I’m White on Paper But Not in Real Life

I am Hispanic by definition. Spanish is my first language because my family emigrated from Mexico. Even though my grandparents were born in the Americas, I know for a fact (because of my last names) that there must be some Spanish blood somewhere in my lineage. I am also Hispanic in some of the stereotypical ways. My skin is naturally tan but not too dark. I speak with an accent. I love spicy foods and tequila and Spanish pop music. Any time I have to fill out a form asking for my race or ethnicity, the box next to Hispanic/Latino is always marked. There’s no denying what my “identity” is because the evidence is pretty clear. I accepted that identity. Of course I’m Hispanic/Latino! Why would I ever think otherwise?

The U.S. has been my home for literally half my life, but it wasn’t until I filled out the citizen application form that I had my very own and very first identity crisis. The document asked me if I was Hispanic/Latino. Obviously “Yes.” Then it asked me about my race, a simple question to some. The problem for me was that they only gave me three options: White, Black or Asian. Knowing that I’m neither Black or Asian, I put a check mark on the little box right next to White. It felt so wrong, like I had cheated on a test or something. Suddenly I was a white dude? How could I possibly be a white dude? What the actual fuck?

Living in a border town that was predominately Hispanic, I never really gave any thought to the whole identity as a concept or as something that should define the way I live my life. Everyone around me was my equal. Most of us had Spanish-speaking relatives and everyone was either a Gonzalez or a Martinez, even those with white names like Ashley or Robert. One day my counselor told me to apply for scholarships aimed towards Hispanic students. The prompt lines read something like: “What are some of the challenges that you have overcome as a minority and how does that affect your plans for the future?” I filled out a total of zero applications and instead got financial aid like every other kid in America.

Four years of college education later it suddenly hit me. America thinks that because I am Hispanic, I must have a very difficult time learning the language, assimilating the culture, and accomplishing things human beings can do when they try hard enough. Because I am Hispanic, I must be involved in drug trafficking or gang-related violence. Because I am Hispanic, I must be poor or uneducated or illegal. Because I am Hispanic, I should sound like Sofia Vergara and salsa dance across the room. Because I am Hispanic, my mom must have been a maid and my dad must have been a gardener and the fact that I went to college is a sign that programs like Affirmative Action are working.

None of that is true. My education enabled me to dominate the English language, assimilate American culture and accomplish many things both academically and professionaly despite my ethnic background. My parents are chemical engineers whose hard work and dedication provided me with a lot of opportunities. I didn’t live the struggles that make “good” Hollywood stories. There’s no drug-trafficking. There’s no heartbreaking story either. You could say that I’m a very privileged individual. You could say not every hispanic and/or immigrant gets this lucky. I am aware. But if privilege = whiteness, then I guess I must be white.

I am white in the sense that I can communicate effectively in the language that makes America feel comfortable. I am white in the sense that I rather watch Girls and Silicon Valley and not mega-racist shows like Devious Maids or East Los High. I am white in the sense that I drank kombucha at Coachella on a day I wore white American Apparel corduroy shorts. I am white in the sense that I don’t believe my race has been a factor in my accomplishments as an individual. I am white in the sense that people have told me things like “you sound so American!” or “you don’t look like other Mexicans.” I am white in the sense that I’m not Hispanic/Latino enough to be cast in stereotypical roles (thank God) so far. I am White in the sense that I am not Black or Asian or “other.”

The funny thing is that no one in my entire social circle considers me a white dude. No one. My Hispanic friends are always saying things like “you are SO Mexican, look at you!” People that comfortably land on one of the three official races always wonder where I’m from. “I didn’t know you were an immigrant” is a very popular response when I finally tell them. Some people have even thought that I’m Asian or that I look Philippino, but no one really thinks I’m white. I don’t blame them. I am a white Hispanic male, and I know that’s a lot for some people to handle. My skin may be naturally tan, but if white people spend money to be my color all the time then who is to say that we are any different. I may have an accent, but so does everyone that lives in any region for an extended period of time. People just don’t make any sense. As far as I know I’m like a chocolate and vanilla swirl ice cream cone. Just a beautiful, wonderful mix of YASSS please.

Ilana Glazer says that in the future everyone is going to be caramel and queer. I honestly can’t wait for that future.

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5 responses to “I’m White on Paper But Not in Real Life

  1. Thing is, there are plenty of white Mexicans (not always of Spanish decent). It’s offensive to say you don’t look like this group or that. The problem is that the United States racializes Hispanics/Latinos. We must try to change this pre-conception which serves to homogenize and belittle our experiences.

    • I agree with you. I know at some point the French had their turn, as I’m sure other European countries like Italy and Portugal did. But I didn’t finish learning the history before I moved, so I wouldn’t know any further.

      Didn’t mean to offend. I’m simply reiterating comments directed at me. I am making a comparison to the cartoonish way in which Hispanics/Latinos are portrayed or perceived as rather than actual people.

  2. YAAASSS! Seriously, this is everything I’ve ever thought. I also feel like I’m cheating when I check the “white” box on applications. I never thought of a vanilla/chocolate swirl ice cream cone as a metaphor for us before haha, I had just heard the term coconut (white on the inside, brown on the outside) which I’m not sure is quite accurate. I like yours better :) You’re totally inspiring me to write about my experiences too!

  3. Theoretically speaking, Hispanic is a broad term. There are white Hispanics. black Hispanics, and even a few Asian ones.(for instance the Carribean islands are home to the descendants of many former slaves that identify as Hispanic, and for ALL intents and purposes they are) The group you’re probably referring to is the Mexican.and South American Descent Hispanics, that are a mixture of Spanish/Portuguese(which most of Spain is a mix of Germanic tribes, Romans, gypsies and Arabs) and Native Americans.

    That’s why Hispanic is listed separately from race, its a cultural distinction, not a racial one. I can understand the frustration, but they should have mixed or other on the form.

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