How Being a White Latina Means You Are Born With an Identity Crisis

Angélica Rivera-Oliveira

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Growing up, my family only spoke Spanish at home until I was 10 years old. I ate tostones every night, I danced to salsa music in the kitchen with my Papá while he was cooking, and our car rides to go pick up pan de agua at the bakery were filled with the sound of reggaeton music. But the second I went to school, it was like I had entered a whole new world. Kids around me would be talking about different movies and shows they liked, as if it was universal that everyone had seen it. I was always the one to make it uncomfortable when they asked, “Right?” or “Wasn’t that part funny?” and I had no idea what they were talking about, because in my house we watched telenovelas together at night instead of Full House.

Yet, despite my culture being completely different from my peers in school, they couldn’t fathom the idea that I am Puerto Rican. Every time the subject came up, they would give me the words that I don’t think I will ever stop hearing: “But, you don’t look Puerto Rican.” Even other Hispanics and Latinos have chimed in, and tried to make excuses for my looks. As if it was something for me to be ashamed of in the Latino community, or as if I am not a real Latina because I don’t “look the part”. They would say, “Well… you’re just half Puerto Rican so that’s why you look so white.” Little did they know that my mom, the Portuguese one, is a bronze goddess. While my dad on the other hand was born and raised in Barranquitas, Puerto Rico and has blonde hair, blue eyes, and pale skin.

Puerto Rico is a melting pot of different skin tones, eye colors, hair types, etc. Many people in America don’t know that about the island, which is understandable because they are only accustomed to what they see in the media. But, if you ever actually travel there you’ll see natives with skin as white as snow and other natives with glowing skin the shade of chocolate. People there can have freckles and red hair, or hair that is curly and dark. Yet, most Puerto Ricans (and Latinos in general) portrayed online and on TV look like Camila Cabello and Jennifer Lopez.

Growing up I’ve always felt too white for the Hispanic/Latino community, but too Latina for the white community because we have entirely different cultures. It’s like I don’t belong anywhere. Some students in SWHS have even felt the same way, Mariella Novo, a senior, said, “It can be hard talking to other Latinos because they won’t take me seriously and it’s like they will try to question me on my own Cuban culture, and act like I’m not as Latino as they are. I don’t understand why they all look at us differently because it doesn’t matter what we look like and being Latino isn’t even a race, it’s an ethnicity.” Personally I really resonated with what she was saying because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. All Hispanic and Latinos look different, that’s just the way the culture is. We all grew up with similar music, food, entertainment, values, etc. so our looks should not matter.

Furthermore, Clara Gomes-Ferres, a senior, said, “People also look at us and say things like, ‘Why are you speaking Spanish if you’re white’ and it just makes no sense.” Which is a very real thing that Spanish-speaking white Latinos and afro Latinos face. We are judged by our looks and people assume that if our complexion is too light or too dark we aren’t Latino so therefore, they don’t expect us to speak Spanish. Just last month I went to Puerto Rico to visit my dad and I experienced it while in line to order lunch. My dad and his girlfriend were finding a table for us to sit at while I got in line to order my food. As I stood in line I heard the woman who was serving the food talking about me, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing so I just started laughing. I stood there and listened to her call me a “gringa” and say that I didn’t know what I was doing and that she didn’t feel like taking my order. When it was my turn to order, I looked her straight in the eyes and ordered my entire meal completely in Spanish and before I left I told her to have a good day. She was shocked. As if because I am pale, there is no way I could possibly be Latina let alone be someone who can speak any Spanish.

At the end of the day, there’s nothing we can really do about the identity crisis of white Latinos and black Latinos besides try to politely educate as many people as we can. When I was younger, it used to bother me a lot and I would think about things people said to me all day and run home to tell my parents about it after school. I remember being like, “Papá! Mamá! They tried to tell me I’m not tan enough to be Puerto Rican!” But it’s honestly turned into something that I can just brush off and laugh at. If there’s one thing my dad taught me, it was to laugh and never take the ignorant things people say too seriously because they don’t know any better.

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