I vividly remember a particular day as an undergrad at the University of Texas. Myself and a couple of friends involved in Latino community organizations were invited to attend a luncheon to honor the recipients of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund’s scholarship.
As we looked around the room at all of these young Latinos, we realized that we had never seen any of them at any of our community service events, a Latino Leadership Council meeting, or a mixer. We concluded that we were surrounded by Latinos that weren’t really Latinos. We were surrounded by coconuts.
“Brown on the outside, white on the inside, you’re a coconut.”
You may have experienced this firsthand, heard someone been called this, or even said it to someone that didn’t fit the mold of however being “Latino” was defined.
As much as I hate to admit it, I did it again very recently, and I bet a lot of other people did too. This month’s Latina Magazine cover featured 15 prominent Latinas. So what was one of the first things we probably discussed after seeing the cover? “Selena Gomez shouldn’t be on that cover!” or “Rosario Dawson is only half Latina, but she’s down for the cause so she’s cool.” And so on. (To be fair, many celebrities in Hollywood use their Spanish surname for the wrong reasons. They become somewhat famous and suddenly remember that they had a grandma that once went to Puerto Rico. Not all celebrities, just some.)
However, celebrities and the people we interact with everyday are two different things. Looking back on the day of the luncheon, it was very wrong of us to label those kids ‘coconuts.’ We didn’t know if they volunteered to translate for Latino families or if they mentored kids in east Austin. For all we knew they may have been even more down than we were!
That’s why we should think twice before dropping the ‘c’ word.
What I’m saying is: who are we to judge? Is there someone out there who is just the right amount of Latino? A brown reference point-person, so to speak. Everyone who falls under this person on the scale is not brown enough and everyone above this person is brown enough.
For those Latinos that don’t identify at all with the community, that’s cool. To be honest it’s probably not that person’s fault in the first place. But if someone benefits from their ethnicity or their surname (like a Hispanic scholarship) and they don’t give back to the community in some fashion, that’s not cool. You’re either Latino or you’re not, but don’t choose to be brown at your convenience. Don’t take from the cookie jar without putting something back every now and then.
And for those of us that are always pointing the finger, judging others for not being Latino enough, remember that there’s always someone that’s even higher on the “raza scale” than you. Someone else that just might consider you a coconut.