This post was originally posted on Sarah’s blog A Life With Subtitles. Quite frankly, I’m surprised you hadn’t noticed.
I write a blog about multicultural marriage, but when I post photos it may be obvious that I am about one-day-at-the-pool away from the same general skin tone as him. Or maybe it crossed your mind, but you are too polite to say anything. Not everyone is so shy though.
Most recently, Billy was asked where he was from. When he answered “Guatemala,” the quick response was, “Oh, are your parents missionaries?” When he said “no,” he received a quizzical look and a follow-up question. Billy continued to explain. The guy finally closed the conversation with “There’s something you’re not telling me” and walked away.
Billy and I laughed heartily over “there’s something you’re not telling me,” but I do imagine he grows weary over the consistent questioning of his ethnic identity. And he receives questions from everyone… Latino and otherwise.
One guy painting our apartment in LA was shocked when Billy began speaking Spanish. When he learned he was Guatemalan, the painter replied, “Usually when I meet guatemaltecos, they look like me… Indian.” Billy smiled and simply said, “I’m wearing a mask.” He’s been asked if he’s a Spanish teacher, a missionary kid, if he was born there, if his parents were born there… but everyone is really asking the same thing. Why don’t you look like what I think a Latino is supposed to look like?
I get it. The first time I met light-skinned Latinos was in college. I was more familiar with the image of the Mexican or Central American representation of Latinos, and I felt a bit confused. What I learned through those relationships and the ones since is that Spanish-speaking ethnic groups identify with several different racial categories. In Billy’s case, his ancestors hailed from Spain (get it? Spanish…yeah, that didn’t occur to me right away…) and were therefore European. Entonces… light skin.
It’s fascinating to me how descendants of Spain in the US are “white” and descendants of the same country living in Guatemala are “Latino.” But it alludes to the complexities of race and ethnicity and language in our society. My sociology background teaches on the “social construction of race,” a topic about which I may blog more in the future. It’s really interesting (says the sociology nerd).
Billy’s racially ambiguity had to be clarified on the 2010 Census, and I was interested to see how it would be addressed. Well, there was an entire question “Is this person of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin?” They offered a couple options, such as Puerto Rican and Cuban. Ultimately, we filled in the blank: “Guatemalan.”
But there was also a race question: “What is this person’s race?” The choices were: White, Black (African American or Negro), American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Native Hawaiian, Guamanian or Chamorro, Samoan, Other Asian, Other Pacific Islander, or “Some other race.”
So it’s official… my Latino husband is white.I’d love to hear your thoughts or reflections. ____________________________________________________________________ Sarah Quezada works with Mission Year, a year-long urban service program for young adults. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband Billy and daughter Gabriella. Stories and reflections on their cross-cultural life and ministry together can be found at her blog, A Life with Subtitles.
The lady at the Texas driver’s license office was really puzzled when my blond-haired, blue-eyed son marked “Hispanic” on his form. When my wife (Argentine) asked if there was a problem, the woman explained. My wife said, “Well, he was born in Argentina. I’m Argentine.”
The woman looked at her and said, “You don’t look Argentine.” Which meant, of course, she didn’t look Mexican.
I’m glad that the federal government realizes that Latinos can be of any race.
Thanks for sharing your family’s example, Tim.
I hope that as more South and Central American folks continue to diversify our country, that we can expand our idea of what it means to “look Latino.”
Thanks for weighing in!
Reminds me of my cousin – mother (my aunt) is African-American, father is Puerto Rican. When he signed up for the military decades ago under his full name – Luis Tito Hernandez – but checked “black” (having grown up in Tuskeegee, AL, he didn’t speak a word of Spanish or know any Hispanic people), he caused quite a bit of consternation!
I’m Puerto Rican and I’m whiter than most of my American friends. I’m really whiter than most people you’ll meet. My grandmother on my dad’s side had blonde hair and light eyes, but my grandpa on my mom’s side has dark skin, hair, and eyes. We come in all different colors, yet people still get caught off guard when I start speaking Spanish with my very accented Puerto Rican accent. I also check off Hispanic as my ethnicity and White as my race. The two are definitely not mutually exclusive.
I’m Cuban, I was born there and move to the U.S when I was 13 years old. I was always considered white, I consider myself white. I am 27 years old now and still find it shocking that someone would consider me otherwise just because my ethnicity is Hispanic. People don’t seem to get that ethnicity and race is not the same. Most Cubans I know are white. My brother in law, also Cuban, has blue eyes, blond hair and light skin. Everyone speaks to him in English when they first meet him and tell him they though he was American white by the way he looks. Same thing happens to my boyfriend who is Cuban. He has very fair skin that burns in the sun, freckles all over, and hazel eyes. People think he is American white when they first meet him and seem surprised to see he is speaks Spanish when they try to talk to him, haha. I find it funny. They are white just not American. Almost all of his family has light eyes and they all have light skin. Same goes for my family, almost all of them have light skin, with the exceptions of a few who have olive skin, but still look very white in features, just like Italians. I also know black hispanics, who I know would be confused if they were told they are not black. Anyway, interesting article and I’m glad to know some people actually inform themselves. I which more people would do the same. Good day :).