The Year of Less “I’m Sorry”

Because you’re the Mexican

I started to learn that “Mexican” meant “different” and sometimes “bad” in second grade. On Heritage Day, we were all asked to color a replica of a flag from one of the countries our family was from. We posted them on the wall, and I saw a pattern. I saw groups of German, French, Irish, British, and Italian flags. Off to the side, I saw my lone Mexican flag and one from my classmate who had been adopted from South Korea.

Staying away

When I got to college, some major things changed. First and perhaps most startlingly, nobody knew I was Mexican unless I told them. Everybody treated me like I was just white. I don’t match what people expect Latinas to look like. Too pale, hair too light. Walking down the street, I enjoy all the trappings of white privilege without really being totally white (unless you’re the U.S. Census Bureau, in which case we should talk about your ontology). On top of that, it’s pretty easy to argue that I’m “culturally white”, based on who my family is and where I grew up.

If I don’t look Mexican, and I’m not culturally Mexican, and I don’t get treated like a Mexican person, what right do I have to try to learn about these things or be a part of that community?

Grad school was the same. Stayed away because I didn’t want to take the chance of getting rejected.

What I was afraid of

Working in the diversity & inclusion space has given me a significant deal more confidence in my identity. I spend a lot of time coaching people that their unique stories and perspectives are important. They’re interesting. They’re valuable. Turns out, when you preach it enough, you start to believe it. I’ve grown to appreciate that my mixed identity gives me an ability to put myself in lots of different people’s shoes: while I can’t completely understand everyone’s experience, my identity makes it a great deal easier.

I feel like I’m apologizing to white people for not being one of them and to the Latina/o community for not visibly representing them at all times.

But I’ll admit that I’ve been shocked recently by some of the reactions I’ve received about my new attitude. In the last year, I made my first attempt to personally join a group for Latina women. There was a comment made that I felt was mocking a group of women for their perceived ethnicity. Likely driven by my very raw sense of insecurity in that space, I lashed out.

The takeaway

My feelings of inadequacy about my identity aren’t very unique. I’ve been noticing more and more the questioning of light-skinned Latina/o people’s identities. The fact that it’s sometimes come from people within our own communities has been surprising. Calling light-skinned Latina/os “white”, or telling them that they are not or cannot be Latina/o. It’s untrue, and perhaps more importantly, it’s unkind. It’s just an incredible amount of wasted effort. Who am I to determine who is “enough” to qualify for a specific identity?

--

--

Equitable Design & Impact @CultureAmp. Advisor, investor. Mathpath = (Math Nerd + Empath). Queer dog mom, Latina. Your contribution matters. She/her.

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Aubrey Blanche, The Mathpath

Aubrey Blanche, The Mathpath

Equitable Design & Impact @CultureAmp. Advisor, investor. Mathpath = (Math Nerd + Empath). Queer dog mom, Latina. Your contribution matters. She/her.