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.