Welcome to another Smithsonian Hispanic Heritage Month post! Can you believe it’s almost the end of September already? Today we welcome to ALBTALBS author Mia Sosa. Mia also has a book out this month (Acting on Impulse) so be sure to check that out as well.
“You don’t look Latina.”
As I was trying to brainstorm what to write about in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, I came across a tweet from Zoraida Córdova that resonated with me. For context, here’s the tweet:
My reaction to Córdova’s tweet and the POPSUGAR comment* that prompted it was:
Yes! Yes! Yes! Finally, someone understands me. Why? Because if I had received a dollar every time someone told me I “don’t look Latina,” I’d have enough money to fund a college course on colorism and erasure in the Latinx community. (See what I did there?)
In my experience, the conversation typically goes something like this:
Person: “You have an interesting look. You’re not just black-black, right?”
Me: *scratches temple* “What do you mean by “black-black”?
Person: “Oh, you know, you’re not all black, right?”
Me: “Um. Are you asking about my ethnic background?”
Person: “Yeah. See? I knew you weren’t “black-black”? So where are your parents from?
Me: *wonders why I’m still conversing with this person* “Well, my mother is Brazilian and my father is Puerto Rican.”
Person: “Oh, I knew there was something, but you don’t look Latina, and I was trying to figure it out. So you’re not black at all? How can that be?”
Me: “Okay, take care.”
What bothers me most about these kinds of conversations is the incorrect assumption that a Latinx prototype exists. It centers certain appearances and experiences as defining what it means to be Latinx while erasing all others. The truth is, Latinx people come in all shapes, sizes, skin colors, hair textures; not every Latinx person is cishet (many of us are not, in fact); and there is no universal Latinx experience. Also, and some of you may need to sit down for this one, not every Latinx person likes rice and beans.
The mainstream media play a role in this distortion, of course. And schools are part of the problem as well. Too often, they neglect any discussion of Latinx history and culture, let alone a discussion of diversity among Latinx people. But I want to acknowledge every aspect of my cultural identity, including the history that led to the spectrum of appearances we see in our community. As Henry Louis Gates, Jr, once observed, “There were 11.2 million Africans that we can count who survived the Middle Passage and landed in the New World, and of that 11.2 million, only 450,000 came to the United States.” This is my history. This is Latinx history. We should celebrate it, not erase it.
In my little corner of the book world, I’m thrilled to see an increase in diverse representation of Latinx people on covers. Here’s a sampling:
A ginger Latina, y’all? Yes! I love the direction in which we’re headed.
*To read the excellent piece Córdova was quoting from, click here.
After a very public breakup with a media-hungry politician, fitness trainer Tori Alvarez escapes to Aruba for rest, relaxation, and copious amounts of sex on the beach—the cocktail, that is. She vows to keep her vacation a man-free zone but when a cute guy is seated next to her on the plane, Tori can’t resist a little harmless flirting.
Hollywood heartthrob Carter Stone underwent a dramatic physical transformation for his latest role and it’s clear his stunning seat mate doesn’t recognize the man beneath the shaggy beard and extra lean frame. Now Carter needs help rebuilding his buff physique and Tori is perfect for the job. It doesn’t hurt that she makes his pulse pound in more ways than one.
Sparks are flying, until a pesky paparazzo reveals Carter’s identity. Tori is hurt and pissed. She wants nothing to do with another man in the limelight, but she’s still got to whip him into shape. Can Carter convince Tori he’s worth the threat to her privacy that comes with dating a famous actor, or will Tori chisel him down to nothing before he even gets the chance?
Grab the popcorn…
You can buy Mia’s September release, Acting on Impulse, here, and read more about her Love on Cue and Suits Undone series on her website.
I learned about the cultures of our “melting pot” that is the USA which included Latinx from many areas of the world–I’m not sure if the terms I was taught at the time are acceptable to use now–and of the native populations of the Americas: Incan, Mayan, Aztecs in 6th grade.
I learned most of my true Latinx history in Spanish class. I took Spanish from 7th-12th grade, plus two years in college.
I was lucky to have learned so much about the Latinx culture. I don’t think kids get that experience now. I was one to soak it up like a sponge.
My wife faces that same thing every day but it was especially bad in high school. My wife has albinism so her pale skin and white hair belie the fact that her family is from Mexico and her relative was the first governor of San Antonio when it was still part of Mexico. It was bad for her in high school because of being, like me, a military brat. When her father retired and moved the family to south Texas near the border her classmates didn’t realize her heritage and thus would speak in Spanish about the new “white girl” not realizing that she speaks Spanish. Even now as an adult she gets that, “what are you?” question quite often. She’s usually gracious. Usually.
Thanks for commenting Denise and David! Yes, Denise, Spanish class often is an entry point for learning about Latin American history. But as you say, many kids aren’t exposed to that history now. Often, it’s up to us to fill the void. And David, yes, yes, the assumptions affect Latinx people at both ends of the hue spectrum and in places in between. I’m usually gracious about it too. Usually. 🙂