Passing White

What do you do when your history and heritage are kept from you and you feel like you have no community? How do you cope when you are cast out and those ostracized beside you view you as an outsider?

I am Hispanic. Mi Abuelo was born and raised in Tampico, Tamaulipas, Mexico, and I still have family there. My lineage tracks back to España through the conquistadors and includes Aztec heritage.

And yet, while some would persecute me because of this history, many would seek to strip me of it. Because I pass for white.

Those who know me know that I am proud of my heritage. I am a proud, unapologetic Latin woman, and it shows. I was raised in traditional Latin values and Hispanic culture. And while I did not grow up speaking Spanish or living in a predominantly Latin neighborhood, my childhood was steeped in Hispanic culture, values, and history.

I grew up learning about important dates and holidays in Mexican culture, like Cinco de Mayo, Día de la Independencia, and Día de Muertos, even if we didn’t observe them all. The sounds of Latin pop, Spanish guitar, and bachata were common in my childhood. The occasional telenovela playing the background when we visited Abuelo. the sweet smell of pan dulce in the mornings, and spicy tamales at night.

Fond memories. Memories of my culture, my heritage. My family. And for me, familia is everything. It’s how I was raised. And while I will always have mi familia en Tampico, I still want my community at home.

And yet, whenever I try to join the Hispanic community here, I’m constantly met with unease. Stares that seem to whisper, “Why the hell are you here, gringa?” I am seen as an outsider by my own people.

And make no mistake: they are my people. We share a history. We share a culture. We share a struggle. How many resumes have been overlooked because my last name is Gonzalez? How many times have I had to endure being called names like ‘spic’ and ‘wetback’ when someone learns of my heritage.

Yes. I am white passing. And I’d be a liar if I did not recognize the privilege my skin allows me. I do not get profiled on the street. And I do not dare claim my struggles equivalent. But yet, I am not totally immune to racism either. I’ve felt the sting of discrimination. And given the option, I would be more visible as a latin woman, even if it meant feeling that sting more.

Because when I try to celebrate my heritage, it’s seen as cultural appropriation, even though it’s my culture. When I try to interact with my community, it’s seen as insincere, even though I share their blood. When I talk about my childhood, it’s met with skepticism, even though I learned from mi Abuelo. Too often it seems I am too “brown” for white people, yet too pale for my own.

Racism creates a need for community as a defense. A defense that, ironically, casts out those who both want and deserve to be a part of the community.

¿Qué haces cuando no tienes una comunidad?