Latinaness

Jennifer Lopez by Kalumba Joel on Flickr

Latina Like JLo

On my last birthday, a friend gave me a wonderful pair of earrings. I was grateful and appreciative that she thought of me and remembered my love of earrings when she came across this pair she thought I’d like.

As I was opening her gift, something slipped out of her mouth before she could stop it, and I could tell that she immediately knew it might not have been the best thing to say. We know each other well enough and what she said did make me laugh, but still, the weight of what she was saying remained thick in the air.

Just as I pulled the last piece of tape off the gift and went to open the box, she blurted with excitement: “I  just know you’ll love them. They’re by JLo!”

That stopped me in my tracks. There was so much about this that was funny. First, that my loving friend would think that if it’s by JLo it meant I would automatically love it because, well, I’m Latina. Second, the very moment she made the JLo comment, she began apologizing one hundred times in a row. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry…

I told her all was fine and put her at ease. And the truth is, I did love the earrings. And I do love most anything by JLo.

Do I love JLo everyday? No. Is everything in my closet and jewelry box by JLo? Again, no. I like variety as much as any other woman.

But Not Latina Enough For Some

Then, the weekend I was writing this post, I followed an online comment thread about a YouTube video that someone had put up. It followed the theme of the popular meme of “What XXXXX Women Say.” You know, the ones that have been going around.  In this case, the video was about Latina women, and what they say.

Some of the comments people left on this YouTube video were from those who thought they had to put this out there to the performer: “”You don’t sound Latina.” and “You don’t look Latina”;  ”You don’t act Latina”; and “Latinas wouldn’t say that.”

All that, despite the performer having Latin roots.

Someone once told me they were surprised to find out I was Hispanic. Their reason? “You don’t wear leopard spots ever.”

How many leopard spot-wearing days a year do I need to be Latina enough? Two times a month? Is that enough leopard spot-wearing to be considered Latina?

As an American with Colombian roots, the question comes to my mind: What is Latinaness? And I pose this not for the non-Latino population to determine, but for us to discuss amongst ourselves.

What makes us who we are? And why does it sometimes seem that our harshest, most intolerant critics are those among our own ethnicity?

What makes us Latina enough to be accepted by our own cultural group? What is it that the critics within our own cultural groups want to see? What would make us Latina enough for our own people to accept us?

Latina Enough

The barbs that sting me the most are the ones that come from my own people, with words of judgment, non-acceptance, and closed doors. (At least my gift-giving friend thinks me Latina enough.)

I want to say to these people, my own people, I don’t fit into the American culture, and you make me feel as if you can’t accept me into your culture based on standards that you determine.

Where would you like me to belong? Because I want to belong with you. You. Where my roots begin, where my heart lies, where my identity is grounded. Please, I may not be exactly like you because I am born here, or have lived here most of my life, but I want to be one of you: you’re my people, and I love you.

 

Share, por favor!

By Alexandra on February 11, 2012 · Posted in headline, the habla habla

39 Comments | Post Comment

Abraham Zavala says:

Be who you are regardless of what other say…. The most important person to please is our own. It is the same process for all of us who happened to be transcultural human beings. I can share with your my own personal accounts of being too much of a Jew for some and not Jew enough for others. I discovered at the end that the most important person I need to please, and that needs to feel comfortable within his own sking, is me. Yes me! Not the rabbi, not ultra orthodox Jew who invites me to become a member of their congregation, not my parents, but Me! Through this process of self-acceptance I learned that I dont want to be defined by labels for labels cant really explain who I am as a whole person. Labels are very narrow to define us, hence I am just Abraham, or El Turko, and I define my self in own terms.

Posted on February 11th, 2012

Anita says:

This is an interesting point that I think many women with Latin roots face…. As a Cuban-American who had blonde hair for a long time (gasp- Hispanic people can have blonde hair!) I got the “You don’t look Cuban” comment all the time from everyone including people from Hispanic countries. My hair is now dark enough to lessen the comments but I always found it such an odd exchange of which I could set the record straight- my Cuban parents both had blonde hair and all on my dad’s side have light eyes. And Cuban food isn’t spicy either ;) That’ll blow their mind too.

Posted on February 12th, 2012

Alexandra says:

Than you for giving me a voice here, TikiTiki. I often wonder, how do people decide they are the ones to delineate who is acceptable in a culture, and who is not. Some of us feel we belong to neither world: too different for the Americans, not ethnic enough for our home culture.

Posted on February 12th, 2012

Darilis says:

I personally claim all my peepees regardless if they speak Spanish or not, their level of pigment, etc. I am originally from Puerto Rico. I moved to Michigan when I was 12. Early on I noticed that my Latinaness and that of my cousins was very different. My Rican being was present and on, all day every day, while they choose when it was brought out. I did not understand that. I faced different struggles than they did because I had an accent and my identity was different from theirs. I have never been questions about being Latina (not enough or too much, I guess I am just right). I still carry some painful reminders of the racism I experienced when I moved to Michigan. It shaped my life and how I saw the world at a young age. When people who are Latinos from the US can’t understand my experiences it can make it difficult to relate to them. I feel that way about my cousins and we are all 100% Puerto Rican. But, they have not lived what I have lived coming from the island since they grew up in the states. If you have not been made fun for your accent, your hair, your skin, and can’t empathize it can put people us who have been through difficult experiences on the defensive. I am not saying that it is right, but that is what I have seen and I am guessing why some Latinos put limitations on Latinoness. I do not like to live in limitations and I do not consider people more or less Latinos but I can say that at times it has been hard to connect with Latinos who grew up in the states.

Posted on February 12th, 2012

Alexandra says:

Thank you for an honest and enlightening answer. I know understand your side, and I hope you see a glimpse of my side.

I feel very hurt when I am not included, when I feel judged for not being “latina ” enough, since I was born here. My brothers and sisters came from South America, and I was the first American, no one spoke English in my home, so I never felt part of America, either. But often I never felt accepted by the Latinas in school, either.

I was a woman without a country.

Posted on February 13th, 2012

Kerry Ann (aka Vinobaby) says:

Oh my, the leopard spot comment totally made me laugh, sorry… Beautiful post. I think all of us, no matter what blend our ethnicity may be, feel those stings of not belonging, of otherness sometimes. Growing up in different areas of Florida, I was surrounded by a melting pot of people and cultures. And I learned that you can never grasp the history of a person by their skin tone or leopard spots…

Posted on February 13th, 2012

brian miler says:

interesting post empress…thinking on similar lines this weekend when i saw red tails…i know not latina but still it made me think on our cultural diffences and race issues and how we deal with them today…still a lot of stereotypes exist and we really are not very sensitive to them…even within our own culture…we make assumptions…and in the open society we have (where people have no filter) it flies and then we have to pick the bodies up afterward…

Posted on February 13th, 2012

JL says:

LOL, I wasn’t aware that leopard-spots were an indication of Hispanic heritage. I’ll have to tell my little, blonde German Irish friend that she’ll have to cut down on wearing them. Like a LOT.

SMH – people are WEIRD, no matter what their heritage.

Embrace yourself; embrace your roots. Be happy.

I cam here from http://www.gooddayregularpeople.com/, and your writing rocks.

Posted on February 13th, 2012

Debi (Truthful Mommy) says:

Alexandra,
I was born here, first generation Mexican.My mother is descended form Europeans and my father was born and raised in Mexico with Spanish and Indian roots.I was never dark enough for those who were from Mexico. I didn’t speak with the same accent as they did.I was too white. Same thing happened when I spent my summers as a child in Mexico. I was also just a shade too dark to be Caucasian. I was usually called Greek or Italian by people as they were cracking a Mexican joke. I had to spend most of my childhood clarifying my ethnicity. In fact, I was so confused as a small child that I used to mark Hispanic and Caucasian every year on my enrollment card and every year was told by the administration that I had to pick one. But how could I pick, I am both? I have always felt like a woman with no country.

Posted on February 13th, 2012

Lady Jennie says:

In all the years I spent in NYC, I really learned a lot about Lations (Latinas). It’s hard to imagine anyone not embracing it – the culture was so pervasive and attractive, I was linking arms and trying to jump in (and saying chicka to my sisters). But there are also so many different types of Latinas – an Argentinian is not the same as a Columbian is not the same as a Puerto Rican is not the same as a Dominican is not the same as a Mexican is not the same as a Peruvian – and yes, I knew them all!

But I have made that mistake before of generalizing about a culture to a friend who was from that culture and it feels awful to have made that mistake. She corrected me and I wanted the ground to swallow me up.

I know I’m not really answering your question about being enough, but I just wanted to say you seem perfectly Latina and perfectly American from what I can see through your writing.

And also that my serious very white husband can dance a mean salsa that he learned while spending time with his aunt who lived in Peru.

Posted on February 13th, 2012

julie says:

With tears in my eyes (really) I type this now:

You are perfectly you.

And your words belong to everyone.

Posted on February 13th, 2012

julie says:

p.s. Forget Jennifer Lopez’ earrings. I kind of want to wear Jennifer Lopez’ breasts.

XO

Posted on February 13th, 2012

Kimberly says:

Oh Alexandra
I love you and for being so proud of your roots.
I wish that I understood. But I don’t. I’m a mixed breed of a lot of cultures (Irish, french, Italian…) that to most people, I’m just “Canadian”. I don’t fall under any “culture” more than the other. Our traditions melded into me ;)
I worked in the US in a city that was predominantly African American. I saw people get shunned for being “too light” or for the clothes they weren’t wearing or for going to school…seriously…going to school wasnt gangsta enough.
I think that you just have to be you. Be proud of who you are and how your raising your beautiful boys to be. You can be the difference with your children and them with theirs.
Love you.
Ps. I think JLo’s nipples are showing ;)

Posted on February 13th, 2012

Andrea says:

I love your sense of identity and pride in who you are. I have to admit to having pretty much no sense at all regarding what anyone should look or act like with regard to cultural identity. Maybe it is a part of WHO someone is…not HOW?

Posted on February 13th, 2012

Anne says:

I love how you don’t shy away from difficult subjects! Facing into and talking honestly about such personal and deep stuff! And I envy how you honor your roots, your ethnicity. I’m one of those Euro-derived mixes with (supposedly) a touch of native American from a great great grandfather named Samson Sacoccio (?) (of the Wichita Tribe). You’d think I’d feel like I fit in in the States. But I don’t– and I never have. Anywhere. (Except New York City– with so many odd ducks.)

I wonder if having this ‘bottom of the heap/top of the heap’ fixation is a curse of creative types? Or is this simply a problem of low self-esteem? Or a lack of self-acceptance? Or difficult early years? So many questions. One bright note is that from what I’ve seen of the next generation, they’re color blind, gender and sexual-orientation blind and fiercely anti-discriminatory. Maybe this Age of Aquarius shift really is happening and we, with our pain and consciousness, have played a part in paving the way to a more loving and accepting world. Let’s hope so. Viva Columbia! Viva America! Thank you for bringing us all closer.

PS I always loove the photos you pick for your posts.

Posted on February 13th, 2012

K A B L O O E Y says:

Haters gonna hate? It’s true that so many people focus on these micro-distinctions when talking about people within their own broad “ethnic group,” while those outside the group show their prejudice (or honest dopey ignorance) by making broad generalizations or stereotyping. Can’t win for losing unless we take the time to get to know people as individuals. And JLo has some awesome girls in that photo. Those comments aren’t at all related, but that doesn’t mean they’re both not true.

Posted on February 13th, 2012

John says:

I read this and I’m reminded of a friend I met in college . . . he was born on an Army base in Japan to an American father & a Japanese mother and had struggled, for all of his life, fitting in. The Army base was American . . . and that didn’t feel right. Outside of the base, was Japanese – and he did not feel welcome there. I haven’t talked to him in a long while – I need to give him a call.

Of course, I’m also reminded of the loner kids on South Park who claim you’re “too conformist” if you don’t dress like they do, and talk like they do, and smoke the cigarettes that they smoke.

The lesson, of course, is that you should love yourself . . . and, once you do that, it’s easy enough to ignore barbs and shake off labels . . . but, it’s difficult to love yourself when those barbs come from those who you identify with.

Posted on February 14th, 2012

Alexandra says:

Thank you for a wonderful comment, Abraham. I tried to find your site, and was only able to click through to a flickr page. Very interesting comment, and I thank you for giving me much food for thought.

Posted on February 14th, 2012

Alexandra says:

I know.

We need to look past appearances and who has the right amount of language or whatever is used as the measuring stick.

We are all people looking for our group. Thank you for your thoughts.

Posted on February 14th, 2012

Alexandra says:

Humor gives the much needed break from the sting, doesn’t it?

Glad I made you laugh, but that you still heard me.

Yes, we must look beyond the expectation of leopard spots.

xo

Posted on February 14th, 2012

Alexandra says:

Oh, B…we are all one people. I know you hear me.

Thanks for all your words, I always appreciate what you have to say..and the place you come from.

Posted on February 14th, 2012

Alexandra says:

Oh, Debi: you sweet woman.

I feel the same way: woman without a country. The Americans say no, and my own cultural group says “not enough”

I hear you.

Lovely woman, you.

Posted on February 14th, 2012

Alexandra says:

You are so full of wisdom. I wish you’d write more of all you’ve learned and seen..I’ve seen hints here and there, but there is a world more, isn’t there?

I’d love to hear it, Jennie.

Posted on February 14th, 2012

Alexandra says:

You, too, right? with your Mexican born father.

Where do we belong? We all just want to be part of a group.

Posted on February 14th, 2012

Alexandra says:

I.KNOW.

I love Jlo.

How could you not.

And I kinda like her divorced.

Posted on February 14th, 2012

Alexandra says:

Yes, they are showing.

Identity..we all wish for identity. It’s so hard when you try, and it’s met with a look of “you’re not enough..”

Love you, girl.

xo

Posted on February 14th, 2012

Alexandra says:

It’s something I have to work through. You can try, but you can’t make someone accept you.

My issues, I’m sure..hypersensitive to the lack of acceptance with the people I know IRL.

xo

Posted on February 14th, 2012

Alexandra says:

Thank you, Anne…the time you take with your comments makes me smile through tears.

What a special person you are.

What makes someone like you, I wonder.

I am lucky to know you.

Posted on February 14th, 2012

Alexandra says:

Kablooey, the gift you have: smartliness with the smarassliness. You balance it so well.

xo

Posted on February 14th, 2012

Alexandra says:

Easier said than done, John, and I have to work through my own s**t, I know..but it’s very difficult when you are neither here nor there, one fit in neither world.

And you are looking for that common place.

Thank you, always, for your thoughts and perspective. You always bring something unique to the table.

Posted on February 14th, 2012

Vapid Vixen says:

I’ve never really understood what it is about human nature that makes each of us want so badly to belong. That feeling of alienation and not fitting in really does sting…no matter how many times we try to convince ourselves it doesn’t, or shouldn’t matter. Because it does.

Posted on February 14th, 2012

Anna Lefler says:

Well, I think you’re just EVERYTHING enough…in every way.

Your posts always make me think. As a rule, I hate thinking, but I always make an exception for you. ;-)

XOXO

A.

Posted on February 14th, 2012

Charlotte says:

Another great post, Alexandra. I have often felt that those who judge are the ones within our own ethnic group and I just don’t understand that either. Who determines whether or not we have what it takes to fit into the Latina/any other ethnic group box?
There’s just way too much judgment going around these days, and there are MANY offenders. From my French friends who claim those who can’t speak French (but who were born there or have visited many times and have clear ties there) aren’t French enough to the family members who claim that I need to perfect my accent or no one will believe I’m really of German descent… It’s enough to make anyone mad.

I’m glad you were able to joke around with your friend about this at least. I’m sure she felt terribly embarrassed when I’m sure there wasn’t a shred of “I’m giving this to you to celebrate in your Latina heritage” sentiment. Maybe it just all came out wrong.

Posted on February 14th, 2012

J says:

Most of you have it easy. I actually hate the way I look. I’m always asked if I’m Mexican by white or black people. One time that I was doing a road trip across the country I was stopped in Alabama and they asked me if I’m an illegal. Wtf. Really? Had to show them my US passport. I speak English fluently without an accent and alot of people in the Latin community say I sound “white” yet since my parents are from South American countries and have Amerindian roots I look “mexican” to white people. I was born in Israel so when they ask me where I’m from I just say “I was born in Israel” and the look on their faces is hilarious.

When I speak spanish I’m told I don’t sound “latin” enough since I don’t have an accent (i.e. Cuban/mexican/dominican etc.)

Ugh.

Posted on February 14th, 2012

Alexandra says:

I love this comment.

These are the types of discussions I love to have: why we are the way we are. What is it about being with a group that we seek it out?

Thank you so much for your words here today.

Posted on February 15th, 2012

Alexandra says:

Ja! (since we’re over at tikitiki it’s not ha!) I get lazy about thinking too, but then I try it and I’m like WOOOHOOO I LOVE INSIGHTS.

xo

Posted on February 15th, 2012

Alexandra says:

Charlotte, we would SO dig each other if we knew each other in real life.

I can feel it.

Posted on February 15th, 2012

Alexandra says:

Oh, I wish you didn’t hate the way you look.

I hear what you’re saying, about the judgements of not being “enough.”

I’ve gotten them all my life.

Posted on February 15th, 2012

Suniverse says:

I think you are wonderful enough being you to belong everywhere.

I do tend to think that for immigrants and first generation Americans, there is a lot of Be This Way or similar that tends to weigh more heavily on the recipient than it does on the sayer.

Posted on February 16th, 2012