I just read a column titled “When is a Latina not a Latina?’‘ The author, part Puerto Rican and non-Spanish-speaking, details frustrating moments when she was neither white enough nor Latina enough.
I shook my head in empathy as I read it, for as an American-born woman of Cuban, Spanish, Scottish and Norwegian heritage, I have been there. And, as the column detailed, the questions and pronouncements about my particular flavor have come from both Latinos and non-Latinos.
“You’re Cuban? How come you’re not black?” a college classmate asked.
“No chica, tu no eres cubana nada, tu eres americana,” a Cuban-born acquaintance said when I called myself “Cuban-American.”
I told the Cuban friend, that indeed, I am americana, and proudly so, and I would probably have learned to leave it at that were it not for the fact that others could not. For example, try living in a tiny, little town where you’re the only kid with a Cuban mother (Illinois, summers, 1970s and 1980s) and get away with saying you’re just “American” too. Even in Nashville, where I live, my otherness has in times past been complicated not just by my lack of 100% ”white-breadness” but also by my lack of proper Southerness.
Questions or sideways glances or pronouncements about me, and who I am supposed to be based on someone else’s ideas, do not upset me or pre-occupy me now. I think it has something to do with the increasing amount of gray hair I have. And come on, I’m no boba, there are real and wonderful benefits to living a bi-cultural life.
But, what I have been thinking about the most since I read that column in Latina magazine though, is that I am raising a daughter in the South. My 5-year-old is a bilingual Spanish-speaker with an Anglo father, a half-Anglo mother, a traditional Latina first name and an Anglo last name. She has Cuban relatives who got here just 50 years ago, and she has European ancestors who got here more than 200 years ago. She’s pale as a tuna too.
How will my daughter self-identify? And how will others identify her? What kinds of questions will she field about the depth of her roots in America? Will someone question whether she truly can have a heart that beats Latin rhythms when there is so little of that sangre in her veins?
I guess it all depends on how our country changes and expands — both in heart and in flavor. Maybe my daughter will be a grown woman in a land where she will just get to be herself, without ever feeling she should be “more American” or “more Latina” based on someone else’s definition.
Because really, she is America.
Just like me. Both halves.