Hi friends! We’re rolling on with Smithsonian Hispanic Heritage Month, and I am loving it! Today we have Sela Carson, who is a first time guest at ALBTALBS, so everyone please give her a warm welcome! <3
The Whitest Latina You’ll Ever Meet
Mi nombre es Sela Carsen y yo soy sooooooooper white.
I’m not even kidding. There is nothing about me that says “stereotypical Hispanic.” Light brown hair, blue-green eyes, and I only tan if I work at it.
My mother, a US naturalized citizen from Honduras, “looks” Latina. Brown skin, curly dark hair, and golden eyes. I’ve had people ask me if she was the maid.
For the record, that is not okay.
Because there’s really no such thing as “looking” Hispanic or Latina. In fact, the terms “Hispanic” and “Latino” have absolutely nothing to do with your race.
They’re about where you’re from and what language you speak.
In a video posted on Bustle, YouTuber Kat Lazo broke it down. “Hispanic is basically based on whether you or your family speak the language of Spanish whereas Latino is focusing more on geographic location, that being Latin America.”
And to be called Spanish means you’re from Spain.
That’s it. Simple, yeah?
No. Apparently not.
Because even other Latinos will judge you if you don’t look right, sound right, or act right.
My own family calls me “la gringa,” which is… not rude, really, but it’s a joke term for white Americans. It doesn’t really bother me. They’re family. What am I gonna do, fight about it? Nah. But if anyone else calls me that, it’s on.
They ask if I can still speak Spanish, and if I ate the tamales they sent back with my mom when she went to visit.
It wouldn’t actually matter if I couldn’t. I’d still be Latina. Es en mi sangre. It’s in my blood. Latina is about where I’m from, not what I speak. My children, rather sadly, have not shown any interest in learning to speak Spanish. Which means that the culture I half-way grew up in will die with me. But I have over forty cousins. I’m frankly not that worried.
And no, I didn’t eat the tamales because Honduranian tamales have green olives and raisins in them, which is a combination that is anathema to me. Take those out, and I’d eat them every day.
But my family doesn’t call me “la gringa” just because of the color of my skin. My aunts and uncles run the gamut on skin tone so they’ve got no room to talk.
For all intents and purposes, however, I’m a white American. I don’t fit into Latina culture because my family skewed middle-class white American in my upbringing. Put me in a line-up of middle-aged soccer moms and I wouldn’t stand out in any way, except possibly for the geek t-shirt and the fact that I don’t like soccer.
When those soccer moms discover I’m Latina, there’s a moment of fumbling as their brains try to put me in some new category of “different.” It never lasts. I look and act too much like them for it to stick.
Put me in a line-up of middle age moms who are immersed in the Latina culture, though, and I’ll stand out for the same reasons that let me blend in with the white American moms. It won’t be about my skin color, necessarily, but the subtle differences in attitude that are really the hallmark of culture.
Still, every once in a while, there’s a connection. I encountered another white Latina a few years ago in a Bunco group. (A group dice game that is an excuse to gossip and drink wine.) After a little conversation, we discovered our mothers were Latina – hers Mexican, mine Honduranian. A little more wine and the Spanish started to slip out. After a while, we were mangling both languages and laughing uproariously at our half-and-half upbringings (la chancleta is a Latina universal) while our other friends were glad they were the ones driving us home.
It’s a connection I can’t share with anyone but another displaced white Latina.
When the call came for Latina authors or at least folks who write Latina characters came, I didn’t say anything. After all, I’m a fringe element and I know it.
But when the call came again, I decided to step up. What did I have to lose? And after all, I had finally written a Latina character.
Mirea Randolph, the heroine of my sci-fi romance, The Wolf Who Came In From the Cold, is a translator who speaks half a dozen Norse languages – including the Norse-based language of my aliens – but she also speaks Spanish because, as she says, “That’s my family.” She’s from Houston – “Traffic, crime, bugs. Home sweet home.” And she’s fully integrated into Latino culture. She speaks Spanish with her abuela (grandmother) and she “looks” more like the American image of a Latina. Dark hair, golden eyes (what? So she has my mother’s eyes.) and tan skin.
If I wanted to write a character who was definitively Latina, I was going to have to make sure (especially in a novella where the focus was on action/adventure romance, rather than exploring cultural identities) that people would be able to identify her, whether that’s right or wrong, based at least partially on her appearance.
Either way, I enjoyed being able to bring a little of myself, my heritage, and my identity into my writing.
Thanks for reading!
If you’re interested in reading about Mirea, I have to say, that’s not the book to start with. The Wolf Who Came In From the Cold is the fourth and final book in the Wolves of Fenrir series and, though each book features a new couple, it’s best read in order. Or you can pick up the entire series in the Wolves of Fenrir Box Set.
Bio: Sela Carsen was born into a traveling family, then married a military man to continue her wandering lifestyle. With her husband of 20+ years, their two teens, her mother, the dogs, and the cat, she’s finally (temporarily) settled in the Midwest. Between bouts of packing and unpacking, she writes paranormal and sci-fi romances, with or without dead bodies. Your pick.
Thanks for visiting with us, Sela! I’m glad you agreed to write a guest post! I love all the different perspectives, and I think it’s important for a wide range of topics and views be presented! <3 I think we could spend an entire year on identity, and specifically on second generation Americans.
So my friends, what do you think? Any experience with this? Have you ever connected with someone over an unexpected similarity? Do you know the background of those you interact with?