Wednesday, July 16, 2014

So, I guess I'm Hispanic

Great-grandfather Julio Castro
I was filling out some sort of questionnaire not too long ago, and it asked me my ethnic group. When I was younger, I'd take a stand on this and check the "decline to comment" box. After all, isn't there just one race? The human race? Why must they tear us apart with these race-obsessed questions?

Nowadays, I just kinda shrug my shoulders and think, "Yeah, I'll fill it out."

The box that I check is the one marked "Hispanic". Why do I do this? Well, 'cause I'm Hispanic. My great-grandparents, Julio and Teodora Castro, came to America from Spain. Their daughter, my grandmother, was 100% Spanish, which makes me 25% Spanish. That's Spanish enough to be Hispanic.

Still, I feel kinda funny checking off that box. I look like Joe White Guy. Isn't Hispanic something else? When I hear the word, I think of folks from Mexico, Puerto Rico, El Salvador, etc. While I realize that those are different cultures, and you always run into trouble when you go grouping large numbers of people into categories, they seem to have some commonalities which I do not. I mean, Benicio del Toro is Puerto Rican, but he played a Mexican cop in Traffic. Nobody would believe it if they hired me to play a Mexican cop. (And yes, I know that there are plenty of fair-skinned Mexicans out there. You know what kind of crap they often have to hear? "You don't LOOK Mexican!")

Great-grandmother Teodora Castro
Before I go any further, let me just make it clear: I have no problem being Hispanic. It's not that I'm saying that I don't want anything to do with the people I've mentioned before. I'm just saying that I feel as connected to them as I do Chinese people. They're not any better or worse than any other group; I'm just not in that group.

I'm pretty sure that for the longest time, whenever I would actually identify what ethnic group I'm in, I'd never check "Hispanic" even though my dad had told me that's what I was. It's not that I doubted him, but see my reasons above for why I didn't feel right about identifying myself this way. I finally started doing it consistently when filling out the last U.S. Census form, where it clearly stated that "of Spanish descent" was part of the description for Hispanic.

Maria Sanchez Romero
While I'd be a fool to say that I know what it's like to have darker skin and "look Hispanic", I do try my best to pay attention to people. I've heard many of my students, for instance, tell me stories about how people will ask them if they're "legal" or assume that they're all Mexican even when they explain that they're Salvadoran. (My favorite story involves somebody asking "What part of Mexico is El Salvador?") Also, there's often an assumption that they weren't born in this country. I've also heard complaints of people speaking to them in Spanish, assuming that they know the language even when they don't! (Mainly because their family has been in the United States for generations.)

I realize that there's a lot more to Hispanic/Latino culture than how some white people treat them like crap, but I feel like a bit of a phony by telling people I'm Hispanic. It's not like I know what any of those things are like.

But hey, maybe some Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Salvadorans, Panamanians, etc. are reading this blog and thinking to themselves, "What's the big deal? You're Hispanic. Who cares if you look like you could be the spokesman for Gringos United?"


Ingrid Johnson said...

You are a little bit more than 25 percent Spanish because my grandfather (the picture on my timeline) was half Spanish, which makes me one eights Spanish. It's only by blood though in my case. In yours, there was a lot of influence of Spanish culture in your grandmother.

Connie said...

Hey, those pics look familiar! :oD I think the U.S. Census tends to think of Spaniards as "European" as opposed to Hispanic (Latin American). After all, Julio and Teodora didn't look very "hispanic"...and their daughter (my grandmother) was a blue-eyed blond (like me!) despite being a full-blooded Spaniard! Which is true of many folk of Castillian Spanish decent. In fact when I went to Spain, I was struck by the fact that there's just as much diversity in "Spanish" people as there is here in America. Actually, there are probably more light-skinned folk in Spain than there are here now. When people tell me "you don't LOOK Spanish" I say "think of Charo!" Or I used to anyway. That doesn't seem to work so well with the younger generation today...LOL. I've been tempted a time or two to tick the "Hispanic" box on those surveys. But I'm pretty sure that my ethnic background isn't the one they have in mind. ;o)

Lance Johnson said...

It's been a while, but I remember being really careful about that census. There might have been a category for something like "European Hispanic" or something to that effect.

And you don't think that our great-grandparents look Hispanic?