’t just one skin tone for the entire nation. I can tell when someone asks this they have a specific shade in mind, a Mexican Brown from their Crayola 45 pack. Sorry to disappoint, but there are a number of different racial, ethnic, and cultural identities within Mexico. There are Mexicans of all different shades and backgrounds. They are all still Mexican regardless.
Additionally, as I mentioned earlier, I’m only half Mexican. I have family members who are quite dark. I have family members who are pale as can be. There are a number of genes and environmental factors that determine skin color, so it’s not as simple as mixing paints, one brown, one white. I’ve met people who share my ethnic and racial identity that were dark, light, and all sorts of shades in between. Not every half Mexican person’s genes code the for the same shade. Variation is wonderful and doesn’t make anyone more or less Hispanic.
2. Do you speak Spanish?
Shout out to cultural assimilation for pressuring my grandparents to only teach their children English in hopes of avoiding the persecution that comes with speaking Spanish in public or having an accent. With that said, no. I don’t speak Spanish. It was my grandparent’s first language, but thanks to the folks who believe firmly in people only speaking “American” my mother and I missed out on being raised bilingual.
However, I’m not the only Mexican American that experienced societal pressure to only speak English. There are a number of people who don’t speak Spanish and are still just as Mexican. Language does not determine race or ethnicity.
3. Well, you don’t act like a Mexican. Are you sure you’re Latina?
This is by far the worst question I get for a number of reasons. First of all, what does a Mexican act like? What racial stereotypes are you picturing as you ask this? It’s not like there’s a Latinx code of conduct handbook hidden away somewhere that determines our interests, personality, and how we handle our interpersonal interactions. Despite possibly sharing a similar cultural, ethnic, and/or racial background, we are all still individuals and behave as such.
Secondly, do they think I’m gonna stop for a moment, rub my chin pensively, and through deep thought and reason come to the conclusion that I’m not really Hispanic? They act like I just woke up one morning and decided to be Mexican American. Of course, I’m certain of my ethnicity. I know my heritage, family, and culture. I’m pretty damn sure I’m Latina.
4. Just how Mexican are you really?
Ah yes, let me pull out my convenient little identity pie chart. I’ll get back to you once I’ve finished running the numbers and calculating the percentages. However, the worst part of this question is that it implies that being mixed makes me a watered down version of my ethnicites. Whether I’m ten percent or one hundred percent Hispanic, I am still Hispanic. Being part white doesn’t exclude me, or anyone else, from the Latinx community.
These interrogations always leave me with the same feelings of exclusion and invalidation. It seems like mixed race individuals are always being made to explain themselves, like we’re some incomprehensible enigma to the rest of the world. How many times will I have to defend my identity? How Mexican is Mexican enough for people to believe I am what I say I am?