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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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Defining: “Latina”

Submitted by on May 29, 2009 – 5:00 am8 Comments


latinas from msn.comI 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.

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  • [...] What is a Latina? – “I just read a column titled “When is a Latina not a Latina?’‘  The author, part [...]

  • Mario says:

    “Latinas” and Hispanics are the currently politically correct definitions – they are kind of silly because they tend to pigeonhole our varied ancestries into one little group – or racial category as some ignorant individuals believe it to be. Latino or Latina is not some new racially group as many here in New York City think. It’s just a culture or ethnic group which is very different from a racial category. Latinos can be black, Caucasian, Native American, Asian, and or a mix. As a matter of fact, and I do hate to burst anyone’s bubble but Latinos and Hispanics can be of any racial group or a mixture of all or some racial groups as I said. Spaniards and Portuguese although they don’t want to admit it for some silly reason are the original Hispanics and Latinos. But the term “Latino” is kind of wrong because in the Iberian Peninsula or in the Americas “Latin: is not spoken. And as to Latin people, well, they are people who speak Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, and Italian. Yes, Italians are Latin too.

  • Ileana says:

    I’m going crazy looking for this article (“When is a Latina not a Latina”). I’ve heard a lot about it on the radio and have seen it mentioned online. Someone said it was written by Suzan Colon for Latina Magazine, but I cannot find it in their archives.

    ¡Ayuda, por favor! A URL if possible. Or a definite citation of where the article is to be found, or a photocopy (I’ll pay copy and mailing costs).

    I’ll keep checking back here.

    • Carrie says:

      Ileana, you are right. It was Suzan Colon in Latina. If you e-mail us at the info @ tiki tiki blog address, I will send you a pdf photocopy. It is this month’s issue, by the way, and you may find it in your local library.

      What are you hearing about the column and what is your take on the subject?

  • Celia says:

    I’ve been a quiet fan of this site (and bi-lingual in the boonies)for a few months now. Like Carrie, I’m a melting pot representative of many cultures. Mexico where my father was born and Amercian, where my mother was born (of Spanish and Irish/German decent.) The youngest of 4 hijas, by the time I came around all I learned was spanglish for fear of putting me in ESL classes, as my sisters were. Friends joking call us the ‘United Nations’ since my sisters and I span the color wheel of Latinas. And yes, I do use Latina.

    Perhaps it’s not technically accurate but I refuse to use ‘Hispanic.’ I hate the history of it. I’d rather associate with a ‘label’ that I embrace and feel some owness to than a literal translation to ‘His Spaniards’ when the Iberian Penninsula was overtaken. I dont feel like the former Roman emperor’s personal group of “spanics.” I feel the pride of my own melting pot- Mexican, Spanish, Chicano, etc. And Carrie, I hope that your daughther gets to enjoy just being herself. No labels, no identity crises (which I can identify with being las mas huera) just a beautiful woman and a well grounded human being. The way we should all be.

  • [...] pot children.  Carrie previously talked about her own curiosity about how her daughter would self-identify and I think about that a lot with my own daughters.  While their mami is an ambiguous looking [...]

  • habanero says:

    well said mario…Even Italian-Americans seem to think they arnt latin too…in Europe we call Latin people to be Italians, Portuguese, Spanish etc….
    And to the people who dont like the usage of the word Hispanic cause it connects you to Hispania (Roman name of Spain and Portugal, although the portuguese use Lusitanic)..People in the USA seem to think that by idectifying as Latina or Latin (english word) they are embracing all their racial and cultural heritage…how exactly??…Latin and Hispanic are terms tha identify your EUROPEAN heritage and blood not the indigenous or any other heritage..hence the languages you speak are From Europe…

  • Lydia says:

    I’m a fourth generation Hispanic, but my parents speak only Spanish these days. When I was growing up though they only spoke English to me because they had trouble with my older siblings not knowing correct English when they went to school.
    I’ve had it both ways.. I get made fun of by older people of my race and family members for not speaking Spanish correctly(I can understand it and read it, I just can’t pronounce it that well.) And I’ve gone to school and had classmates ask where my green card was(even though growing up among ranchers in a small town gave me a definate twang). It doesn’t bother me now. I like being from both worlds and seeing where they blend together but growing up it did annoy me a Lot. Now I have two daughters who’s father is from England and I do wonder what life will be like for them. They have more to contend with then I did, they are Hispanic through me English through him and American.
    Lydia´s last [fabulousness] ..Anna Lee and the Troll

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