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Black Velvet
December 16, 2012 – 3:09 pm | 17 Comments

Childhood memories are vivid, almost indescribable in their detail, and impossible to forget. A Christmas memory I have is that of a black velvet dress  a family friend gave to me for my seventh Christmas.
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Really? You Don’t Look Spanish

Submitted by on October 19, 2011 – 8:59 am66 Comments
Sofia Vergara from ABC.com

FYI: Sofia Vergara really is a blonde. (via ABC.com)

“Really? You’re Spanish? You don’t look Spanish.”

I bit my lip and counted to three — half wanting to laugh, half wanting to “get all up in your grill” to the person commenting on my appearance upon first meeting me.

Umm..because you mean I’m not writhing against a wall, steam pouring out of a dress stretched over my skin, while I lick my lips and wink at anything having a pulse?

You mean like that?

What surprises me, in this day and age, is how Latina women as a group are dumped into the same hot sexy soup as Penelope Cruz, Salma Hayek, Modern Family star Sofia Vergara.

Don’t get me wrong, I am proud to be part of a group of women who are thought of as some of the most beautiful on the planet.

But we are not all alike.

We are not all brown sugar skin, coal black eyes, with hair that shines like a lake in moonlight.

My father, who was from South America, had blonde hair and green eyes. My South American mother has skin so white she can’t step out into the sun for longer than three minutes or she is sunburned. My own hair has natural reddish highlights and two of my children have green eyes. My third has eyes so blue I actually gasped the first time I saw them.

While on Twitter a few weeks ago, I kidded someone about sneaking her into a Latino event I was invited to.

“Yeah, except I have blonde hair and white skin,” she answered, “they’d know I didn’t belong there.”

“That’s no problem,” I tweeted back. “My niece has blonde hair and white skin. We’re not all dark. Some of us are light. Some of us are medium. Some of us are dark.”

I waited a few minutes, I didn’t get a response back.

I tweeted again, “Just letting you know, we’re all different. As different as all of you are. No hurt feelings, just letting you know.”

Maybe the no response back was due to being embarrassed,  but I meant no embarrassment or public scolding. I saw the opportunity to bring something out in the open, and I decided to act on it.

Latinas, we are all as different as you can imagine. We have eyes in every color possible, hair in every texture there is, skin in as many tones as one can think of.

We are as individual in our behavior and personalities, too. We are not just simmering sexpots with only one thing on our minds.

I love that we are seen as passionate, soulful, larger than life women. It’s the fear that that’s the only way we’ll come to be seen that saddens me: we are so much more.

So very, very much more.

And FYI: Sofia Vergara and I both are Colombian. But, why does it surprise people that we don’t look more alike?

Share, por favor!


  • LOVE this post! I also love that you took the opportunity to say something to your friend. Sad that you didn’t get a response, but maybe she just wasn’t sure what to say. I love that you’re pointing in out though and I think that really brings awareness to something that most don’t really think about. :)

  • Alexandra says:

    Once again, TikiTiki, I am so glad you exist as a place for the Latina community, and others, to meet and talk.

    This thinking, of people expressing surprise that I don’t look like Sofia Vergara..after all, we’re both Colombian, continues to surprise me.

    People don’t expect everyone from my small town of 10,000 to look alike? Why do they expect people from a country three times the size of Texas, to all look alike?

    Thank you for the space here today, TikiTiki, to promote discussion of this subject. So very much.

  • Monica says:

    Wow, this article hit home for me. I’m multiracial so I get asked “what are you”, lots of times. When I reply I am a Latina, eyebrows go up. Then I get on my soapbox about shades of skin color, eye color, etc. Even though it annoys me to have to explain my background, I take it as a teaching experience ;).


    • Alexandra says:

      Exactly what I think we all need to be doing. We come all shades, and types, and builds: like all ethnicities do.
      On twitter this morning, we were talking about how it’s expected of us to be bombshells.

      And that is so sad for our young girls growing up..b/c Latinas are wonderfully coming to be visible, but in a cookie cutter way.

  • brian says:

    we are not all simmering sexpots with only one thing on our minds…kinda like men. smiles.

    our minds categorize and process into categories to make it easier to handle the in flow of information. not saying it is right, i think in many ways it is learned…like basic language…when we teach a kid words we teach car for many different cars etc.

    i think conversations like this are good for our continued expansion of our awareness.

  • Mandy says:

    Loved this!

    One of my best friends (who also just so happens to watch my daughter while I’m at work) is Columbian! So now my daughter is bilingual. The funny part is that while I speak French and my husband speaks German, neither one of us can speak Spanish so we don’t know what our baby is saying half the time.

    I have to text my friend and say, “What does “Che-che mean?” or “What’s “Patu or Batu?” This baby has an entire vocabulary neither of her parents understands. We’ll all wind up fluent in Spanish by the time she hits kindergarten.


    • Alexandra says:

      Which is a beautiful thing, because I have always felt special, knowing a second language.

      It’s a wonderful boost to self esteem to have another way to communicate. I love it.

      Thank you, as always, Mandy, for how you support my writing.
      I really look forward to your comments.

      p.S. they did tell you what che che is, right? and caca? xo

  • Andrea says:

    First of all, I need to admit that my geography skills decrease with every inch further south on a globe you travel from Florida (not much better once you get east of Greece either). As my world has opened up to more and more diverse people over the past decade, it has become more and more apparent that no one cultural group really looks “alike” to me.

  • Thank you so much for saying this! It’s a pet peeve of mine for so many reasons. People don’t realize how diverse the Latino community truly is, not just in appearance but also in terms of language, beliefs, and even the cultures that make up our background.

    Another thing that really gets to me is being called Spanish to begin with. There’s nothing wrong with being Spanish, of course, but I don’t go around calling people English because they happen to speak the language. It feels like it’s another way for people to narrow the lens through which they see us. The beauty of being Latina is that we all have different ways of speaking the same language, different words for the same things and different accents. I love our language but I am just as proud of the pre-colonial cultures in my country that are very much a part of my roots. To call all Latinos Spanish feels like we’re only looking at one side of the coin.
    Natalia Sylvester´s last [fabulousness] ..This Is What Happens When You Watch All the Star Wars Movies & the Documentary in the Span of Four Days

  • Interesting. My very white, very blonde Scandinavian/German son was singing a Spanish song at Home Depot one day, and someone else’s older child asked me, in all seriousness, if my son was Mexican. I thought it was hysterical. Also, a parent of a child in my son’s third grade class at school told me how she had asked her kid if my son Anders was Scandinavian, and he looked at her like she was crazy and said, “No, Mom! Anders is white!” I think it’s way more interesting what kids have to say about race/gender/ethnicity because they haven’t developed that fear of making a mistake in the minefield of political correctness that hangs over us adults.

    I have read about the “otherness” that black French and black German people feel. They are commonly mistaken for Americans, even though they have lived their whole lives there and may not even speak English. It’s all about expanding our worldview, shattering those stereotypes about what “those people” look like, what it means to be part of an ethnic group or cultural tradition.

    So, you don’t look Spanish, and I don’t look like a crazy person. It just goes to show how dangerous it is to judge people based on appearance!

    • Alexandra says:

      Right, judging on appearance AND not being able to process when what we see before us is different from what we NEED it to be, for whatever reason.

      I wish we could just see people, and nothing else.

      Thank you for stopping over, and your thoughtful comment.

  • Kelley says:

    I definitely know this to be true. One of my best friend’s is fluent in Spanish and has family in Mexico. Her mother was born in Mexico. My friend has blonde hair and green eyes. She has fooled people many times. Even other Latinas don’t think she’s Latina. They’ll start speaking in Spanish about her and she’ll rattle off back to them. They’re always shocked. So, even other Latinas can be fooled apparently. Yours is a post all should read!

  • Only You says:

    I hear you, Alexandra. I subscribe to Eva Longoria’s FB page and not too ago she was talking about something similar too. Sadly the majority of people have not had much or any exposure to cultures outside their own; while they don’t mean anything bad, without that experience they just don’t know. And they end up relying on stereotypes which we can thank the media for perpetuating.

    I get this all the time as an Asian American (from South America!). I’ve had people making remarks on my being Japanese, Chinese, Filipina, Vietnamese, and Cambodian. One woman grabbed my arm in the supermarket during the Tianamen Square incident and said, “I am so sorry for what is happening to your people.” My people?? I looked around – is she talking about my parents? Who? I didn’t know I had “people.” And then I let it go because I know she just doesn’t know.

    It is great that you can speak up and educate others, and that there are these blogs and forums for the Latina community!

  • Tonya says:

    Wait. So what are you saying? You don’t all have that sexy accent either? That’s not possible.
    Just kidding. Actually my little sister is half-hispanic and she looks more white than I do (we have the same mom but different dads). Blonde hair and all!!

  • Judy says:

    Hi Alexandra,

    What a great post! I’m half Norwegian, and a lot of people have the assumption about Norsks and Swedes that we’re all blonde haired and blue-eyed with slight builds. And while my mother-in-law fits that bill, nobody in my own family does. We’re big boned, dark haired and fair skinned. I think the misconceptions happen about all races. I find it somewhat intriguing.

    A few weeks ago, I’d commented on one of your posts that I was glad to finally see a picture of you, because I always pictured you with the porcelain skin of the queen you’ve had on your blog for years. Afterwards, I kept second guessing what I’d written. I wondered, if I sounded racist, or if it sounded like I thought you should look different than I pictured you based on what I knew of you from your blog. I considered going back and explaining that I just meant that it was nice to finally see a real picture rather than the queen in the picture, because I figured it wasn’t a portrait of you. I even considered just removing my comment, but I didn’t.

    I was hoping you understood what I was saying. :)

    Back to what you say under the picture of Sofia Vergara, and her being blond…I saw an interview of her several weeks back. She mentioned that she was actually blonde, but that she had to dye her hair for the role, because the producers didn’t think her character would come off as convincingly as a Latina with her naturally blonde hair. I remember being offended that they figured the audience was not smart enough to pick up on the fact that some Latinas are indeed blonde, but I also remember feeling sad that they missed the opportunity to break stereotypes by insisting she change her hair color.

    I’m glad you took the time to try to break the stereotypes. You did a great job on your post. :)

    • Alexandra says:

      Oh, thank you…I was never hurt by your thoughts.


      I just think it’s funny that people say, “You’re Colombian? But,…really?”

      Yes, we are as different as any other ethnicity is.

      Thanks for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful comment.


  • Jessica says:

    Stereotyping sucks. In all its forms. And yet, we as humans can’t seem to stop doing it. I assume it comes from our need for it during our cave-dwelling days (this good to eat, this kill last guy who ate it). I feel you – as a fellow homeschooler, my daughter chose to attend her first day of a new activity wearing a handmade dress and *sneakers.* But of course I said nothing. Because even if people think you look a certain way, you are Colombian. How we look and what others think do not matter. It is the Colombian in you that does.

  • Candace says:

    I’m famous! Empress mentioned me in her blog!!!! I’m the niece. And yes I am whiter than white but Colombian! Love you Auntie!

  • My husband’s family is Libyan, but he grew up in Australia, and considers himself Australian. I can’t tell you how many times people have said to him, “You don’t look Australian.” I suppose they mean, he doesn’t look white. Do they not know Australia is multicultural? That their native people are Aboriginal?

    I guess not.

    Our son is half-Libyan, half-Chinese and all Australian, living in Malaysia. Guess how hard of a time he’ll have. Or not – I’m hoping in a few years time, no one would second guess his origins.

    Love that you put this out there, Alexandra!
    Alison@Mama Wants This´s last [fabulousness] ..Playing Ball

  • Vapid Vixen says:

    As a red haired woman of Scottish decent, it’s assumed I’m hot headed with a fiery temper.


    That stereotype may be true. ;)

  • I get this quite often among the Asian population. Most people assume that I am Chinese when I am Korean. I have been in Korean shops and restaurants where servers and shopkeepers have made snide remarks about my flat nose or otherwise “Chinese” appearance right in front of me. When I correct them, they are always surprised, then ask if I married a Korean man because I’m not pretty enough to be Korean. Whatevers. I try to roll my eyes or just smile, but sometimes, it is a little trying.

  • Ann says:

    As always – a great, thoughtful post. To be honest (and I’m willing to own up to it) it sounds like something I might have said. It wouldn’t have been meant offensive, but more conversationally and curious. However, since I have a big ol’ happy face on 99.999% of the time, most folks realize it.

    ….but you did give me something to think about.

    • Alexandra says:

      Ann, I know you, and you would be so gracious in your questioning.

      This was said as a shock…if you were with me, I”d do the tone and face for you.

      She wouldn’t believe me…she was positive I was Greek.

      • Lillian says:

        I have had so many people say they same thing to me. “Oh, really…you don’t look Spanish” and then would say you look Greek or Italian. To which my reply is the Spaniards are from the Mediterranean. And then tell them my mother is milk white with freckles and flaming red hair (Puerto Rican) and my father is dark, dark hair and green eyes (St. Croix, US VI) we are all different. Being Spanish does not look a certain way. My sisters and I “passed” isn’t that sad:( growing up in Long Island NY in the 70′s. We are all now so proud to be Latinas and proclaim it!

  • Jessica says:

    Such a great post. I love that you have used this space to educate people about differences that many would not ask about or be embarrassed for not knowing, like that person on twitter.

  • Anna Lefler says:

    Okay, I totally get what you’re saying here, and it was very enlightening to me.


    Does that I mean I have to stop thinking of you as a simmering sexpot?

    I’m just askin’…



    (Fabulous post, as always!)

  • Lady Jennie says:

    I have/had tons of Latina friends from living in Manhattan. And you’re right! As different as can be. :-)

    But great food. Mmmmmmm. I can still taste the plantains, rice and beans with roasted chicken from one humble place across the street. (I also know the food is as different as the people are).

    • Alexandra says:

      Oh, the food!

      THAT would be another great post.

      I wish I could post on that, but it would hurt my in laws’ feelings.

      When we first met, they thought I wanted to go out for tacos for every meal.

      How many times did I have to explain that tacos are not from South America??

  • julie says:

    My dad was born and raised in Mexico although his father’s descendants had originally come from Denmark.

    My dad has dark hair and blue eyes. His skin tans beautifully (damnit!)

    My mother has blond hair and dark brown eyes (not the norm either, I suppose) and my sister and I ended up blue-eyed blonds.

    People used to ask me all the time how my father could be the school’s Spanish teacher because none of us looked Mexican.

    And. My middle name is Maria (which people used to always change to Marie because “I looked more like a Marie). When I would correct them, they’d say “Oh. Because of your dad.”

    But the funny part is Maria was my maternal Great Grandmother from Sweden. Some outhern Californians were shocked to learn that “Maria” is common all over the world.


    I like shocking people.

    And you, my lady, are absolutely beautiful.
    Sofia Vergara has to DYE her hair to be so pretty.


  • Charlotte says:

    Great post, Alexandra, and I’m also glad you took the opportunity to say something to your friend. There is never a standard, a “this is what we should all aspire to look like” for each minority, and I always think it’s the unexpected that make it all the more exciting. A latina with blonde hair and green hair? Beautiful! Norwegians with darker features and freckles? It happens! We need to all let go of the notion that one supermodel defines us all. Ugh, how incredibly boring that would be!

  • MJ says:

    My mom is VERY white and blue eyed, and my stepdad is dark skinned. My little sister looks more like his dad and my mom is always asked if she’s the baby sitter. Followed by the question, “Wait, you’re Mexican too?”. Even between my own Mexican community I’ve found that thanks to my light skin sometimes I’m perceived as not being “Mexican enough”, even though I was born and raised in Mexico. Unfortunately we all have these perceptions and stereotypes.

  • I think what you just said was that you and Sofia are sisters, did I read that right? You simmering little Wisconsin-Columbian sexpot!

    You bring up such a valid point. You actually can’t lump anyone group of people together. I once met a black Finnish man. Granted, I think there are only three of them in the world, but STILL! Everyone is different.

    • Alexandra says:

      Chalupa, don’t you love the unexpected in people? I do, too.

      It’s when people can’t accept or expect something different, and can’t let that go, that makes me shake my head from side to side.

      Just be pleasantly surprised, right?

  • Very well done, Alexandra. It wasn’t me who said that dumb thing, was it? :-)
    dusty earth mother´s last [fabulousness] .."Kitchen Cousins" And My MIL, The Cougar

  • ed pilolla says:

    haha:) i get ya. a couple points. with blue eyes, fair skin and formerly:) blonde hair, people are shocked to find out i’m all italian. it’s a reflection of how much the tube shapes our images of others. it’s sad, really. but the tube has a brainwashing effect.
    and i saw that allegedly ‘weird hair’ video a few weeks ago. i’d say you are definitely a hot latina.

  • Lourdes says:

    Great article…Sophia and you don’t look more alike because she has been asked to color her hair to look more “Latina”…Vergara actually has naturally blonde hair…for movies and television, she is sometimes asked to color it brunette to make her look more stereotypically Latina.

  • Great article and I can definitely relate. No one ever believes me when I say I’m Mexican. I’m 1/4 Mexican with light skin, blue eyes and red hair. And I speak perfect Spanish! I was raised by my Mexican step-father who spoke no English whatsoever and my bilingual Mexican-American grandmother, who was born in the U.S., but raised in Mexico. I spoke no English when I was at home. I was always called “La Gringita”. I was too white for my Mexican family and friends to even be considered Mexican. But because of my upbringing, I was to Mexican for my Gringo friends. And now that I live in Mexico, well no one believes when I say I’m Mexican. :P

    • Alexandra says:

      So good to see you, Leslie.

      I’ll bet people are surprised when they hear you speak your beautiful Spanish.

      Your website is wonderful. People: if you haven’t visited this woman, it’s a must. She blogs of life in Mexico, I learn something every time I’m there.

    • Beth Ortuno says:

      One of these days I’m tempted to sneak a Qtip into my husband’s mouth when he’s sleeping and send it off to that DNA-testing thing that tells you where your ancestry is from. My sisters-in-law had blonde hair when they were little and there are several people in the family with hazel eyes. Yet they say they are “100% Indio” with no Spanish background. I can imagine they could be right. Their area in Mexico is so remote to this day some people do not speak Spanish; it’s possible the European stuff didn’t reach far into the gene pool either. Plus, I figure before Native Americans came over from Asia, surely there was contact with people having lighter hair & eyes while they were back there in Asia. Who knows? To me it’s really interesting to think about… but my hubby is quite insistent he has ZERO Spanish blood so a DNA ancestry test would not be a fun diversion or self-discovery, it would be a total waste. His insistence is even more interesting, maybe.

  • Suniverse says:

    I saw an interview with Sophia Veraga discussing how she had to dye her hair darker in order to be cast as an actress because, you know, only brown hair for Latinas.

    Excellent post [as usual] and a wonderful opportunity to open discourse.

    • Alexandra says:

      It’s true, isn’t it. I could tell you stories of how people have asked me if my children have the same biological father, b/c of the difference in their eyes and hair.

      As if it’s even their concern.

      Thanks for always stopping by, so much.

  • Kir says:

    Ah yes the big box where we throw all the people who are alike. I am Polish and Russian so being busty , blonde and ble eyed is acceptable…my dad who was 80% Polish looked like Lionel Ritchie in the summer, he was so dark he could pass …so I get this so much. What a fantastic way to look at it. BTW I’d sneak into anywhere with you just to be able to tell the story later!!!!!

  • Oh my goodness! Love this! Its so sad but so true. To some people I dont look hispanic enough. I look like half African American half Caucasian and when they see my parents they swear it. But I am 100% Puerto Rican. My father is a light skinned Puerto Rican and when he had hair it was red. My mother is a dark skinned Puerto Rican and is constantly thought of as african american.

    And it continues on with my husband, who is a light skinned Puerto Rican. It irritates me that people don’t know this.

  • Beth Ortuno says:

    You are so right to bring this out into the open, and as a non-Latina person I wish I had seen something like this on the internet before I moved to Houston. (But that was back in the baby days of internet!!!)
    I guess it is just a matter of familiarity because people around here seem to know this. Being from an area where very, very few Hispanic people lived, when I moved here it was a surprise to me.

    Indeed there is a lack in what gets portrayed on tv, etc.

    Have been married a Mexican for 5 years and been living in Houston for 12 years, and still find ways to put my foot in my mouth occasionally.

    I can really understand your consternation at your Twitter friend not answering, and I think from my experience the best thing is just to admit “I’m lost here & don’t know what to say”, so I don’t think silence on her part is at all the right idea. But I also wonder if her phone fell in the toilet right that moment?

  • Natalie says:

    You have no idea how much I love your post Alexandra!

    I’ve always had people ask me, “Are you really Vietnamese?” or “You can’t be! You don’t look at all like them!”

    I honestly get quite irritated at this point – as if Vietnamese people have a certain “look” that they must ascribe to. I am pretty much a walking anomaly. I have a head full of tight curly hair that won’t stay straight no matter what I do to it. My facial features are all out of whack. I’m also not quite slim -or as a relative kindly put – “too much,” even though I was 115 lbs at 5’1”…a healthy weight. I just don’t understand this mentality – to automatically make assumptions about others because they don’t fit a certain mold. It’s not a healthy attitude to adopt, and quite frankly, it really sucks.

    So the question ends up being: What are we to do about it?

    Some people are not at all interested in cultures outside of their own, and at this point, there really isn’t anything you can do about it. However, others make remarks like this because they are ignorant (misinformed), in which I attempt to educate them as much as possible. If I’m successful, I truly am happy that I’ve made a difference – no matter how small. :)

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