I am not white?

Believe it or not, I grew up thinking I was.

In Colombia children learn that there are three main races: black, white and native. The combination of those creates races like “mulato” or “creole”. When identifying with a race back then, I looked at my family and my blond hair and light eyes, and thought of myself as white. However, the whole label thing was never important and it did not come into play every single day of my life. I would like to think that I was not a minority when I would not think of people as colors. I did not know one of my parents was somewhat racist until much later in life, and I lived here in the U.S.

My rude awakening to race issues came on the first day I was in the US. I was sitting down by some members of my family, and was told that I should not socialize with pretty much anyone. Do not trust anybody, not even people from your own race… I was like what? wait? what race? slow down? How do I know how a Puerto Rican is different from a Mexican? And what the heck is Latin? I thought that was a dead language.

In just hours from leaving a bunch of friends and family back at the airport, people that were bawling their eyes out because I was leaving–some even that I did not know then I would get to see again–my world view had to change. Not only did I have to very quickly learn that wearing the wrong color at school will mean I would get beat up, but also that someone speaking the same language as me was not trust worthy. The only positive thing that came out of all that was that I tried to learn English as quickly as possible.

In some instances my family was right. The school that I went to was full of gangs. Mexicans hated me without even knowing me. I quickly learned the difference between a “Chicano” and a “Chilango.” I quickly learned that half of my vocabulary was to lay dormant because the Spanish most people spoke was limited. Most of the Spanish speakers I know were told by their parents to learn English, and their mother language was pretty much lost.

I still have a hard time fitting with the concept of being part of a race. I am very proud of being Colombian, but as far as being Latino, it is an identity that is hard to fully embrace, let alone define. I made friends in high school based on personalities and not colors. Working at McD’s I made friends with co-workers regardless of race. I am not fluent in “Vato” anymore, but could probably still pick it up. But thanks to my high school experience I know the differences between the Mexican and Puerto Rican dialects very well.

There is a movie coming out soon that looks spectacular. It has action, violence, a love story. However, when my wife saw the trailer she pointed something out that I did not think about. “This is why people think of Latinos as all being a bunch of thugs.” In a way I have to agree, because so much of what people know about my “race” is because of movies. Some might think that not being able to identify myself with my race makes me lack identity… but I would disagree by saying this. The color of my skin is not something that defines who I am. While I do not ignore the baggage that comes with being a foreigner or from a different color, I try to live my life as a human being that interacts with others at that level and hopes that I am being judged by who I am and not by the label this particular society tries to put on me.

15 comments on “I am not white?

  1. OK, so fill me in……what is the difference between a “Chicano” and a “Chilango. I’ve only heard of Chicano before.

  2. Chicano is a term use to define a Mexican American, even though it can be used for other nationalities too. First generation hispanic immigrant is also a definition used by some.

    Chilango is a Mexican national that comes from Mexico City. People from the Capital are in many ways thought of different than the rest of the Mexican population. Mexico is a huge country and there are tons of regionalism, but with Chilangos there is almost an attitude of “they think they are better than us.”

  3. It is very hard to put up with the prejudice and the misconceptions, when all they portray in movies is a bunch of outlaws trying to smuggle something across the border.

    That trailer made me angry, the same way picturing Latin America as a poor land with only huts and cows does.

  4. you know it’s kind of hard

    Just to get along today

    Our subject isn’t cool

    But he fakes it anyway

    He may not have a clue

    And he may not have style

    But everything he lacks

    Well he makes up in denial

  5. Latino is just as idiotic term as African-American. I know only one African-American -the guy I work with from Nigeria.

  6. @meesha – “latino” has a good purpose, in so much as you average Puerto Rican doesn’t like to be called a Mexican when in California and your average Columbian doesn’t appreciate being called Cuban when he’s in Florida, and so forth. The term “african-american” is a bird of a different feather; it’s a replacement for “black.” If I spoke to somebody from Nigeria or Kenya (or whose parents did) I’d have no clue which country he was from unless it specifically came up in conversation. For lack of fluency in Spanish, I’d have a rough time accurately reporting the nation of origin of most of the folks waiting in line with me at the donut shop.

    I understand, on account of my dislike of latinos in my area referring to white people as “anglos.” I’m not English, I’m Irish. If you can’t get it right, call me “white” or whatever nonspecific term toots your horn.

  7. Burro is not Mexican? the lazy ones are the Irish, or are those the tootsie roll… lol

    I’m pretty fly for a…

    If I had a dollar for every time I have been called Cuban, even by people that know I am Colombian… is it just lazy and not wanting to say more than two syllables?

  8. Dewd I thought you were some kind of Asian!

    Seriously tho, I think I first told my brother and Lilly about you by name and talk of Wow, blogging, beer, etc. It wasn’t until later that I brought up your country of origin. And when I did I referred to you as “from Colombia” not “Colombian” just like I am “from Iowa”. I apologize if that wasn’t appropriate.

    Being a WASPish feller, I haven’t had to face racism the way you and others have. I am constantly surprised at what prejudices people are capable of. Also I often don’t recognize something as racist until it is pointed out to me, probably because I don’t apply that filter to everything.

    At this point I am pretty much rambling so I am gonna say one last thing and sign off. One of the hardest days in my youth was the day I understood what racism was, and that my Grandfather was a racist. I understand how it happens to people, but there is a little part of me that cannot forgive people for not overcoming it.

  9. Technically, aren’t you a part of the caucasian race? The media is the worst place to learn about any particular group — I always get annoyed with how women are portrayed. Living in Hawaii could sometimes be difficult as I could never tell who was going to have a problem with me, just b/c I was white.

  10. My problem with the term African-American is that it isn’t descriptive. I have a white friend born in South Africa who is AA but not black. I like the term Latino, though, because it’s a little more accurate than Hispanic. The problem is that with blacks we don’t have a good term like Latino of Caucasian that isn’t geographically specific. Asian-Americans also fall into that category. When I grew up we called them Orientals, but apparently that term is offensive. I was raised to call Amerindians “Indian”, but then it was “Native American” (which has accuracy problems its own). Then I moved out west and found out that they go by their tribal name first, Indian second,and not really by Native Americans.

    A lot of people seem to resent groups being asked to be called this and not that as if it’s some great imposition or that being asked to be referred to in a particular way is anti-colorblind or somesuch. I think it’s a matter of respect to try to call people want they prefer to be called, though I wish that we could find terms that don’t just add to the confusion.

  11. The thought occurs to me that little in my comment actually addresses Logtar’s post. I don’t have a whole lot to add to that except to say that it’s interesting how relocating can give you an identity that you never realized that you had.

    When I moved to the Mormon West, I was suddenly in this category called “Non-Mormon”, lumped together with everyone from Evangelicals to Atheists. It was an odd experience.

  12. Oh, I did not even get into the genealogy part. My family tree is actually quite difficult to trace back because both of my grandfathers ended up orphans because of various circumstances growing up. I know my father’s Dad as well as my mother’s Mom have mostly German blood. The rest is made up of native american blood… that is what really confuses me sometimes about the term also… because in a way most Mexicans are native american.

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