They speak Spanish fluently, ask for "bendición" when they visit family and enjoy their arroz con gandules as much as the next chica, but by their looks you would never think they're Latina.
Fighting the stereotype of not looking LatinaJust like not everyone who has dark hair and a dark complexion is Hispanic, fair-skinned Latinas also have to fight a stereotype of their own. Some people don't expect them to speak Spanish or have a Latin family because maybe they're blonde or have super straight hair. These ladies usually have to decide whether to "come out" or pass as non-Latin. While at times their revealing stories can be funny, having to "prove" they are indeed Latinas can be a bit exhausting.
I sat with Amber (a fair-skinned brunette with freckles) and her sister Heather (green eyes and freckles, too) to talk about what happens when they identify themselves as Hispanic in public. While a history lesson usually ensues, it's having to exhibit Spanish linguistic prowess that sometimes leaves them in an awkward spot.
Amber: I usually hesitate to tell people that I'm Hispanic or that I can speak Spanish. Not out of embarrassment, but because the first thing they're going to ask is "Say something in Spanish!"
I hate this because when you're on the spot, it's hard to think of something clever to say to make yourself sound authentic. All that usually comes out is Hola or ¿Cómo estás? and that hardly qualifies as Spanish because toddlers that watch Dora the Explorer know that much.
Nowadays, I'm usually the go-to person for translations of stupid things. For example, I hear things like "How do you say 'The monkey wears purple-striped pajamas' in Spanish?" And I just stare and say "Really? I have no idea." Apparently, dumb things are 10 times more hilarious in another language.
Heather: I actually act "gringa" when we go to Mexican restaurants or places where the servers may speak Spanish. I even over do the accent when ordering a "boo-ree-tuh" or a "que-suh-dill-eh." As a matter of fact, not too many people at school know that I'm Hispanic. Not too long ago, a friend came into my dorm room while I spoke Spanish with my Mom on the phone, and she totally freaked out. She couldn't believe I was Latina!
You're too pale
Heather: When I identify myself as Puerto Rican, people usually raise an eyebrow and say, "But most Puerto Ricans are dark." I then have to explain how our Mom is light-skinned, even though her Dad (our "abuelo") is dark-skinned.
Amber: In my case, this is followed by my rant that not all Hispanics are brown. The Europeans (or in our case, the Spaniards) mixed with the local Indians and Africans. There are lots of shades of brown, including pale. And if you add to that our Dad's Scotch-Irish-English background, you end up with all the pasty brands of European descent. The bottom line is that we are a hopeless case of white and freckles.
Heather: Recently, a lady at my grandparents' Spanish church came to greet me, trying very hard to say a few phrases in English. When I started to speak Spanish back to her, she seemed genuinely shocked. So much so that she kept speaking in English back to me no matter how much Spanish I spoke to her. She just couldn't believe this "Americanita"-looking girl could speak the language. Hilarious!
Yet, for all the cultural and linguistic decisions they have to make along the way, these two young Latinas are proud of their roots and the family they were raised in. And, they wouldn't have it any other way.
And like my abuela used to say, ¡Eso es así!