"Mas vale causar envidia que lástima."
I've mentioned before that being bicultural was something which I never fully appreciated until I became an adult. When I was younger I was not like my friends and classmates, as I was raised rather conservatively, but I was "la americana" elsewhere. I thought I had learned to understand this, and yet from time to time I still find myself on the receiving end of a kick in the pants.
Enter a former midwestern colleague of mine. This woman (I will call her "V") was completely of anglo-saxon descent. That is not to say that there are not tall, blond and blue eyed Latinas. My family has quite a number. But V was all American - save for one thing. V had studied and lived for some time in South America and grew to love everything about the people she met, the food she ate and the language she mastered. She spoke fluently and identified with many of the South American people with whom she worked and played. She immersed herself in everything Latino and worked strictly for Spanish speaking companies.
While having lunch one day we began to talk about our lives outside the office. I spoke of my husband, my friends and my family. Apparently each area of my life that I mentioned added another ring to the target that was slowly growing over my head until she let her arrow fly. With what seemed an audible zing she exclaimed, "You're no Latina." I froze. At the ripe old age of 42 I was once again being questioned on the authenticity of my heritage and ethnicity.
"What?" I asked. "You are not Latina," she repeated. "Honey I'm more Latina than you are." When I asked her to explain her comment, she went down a list of everything from the way I look to the way I act, from the way I speak to the people with whom I surround myself. I felt as though I had been sucker-punched and the old taunts of "aquí vienen las americanas¨ and ¨why are you dressed like that¨ came rushing back. I laughed it off but I was shaky as I left the room.
Some time later it ocurred to me, after a good deal of reflection and no end of self recrimination, that what she had in fact been that day, in my opinion, was incredibly racist. I am Latina and I am a Latina. I am the daughter of my parents and my grandparents before them. I love both of my parents´ cultures and respect the meanings and mysteries behind them. For me, speaking and writing Spanish is something innate and raw which I both absorbed from my environment and studied, and I do not need to seek out others like me to justify who I am. I choose my friends on the basis of who they are as people and not their ethnicity. I eat the food I like, I watch the programs that entertain me and I read what interests me. I do my best to convey the best of those worlds to my children and try to present myself as an educated and kind person. Whatever stereotype existed in her mind about how I should be is not anything I was ever taught.
So, for what it is worth, I may not always be satisfied with who I am... but I damn well know what I am. No one can convince me otherwise.