Category Archives: Latino

The Latino side

I don’t often write about my Latino side. Usually, I forget about it unless someone whom I have never met in the flesh reminds me with a casual “Hola” or “Hasta Luego”.

Last night on the eve of 2009, I was reminded of the prejudice against the Latino community.

Our town of Charlottesville has a First Night celebration every year. Various groups perform, and my son performed with his Taekwon-Do group. As a perk, the group was offered entry buttons for the participants. However, in a misunderstanding, the buttons were not delivered to the school before the event.

After the performance, our family accompanied my son’s instructor, the leader of the group, over to the registration area for First Night. The Taekwon-Do instructor is a young, Latino man. The executive director of the event informed the instructor that if he hadn’t gotten the buttons beforehand then they had none for him now. While that my have been true to some degree, she was unusually curt. I sensed that she felt that the instructor was trying to pull something. She kept giving him excuses and saying she was not authorized to give him buttons.

At this stage, I stepped forward and told her that our family had already bought buttons for the rest of us, but not for the two who had been promised buttons. She then said she would see what she could do. In the meantime, a more friendly volunteer coordinator walked over and tried to help as well.

The executive director did return with 25 buttons for our group. But I do wonder what motivated her at first to resist helping our young, Latino instructor. Was it doubt? Was it skepticism? Was it prejudice? While I will never know for sure, I did sense some of the indescribable feelings that I’ve had in my own small Tennessee hometown. Feelings my father expressed when he visited the very caucasian Colorado.

It’s a feeling of being outside of a group. A feeling of not belonging. A feeling of being excluded.

Mistaken identity

I never took my husband’s last name. I was too attached to my Latino name, the one given to me by my parents. In fact, I embraced their heritage as my own.

Though my mother tried to keep me in touch with my Asian side, I rebelled. I rejected things Asian and clung to things Puerto Rican and southern. In grade school, high school and college, I was often paired with the Asian boys, though I was never attracted to them. However, they did become some of my most treasured friends.

In second grade, my mother helped my brownie troop dress in traditional Korean dress and learn a Korean dance for a community international day. I still have the dress she so painstakingly made for me. I also kept a scrapbook with the Korean flag on it that she had bought on one of her trips to Korea. But in everyday life, I, too, forgot my own biological past.

However, I was often reminded. In grade school, I was teased about my eyes, and chants about the Chinese would be used to me to intimidate me. Once in college, I was at a frat party and wearing sunglasses. A brother came up to me and said, “Wow, you actually look normal with those sunglasses on.” Normal. My life was never normal, but I love it that way.

In one large college class, I sat. The professor started calling roll. He said my name, and looked around the room. He was scanning for a Mexican, a Puerto Rican, someone who wasn’t me. I raised my hand. His gaze passed over me, as if to say, “Oh, she doesn’t understand English well.” He then repeated my name again. And I had to clear my throat and say, “Um, that’s me.”

Another classmate’s mother was doing research on the make-up of our freshman college class. Her daughter was in my Spanish class and told me her mother had mentioned a Latino student who had ticked the incorrect Asian American box. She told her daughter that she would have to change the data for that student. The classmate revealed to her mother that such a young woman existed … me.

I still struggle with the race question. What box should I tick? Should I answer “yes” to the question of Latino descent? I usually tick “other” unless there is the wonderful option, “prefer not to answer.”