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Photo: Angela J. Cerese

Debating intersectionality and identities within the Latinx community

The views expressed in this article are the views of the author.

“If you’re Hispanic, then why are you white?”

Well, a long, long time ago, all the nations lived in some state of harmony. Then, everything changed when the Europeans attacked. Colonial influences during the seventeenth century drove European powers to “colonize” previously established nations and civilizations, bringing with them smallpox and other diseases.

When these populations were exposed to new diseases, massive swaths of the native populations were wiped out without the protections of immunities and modern vaccines. A combination of Social Darwinism, white-governed nations and the eugenics movement led to an influx in the mixed-race population. As it turns out, both the Americas welcomed plenty of immigrants starting at the turn of the century.

So, why is the same question asked over and over? The answer may lie somewhere within the U.S.’ irrational fear of immigrants. Many still believe that Latinx people are universally identifiable under any one given racial category. This is grounded in racism and stereotypical beliefs and ignores the greater breadth of racial diversity within the Latinx umbrella.

I acknowledge that as a Latinx person, my identity is intersectional. Even as a Hispanic woman, I benefit from white privilege. These identities are not mutually exclusive. The struggle of balancing identities is never the same for anyone. Living in the United States has made me confused over how I identify. The United States’ unwavering fear of immigration furthers the colorist caricature of the Latinx community.

The reinforcement of this caricature makes interactions really awkward. At best, it’s presented as bewilderment during introductions or confused glances when I mention that I wasn’t born in the States, along with questions on where I’m from. At its very worst, it’s dodging increasingly invasive questions from almost complete strangers, and having my attachment to my identity questioned, with probing questions on my legality and citizenship status.

This isn’t just an issue that affects any Latinx groups that don’t present as “racially” Latinx. It’s the systematic ignorance that fuels whitewashed beauty ideals, even within the Latinx community.

There have been occasions, when I’ve sat at a table of white colleagues and a professor, while they droned on about how the Latinx community “keeps itself down” through their cultural norms and behaviors, an argument based in stereotyping and ignorance. They had no idea I was Hispanic. I’m the butt of the joke and a fly on the wall at once, without meaning to be. I have a disturbing and often depressing window into conversations about me, being talked at or about. When I do speak out, I’m discredited, or assured “But you’re not like that,” or “But you’re not Hispanic Hispanic, right?”

Yes, I am Hispanic Hispanic. I don’t look like it, just like the people who ask “Why are you white?” don’t particularly look ignorant. It’s kind of ridiculous given the history of immigration and the history of the U.S. degrading interactions within Latin America that this conversation is still one that needs to be had. Given this history and maintaining some social awareness of the US and its characterization of the Latinx community throughout its interactions, maybe remember that, like Gretchen Weiners says, “You can’t just ask people why they’re white.”