I was recently at a function where I met a woman who pulled me aside and said quietly, sheepishly “I hope this isn’t too personal but are you Hispanic?” Personal? I think my ethnicity has slapped itself on my face, skin, in my hair, on my hips and rear end. No, you’re not being too personal, I thought, you’re stating the obvious.
“My mom’s Puerto Rican and Cuban, my dad’s Filipino,” I answered proudly. For years I’d say I was Spanish hoping the person asking would assume I was from Spain, thinking that country was somehow more favorable to the islands I descend from.
This Puerto Rican woman, Angie, beamed when I told her I was, indeed, Hispanic, said she doesn’t meet many Hispanic woman in her day-to-day life. She was smart and sweet and insightful. We chatted for a few minutes before I left but the short conversation made me think of other conversations I’ve had throughout my life regarding my roots.
I’ve been told, “I thought you were Italian,” “I thought you were Greek,” “I thought you were Jewish,” “You don’t look Puerto Rican,” all in order to make me feel better. I never react, smile, but inside I cringe every time. I grew up where, in my mind, we were the darkest family in town. I was called derogatory names and teased at school. I got the message to blend in, didn’t tell anyone I ate Arroz Con Gandules, pasteles, loved plantains.
As I got older, moved to New Haven, went to college I connected with other Hispanic woman and claimed my ethnicity, sometimes a little too fiercely (ask my mom and sister). The pendulum eventually swung from one extreme to the other and landed close to zero position. It’s taken a long time, I can still feel my stomach lurch when I hear a negative comment, but I don’t have to apologize for looking Italian, Greek, Jewish and being Puerto Rican, Cuban, Filipino. And, thanks to dad, I have a cool last name.
Yes, Angie, I’m Hispanic too. Glad I could make your day with the news!