Monday, January 31, 2011

The Explicación

This started from a paper I wrote a year ago, has been expanded since.

The Explicación

Every semester the first day opens up with ice breakers, yeah? One of the most common: Where are you from?

That question always throws me off. The reason being I’m from lots of places.

When I open my mouth to answer that question, I always stutter because I never really know what I’m going to say. I feel like no matter what I say, an explanation is always needed because being “mixed” is never simple. 

Same thing happens when I speak Spanish in front of anglos, when I blurt out Chilenisimos in front of my Chicana friends, when I translate something differently to my Mexican-American coworkers, when some TexMex slang slips out in Chile, etc. etc. etc.

I love being mixed, it’s amazingly normal and strange to me. I’m my own unique venn diagram that always has to be mapped out to those who would never think of merging those circles and categories. 

For some reason I try to make things easy for others, so I refer to myself as a pale Latina. I can get more specific: I identify as a (Chilean) Latina, as white (Texan), and as biracially both. Heritage-wise? I can break it down. Mapuche + Italians + Spaniards + French + Irish = all of me.

And just to note, “Examining samples of mitochondrial DNA, passed down only from mother to daughters, allowed researchers to come up with the ‘Eve theory,’ that although we also have many other ancestors, all human beings have at least one common female ancestor, part of a small band of several thousand humans from whom we evolved, living in sub-Saharan Africa, about 200,000 years ago” (Aurora Levins Morales, Remedios, 3).

The only time I’ve ever struggled with my identity or being mixed was when people gave me crap for it, presented it to me as if it were some big curse I was truly experiencing but never was aware of.

Like I didn’t realize growing up bilingual was "actually a problem, and not a benefit."

Like I didn’t realize growing up exposed to different cultures was "actually a problem, and not a benefit."

Like I didn’t realize growing up without prejudice to different races was "actually a problem, and not a benefit."


Let’s turn one thing around. I refuse to be upset and bothered because they can’t understand. I never have and never will find anything wrong or confusing about me. If anything there’s something wrong with the premise of their questions.

For example.

Knowing I’m bilingual, the very next question is, guaranteed, what was your first language? The asker has conditioned me to only be allowed one language to be first. When, as I said before, the reality is I grew up speaking Spanish and English at the same time. I would go days thinking/speaking only in Spanish, days thinking/speaking only in English, and then days thinking/speaking in Spanglish. This branches into more confusion because other Spanish speakers will pick up on my Chilean slang, and English speakers will pick up on my Texan slang. Y’all are fixin’ to be so confused, porque no cacha ni uno, que fome.

Let’s move on to the bicultural bit.
This was normal for me, to see differences and accept them. I am sad that for some people it was not normal to see differences, and thus differences were strange and creepy and wrong and had a “quick somebody’s different let’s beat them up!” kind of mentality in the air. I’ve gotten in trouble and told to step back in line many times. Yeah, I’ve learned the rules, just like my mother had to when she immigrated. But hey, since when do writers play by the rules? Of all the clashes I’ve had, the most I can do is talk about it, and explain why I’m not bending my ways. There’s no reason for me to. The most common cultural difference I experience every day has to deal with time. I play by ear, I don’t own a watch, and I stay happy. To other anglos? This is a control issue, or it’s lazy, or it’s irresponsible and of all those it’s inexcusable. Time is money and we do not waste it. The more Americans jerk it to a fast-paced life of multitasking and idolizing employees who work themselves into an early grave the more I count in, as it’s called, “Mexican Minutes.” *

I think one of the most prevalent features that sparks confusion is the issue of color. We’ve come to divide and associate race/ethnicity by skin color. Because of this, I don’t even pass as a stereotypical European Spaniard. My brother’s favorite joke is to gasp when he sees me in the hallway, “Oh my bad, I thought I saw a ghost” or “Casper!!” Yeah, I’m pale. Milky. Never experienced a tan, only a burn. Go ahead, count the veins you can clearly see.  Our society perpetuates the image that any real Spanish speaker is a certain shade that I will never fit. As irritating as status quo’s are, I enjoy bursting the bubble of some, being proof that pale Latinas exist.

To give a real world example, I was in a group of 3 other girls in class one day. They looked Latina (by stereotypical standards – and to clarify, nothing wrong with that, just painting the picture). One of them asked, “Do you two speak Spanish?” I looked up about to answer, then realized she wasn’t talking to me (Duh, should have realized by the “two”). I was genuinely sad for a moment. One said no, she forgot. The other said yes. Dammit, I was having a candid moment, so I said “Yeah I do too.” She then asked, “Oh you learned it in school?” Insert bigger sad face here. “No, my mother’s Chilean, I grew up-” (You know the rest). All our faces got red, realizing how awkward interesting it is when stereotypes are so prevalent we’re shocked when they’re broken.

Another benefit that’s come of this is, as mentioned before, seeing “differences” as normal, appreciating them but not freaking out about them. I grew up next to an African American family, and their four daughters. It wasn’t until around fourth grade did we realize that our hair was different. We put grease in my hair, and it wasn’t having the same effect as it did on them. I like to say I grew up semi-color blind. A lot of things were pointed out to me, like when I was hanging out with the latinos in my elementary school who were taking English as a Second Language, then other English speaking white kids “informed me” about what I now recognize as slurs and stereotypes. I also experienced a reenactment of when Babe separated the chickens by color by those same kids. Like I said – confusion came about when I was told to be confused, and differences came about when I was told to treat them like a bad, separating feature. 

Every day it is always there and always marked: My skin in relation to my language at the moment, my language in relation to the place I am in, and my accent in relation to an assumed history. All of this causes nothing but confusion from an outsider, and it is astounding how many outsiders there are, who cannot begin to debunk my identity and my history and how I came to be such a bundle of trilingual, cross cultural characteristics.

Society enjoys boxes and labels and nothing fluid crossing in and out. It is hard for people to wrap their mind around a person who can travel in and out of a giant Venn diagram, and the sentiment towards it is that it is a very messy, confusing thing to be.

There is a Chinese saying that women are like water, and I believe that exemplifies how mixed people are. I am a confusing fluidity, and if society takes that negatively then so be it. Embracing that otherness and being branded as an outsider in a negative fashion? No, I take that in a reverse fashion.

Those who imply my identity should be confusing are the confused ones, and those who do not understand and see this as an impediment are the ones who should reevaluate their preconceived and preset notions. I have concluded that I will never be confused about my identity.

My language has made me and brought me across countries and cultures and continues to move me, and hand in hand with that, my physical traits do not add or diminish anything to my true self or my language. With this conviction I will force the security out of pre-set simple ideals and of uncomplicated and pre-defined boxes with which our language and identity is forced into. Ultimately, I have one personal language, Chilean[sometimes Mexican]Spanish-[Texan]English-Spanglish, because it defines my own personhood, which is never confusing to me.

* See, the world tends to see all Hispanics/Latinos as being Mexican, and alliterations are easy.


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