Latinos Are American, Too! (This Means Me AND My Kids!)
Submitted by Myriam
My name could probably fool you on paper. I have a Jewish first name, an Arabic middle name and a German last name. You'd be looking at my résumé thinking, "This lady cannot possibly be Hispanic." But I am.
I am as Hispanic/Latina as they come. You can see my big hips from a block away, my hair is raven black (except for those pesky gray hairs that have started popping out), my skin is a light brown and can tan if I want to, and my eyes so dark you can't see my pupils unless you're really looking for them. And my maiden name, González, had a ring to it. Everyone could say it (since it doesn't involve any rolling "R"s) and almost everyone could spell it.
I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, a land where there are all shades of skin tones, eye and hair color and texture. My grandmother was white, blond and blue eyed. My brothers have olive-green eyes. My older brother has curly hair and my younger brother has thin, straight hair. We are all Hispanic. Having being raised in a country with such diversity of physical characteristics, it never occurred to me that people were judged by that.
When I came to the United States, I had to learn how to deal with the stereotypes of being Latina. In college, my freshman roommate was disappointed that she had gotten a girl from Puerto Rico as a roommate, rather than a "real" international roommate (she was hoping I'd be from Europe). She moved out. That was the first time I faced being judged by my race. The list of stereotypes never ceased to astonish me. People actually asked me if I carried a switchblade a la West Side Story and talked about the "hotness" of Latin women. I was young. I just dealt with it.
Years later, I moved to South Florida and things got better. Since the area is a hub of Hispanic nationalities, I spent 6 years of cultural bliss. I met my husband (hence the German last name), had 2 kids and my biggest problem was convincing people that indeed, I was who I said I was, even though my unpronounceable last name didn't match my looks.
Then, we moved to the Blue Ridge Mountains. My parents and my brothers had been living in the Asheville area for almost a decade and I loved the place. It seemed like a great place to raise children. What I did not know was that there is a big migrant Latino population that moves through the area and a lot of Hispanic people who live here. And so, the nightmare has begun again.
The issue of illegal aliens and undocumented workers keeps raising its ugly head. The newspaper's editorial page became a call to deport anyone whose name was Spanish. They said that the Mexicans were taking the work away (although every time I drive by an orchard or a construction site, I don't see "Americans" standing in line, looking for work...) Animosity keeps growing and it gets out of control.
Since my husband is Polish/German/English, our children don't look Hispanic—AT ALL. Now, I am learning to deal with a different set of stereotypes. For instance, I was recently at Wal-mart, when I started speaking in Spanish to one my kids. A lady standing next to said: "Isn't that nice! You speak Spanish to the children. Does their mother mind?" As I wondered why would I mind, it dawned on me: I was their nanny...
Another time, I was pulled over on a Sunday morning on my way to church. I was driving my Cadillac SRX a little too fast. The policeman looked at me and asked, "Uh, is this YOUR car?"
He looked at my boys in the back seat. "And those, are they YOUR children?"
Ok, I had leased the car, so it really wasn't mine but the bank's, but I had the two scars of the two c-sections to prove that those were my kids!
One last example, (though I could keep going and going): My dad and I were having lunch and as we moved through the buffet line, someone said to us, "Do you mind speaking in English? I don't understand what you are saying and you might be talking about me." Well, we weren't before, but guess what the next 10 minutes of our conversation was about!
Ah! The joys of living in the land of the free.
In discussing the immigrant situation with someone, I was told that maybe the best thing for me to do was to go back to my country. That would be the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. I had no idea what to say other than, "I LIVE where I came from! I am a natural-born U.S. citizen—you know, since the 1898 invasion?"
Here's my point: I love the United States. In our home, my children have American flags in their bedrooms. One of their grandfathers graduated from the Naval Academy and the other was in the U.S. Army, their great-grandfather served in Korea. We are proud to be Americans. Still, my sons are faced with witnessing acts and behaviors that go against their beliefs of what this country is about. It has become my mission to teach them to love ALL, because not all will love them or others. The things they see happen to me, also happen to other people and they are not as lucky as I am to be a citizen. I don't live in fear of being taken away from them, but I live worried of the injustices that they might witness. Regardless of the issues and the laws, people are people. There are no "races"—only one human race. I want my oldest to embrace his sensitivity to others and my youngest to continue to live life as the tornado he is.... Not how to deal with being multi-racial or how to field questions on MY "residence" status. I want them to be proud of where they come from, but work on where they are going.
So much for Hispanic Heritage month.
Thanks to: Myriam Schulze