You might recognize this potentially familiar scenario. You are at a hair salon, in an elevator or even going out to get your mail and two people who speak Spanish look at you and assume you can’t possibly be Latina and don’t speak Spanish because you look a certain way (in my case, I’m Afro-Latina) and proceed to talk about you as if you don’t exist. What do you do? You have to make a split decision to break out your Español to put these oblivious people back in their places or just brush it off as ignorance and racism and walk away. Is it worth it to address it right then and there?
This very scenario has happened all too often within our community and enough is enough. Ya. As we all know, we have widespread origins in Europe, Africa, and Asia and every time I hear the term “looking Latina”, it’s like nails on a chalkboard. Who determines what “looking Latina” is? Is “looking Latina” only having light or olive skin and long, straight hair (pelo bueno)? As if it wasn’t hard enough to decide to check one, three or all boxes on the 2010 Census and grappling with dichotomous self-identity, there’s the constant struggle of dealing with strangers I encounter, marginalizing my ethnicities into their own boxes based on appearance, whether I want them to do so or not.
In the media, why should we be surprised that entertainers like these in this article are Latino? Is having a Spanish last name also what makes someone Latino? Does waving a flag and attending Latino specific focused events make someone Latino? Having pride in one’s identity manifests itself in different ways. Specifically being a Latina with African descent, it’s no secret we exist everywhere. The African diaspora was widespread as the map clearly displays and millions of ancestors carry on the legacies left behind. So why in this day and age are Latinos with dark skin still shocking? Institutional racism is obviously not something that can be fixed overnight but actually letting go (not just promising to let go) of stereotypes, doing more than having Spanish food theme cafeteria days in corporate settings and not rushing to judgment on appearance will affect change. Unity is preached often but it really is a must within and among communities of color. Progress is achieved when the initial question and the associated one of “What are you?”, posed with an expression of utter astonishment are no longer asked and we just are without having to prove anything to anyone.
By Being Latino Contributor, Carlita. Born and raised in The Bronx and currently living in Los Angeles, Carlita started her blogging/writing career back in 2010 and has since written for fashion copywriting and music sites. Carlita is new to the Being Latino familia but looks forward to what the future holds.