Why Checking Solely White is No Longer Right for Me

In 2012, I visited the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. There I learned that race is a social construct. There are no significant scientific distinctions between people of differing pigmentations. To be more precise, human DNA varies no more than .01% between people of different “races” or skin tone. (For more information, check out this archived NYT story and this National Geographic book review.)


For a long time, race was something I took for granted. Like every other American, I have filled out forms that included questions about my race, ethnicity, gender, and religious affiliation. And, based on my understanding of race and ethnicity, I have filled always my forms out as follows:

  • Race- White
  • Ethnicity- Hispanic/Latino- Yes

In 2017, my husband purchased for me an ancestry kit. Through that process, I learned that I was 44.7% European descent and 41.5% Native American descent. Yet, throughout my entire life, I had only identified myself as racially White. I always understood that my Mexican-ness was an ethnicity, not a race. I now believe that by identifying only one aspect of my lineage, I missed out on an important part of my family’s history.


Why does it matter?


I have pondered this question since I learned about my ancestral history. I have begun to put more thought into it as I contemplate how to answer the census questionnaire that will be hitting my mailbox this year. What is the longterm impact in my life on thinking of myself as a White Hispanic? I am not sure.


But, I do think that it has some impact.


You see, I now believe that it is important to see myself as all the above- Mexican-born, Native American and white, US citizen. In the past year, I found an article on PBS about the shifting nature of the definition of whiteness. And, I came to recognize that many of the same people who now disparage the incoming immigrants, were, at one time, seen in those same terms by “Real Americans.” However, once they got scooped up into the definition of whiteness, they forgot what it meant to be immigrant. They became the haters that their ancestors once faced.

I don’t want to be that way. And, I want to help others not to be that way. By reminding myself of the ties I have to other people that inhabit the land around me, I can encourage others to consider how they see themselves. I think it is worth it to try to relate to everyone. I think that when we see more of ourselves in others, we are able to see the humanity in everyone.

In the time that I have been contemplating this, I have slowly begun to include Native American as part of my self identify on various questionnaires. I have tried to be careful that I do it in a way that is not misleading or distracting from those individuals who have been raised in largely native or indigenous communities. And, I have decided that I will be checking both Native and White in the 2020 census along with Latina and Mexican.

Are there boxes you should not check?

The same ancestry test told me that I have 3% Subsaharan African and 1% Western Asian and North African descent and that 1% of my European descent derived from an Ashkenazi Jewish ancestor. I am excited to learn a little more about these connections. Nonetheless, I do not plan on including black or African American as a box that I check.

I think that in order to identify with a race or ethnic identity one must have had experiences or awareness of that identity in youth.

I grew up speaking Spanish, brought up by Mexican parents in a community that included large numbers of Central Americans. My parents tethered me to that world.

At the same time, I grew up in a primarily white school. All of my friends were of European descent. I went to college in Topeka, Kansas and was in a sorority. I tethered myself to Anglo America.

When I think of those two things- the world I came from and the world I created for myself, I do not believe that my lived experiences enable me to check the box for Black or African American. In other words, I have not lived the experiences of a black person.

Do you have a story of contemplating your ancestral identity? Share it with me.

My Worlds Collide

Ways to incorporate Mexican traditions into your holiday season.

Welcome to 2020 amigas and amigos. I am excited to come back from the holiday season renewed and ready to rock a new decade. How about you?

From reading my blog in the past you may know that I am an immigrant from Mexico who came to the US at a young age (6.) Over my lifetime as an American, I have assimilated into the mainstream, anglo culture. Perhaps a little too well. As a result, I oftentimes find it difficult to incorporate Mexican traditions into my holiday season.

This Christmas, I experienced the joy of having my parents in my home. That helped because when they are around, I feel more authentically Mexican. See, I don’t spend every Christmas with my parents. Every other year, they travel to Mexico during the holidays to see my paternal grandmother.

During the holidays when my parents are in the US, we make tamales. This has been a tradition for my family since I was a child so it absolutely helps to make me feel more authentically Mexican. But, this year, we did not make tamales. So, how did I end up feeling that this was my most authentically Mexican holiday season? Check it out…

Let the magic happen

As I shared earlier, my parents visited our home during the holidays. This was wonderful but can prove challenging. When my husband and I spend time with my parents, I become the de facto translator between them. I am not complaining. I enjoy nothing more than to help my parents communicate with the English speaking world. I have done that since my age was in the single digits.


But, as you can imagine, translating is mentally exhausting. Additionally, I don’t enjoy what happens when I serve as a translator in a conversation between my parents and my husband. It seems to me that when I am around, my parents speak to me and at my husband.

However, this wonderful thing happened, my worlds collided. I stepped away to my bedroom for a few moments and suddenly… Magic. Rather than relying on my translation skills, my parents and my husband began to communicate and interact with one another. My parents used their English speaking skills to converse directly with my husband.

It was wonderful. My husband instantly became more attentive and focused on what they had to say. The people I love the most were sharing in laughter and fun. I sat and listened to them for about ten minutes just talking with one another. I will treasure that memory always.

Explored other Mexican flavors

As you know, we did not make tamales this Christmas Eve. However, we did explore another Mexican delicacy. Beef tongue tacos.

This was a fun experience because we invited a few non-Latino friends to our home during our Christmas Eve celebration. Since I know that food likes are based on what people grow up with, I did have an alternative meat to the beef tongue (for a good recipe, click the link) that was more traditional American fare, ground beef. After all, my non-Latino husband does not like the idea of eating a beef tongue.

At least in my family, there are several philosophies about whether or not you should tell your non-Latinos guests that they are eating a beef tongue. My brothers just tells people it’s beef, shut up and eat it. On the other hand, I believe that full consent is necessary.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there is some value to just telling people it’s beef. For some reason the fact that it is a tongue freaks most non-Latinos out. But the reality is that beef tongue, when prepared correctly, is just as soft and tasty as beef filet. I personally find it weird that the same people who are grossed out by beef tongue are the same people who have no qualms with eating an American hot dog. But, I digress.

I notified my guests what was on the menu. I am happy to report that those that did try the beef tongue found it enjoyable. In addition to having a delicious taco bar, we played Spanish Christmas music all night. It was one of the best Christmas Eves we have had.

Found new holiday classics

One of my favorite things to do during the holiday season is enjoy all the holiday movies. From classics like Scrooged (yes, Bill Murray’s Scrooged is the best rendition of the Dickens classic and don’t tell me different or I will fight you) to the cheesy (this year’s fave? Netflix’s The Holiday Calendar), I love to watch them all.

This year I shared my new favorite (which I found last year thanks to a great Remezcla article) with my husband. Nothing Like the Holidays. It was a wonderful experience. My husband loved the movie as much as I did. We agreed that it would be added to the list of holiday classics we watch each year.

In sum, my holidays season was wonderful. Thanks to giving my family the opportunity to interact, I witnessed a beautiful moment between my husband and my parents. I found an alternative to the heavy work that tamales require by trying another Mexican foodie favorite, beef tongue tacos. And, I shared a great movie with my husband and son that also gave us some insight into the beautiful traditions that Puerto Ricans incorporate into their holidays. In sum, I was blessed.

How did you incorporate your family’s immigrant traditions into your life this holiday season?

American Me

 
Recently, I was having a conversation with my spouse about identity designations. The conversation went something like this,
 
“Why are people using Latinx? Why don’t you guys just use Latin instead and omit the need for X?” He assumed that Latin was gender neutral.
 
A brief history of Latin
 
According to Dictionary.com, Latin is a word with three meanings. First, it refers to the official language of the Roman Empire. Second, it identifies the forms of literary Latin- Medieval, Late, Biblical, Liturgical or Vulgar. Finally, it identifies natives or inhabitants of Latium or ancient Rome.
 
Napoleon III coined the term “Latin America” in the early 1900s. It aligned the countries of the American continent where Latin-based languages were spoken. This was important for the French. The goal? To align “Latin-Americans” with “Latin Europe” against “Slavic,” and “Teutonic Europe” as well as against “Anglo Saxon America.” More relevant, by changing the prior description of Hispanic America, it could increase France’s role in the region. This would enable France to invade Mexico and install Maximilian I as its emperor in 1861.
 
So back to my husband’s question, why don’t I call myself a Latin Because I do not connect myself to ancient Rome. But, I do identify myself as Latina, Latinx or Latino-Americana, so why distinguish?
 
In the US, Latinos were not identified differently from whites prior to this time period. This is not to say there was no discrimination against people of Latinx descent. In the US, social movements sought to increase the voices of minority groups in the 1960s and 1970s. To identify the needs of Spanish (here I use it to mean the language) people, a special designation was needed.
 
By the 1990s when I was growing up, Latino-Americano was part of the vernacular. I embrace it because it aligns me with women who have similar life experiences, even if their families aren’t from Mexico. And, I believe that hate reduces when we see ourselves in others. Can you imagine what it would mean for “White America” to realize that the term “American” is not exclusive to them? Imagine if they realized that the term includes all the people living between Denali and Del Fuego? Such a realization would change our society.
How do you identify? Why?
 

Motivational Mantra Monday

“She who buys what she does not need steals from herself.”

January Watchwords- Re-evaluate and Reset.

In the coming year, I expect big changes in my life. But, change does not come when one continues to do the same things that have led to the status quo. No. To bring about change, one must change their mindset, actions, and desires. This month, re-evaluate and reset your life. Now, begin to imagine…

How will life change for you?