Truth Be Told: Being Latina is more than just the color of your skin

Debi and girlsMy entire life, it's been very important to me that I establish my place as a Latina. The reason it's been so important is because I've always been the girl with the light skin, brown hair, and tawny eyes and I wasn't quite dark enough to be immediately recognizable as a Latina, but I was also not blonde haired with blue eyed. I've always felt like I'm caught somewhere in the middle. No one ever really can quite place me. I've always felt like I have no defined place in the world and like I've always had to prove who I was. I don't want that for my girls.

A lot of my Latino friends have told me that I am lucky because I don't understand what it's like to be judged on the color of my skin. This is true. I may not be immediately pigeonholed and discriminated against for being Latina. However, I can't even count how many times someone has shared a Mexican joke or derogatory remark with me, only to be horrified when I explain that I AM Mexican.


I remember a few years ago, my husband, my sweet little blonde baby, and I were looking to buy a new house in a new city. Our real estate agent, also blonde and blue eyed, was driving us around our new city. We spotted a beautiful, old house that was priced perfectly. When I inquired from the back seat if we could see that house, she responded, "Oh no, you don't want to live here. This is where all the 'Mexicans' live."

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I was speechless, appalled and angered by her outright racism. My husband immediately informed her, "My wife is Mexican." I think she may have swallowed her tongue at that point. Her next statement was even worse, "Oh, no I don't mean Mexicans like you."

We're all Mexicans like me. I wasn't aware there were degrees of Mexicaness. Apparently, she thought my degree of Mexicaness is different than that of my father who was born in Mexico and came to the United States when he was 17 or the nice man selling paletas in the park or the maid who can't speak English. We're not different, we are all from the same Mexico.

When I got married, I kept my maiden name because I felt like if I changed it, I would lose the only definitive proof that I had that I was a Latina. I know it sounds crazy but that is how I felt. I am 50 percent Latina, but because of my fair complexion and non-definitive characteristics, my last name has always been what identifies me to others as Latina and, even then, only if they see it spelled out. I know that sounds sad but that is how I felt.

My daughters are one-quarter Latina. They both have blonde hair, blue eyes and fair complexions. If you met them on the street, you would swear that they were Nordic but they will tell you, " I am Mexican!"

They are so proud of their Mexican heritage. They know their abuelito lives in Mexico for half of the year and they adore their huaraches and peasant blouses that Grandpa Manny brings them back from his trips. They wear them with pride. They stand up proudly and talk about their Mexican heritage when Mexican Independence Day is discussed in school.

I know they baffle people. People think my girls are confused about who they are. When they speak Spanish with a perfect accent or ask for Sana-Sana when they fall and skin their knees, they surprise people. It's just been the way it's always been for them.

They beg Grandma to make them quesadillas con chili macho and tacos de arracherras as soon as they walk in her door. They expect "Las Mañanitas" played on every birthday and if Grandpa is in Mexico, they expect a phone call in which they are serenaded. They dance cumbia and love Vincente Fernández. They are already planning their Quinceañeras. They are Mexican, even if no one else in the world recognizes it at first glance.

I want them to always know that and be proud of their heritage. I want them to know that if people have a problem with their heritage, they shouldn't be embarrassed and hide it. It is not them who should be ashamed but the ignorant person who judges people by the color of their skin and not the merit of the person.

My girls know they don't look like Grandpa Manny, but they know that they are a part of him and his blood is their blood. My 5-year-old once told me, "Mami, I'm brown on the inside!" It's true, we are Latina in our soul, even if no one else can see it. Being Latina is more than just the color of your skin. It is a way of life and it can be seen in the way we love our children, cook our food and carry ourselves in the world with passion, commitment and faith.

Image via Deborah Cruz

Topics: bicultural baby  casa latina  child rearing  hispanic children  latina moms