“Ay, mira que chulo. Que cute,” says the waitress at the Mexican food restaurant as she admires the cell-phone photo of her customer’s infant nephew.
“Gracias. ¿Parece Gavacho, verdad?, responds the proud aunt.
Everyone at the table agrees the baby looks Anglo and resumes the enjoyment of their enchiladas.
As I dive back into my puffy tacos, I realize I know exactly what they are talking about, because it’s a miracle I am not blind in both eyes. The horas I spent as a niño, staring at the sun while looking into a mirror to see if I could find specks of green among the varying intensities of café in my eyes.
“You don’t look Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Salvadoran,” etc.
If that phrase is aimed at us, how should we feel?
Ay, Gracias a Dios, I am soooo relieved?
Then there is this one, “You are too tall to be Mexican.” What? Is that like the “You must be this size to ride this ride” sign at Six Flags? “You must be this short to be a Mexican.”
Who is holding the measuring stick, the eye-color chart, and the skin index graphs?
Apparently, we all do to some degree, Latinos included. We see a newborn baby open its eyes, see a flash of blue and light a mental votive candle, hoping their ojos will be the same twinkling silver-blue as Tío Rosendo’s.
Ay, remember? Like the sky.
Every Latino family has the legendary blonde-haired, blue-eyed relative that somehow is never in the present generation but lingers in the memory of living relatives and in fading photo albums. Like a unicorn, the Loch Ness Monster, or a Chupacabra you hear about but only see the tracks the following morning.
Is lighter perceived as better somehow? Read this, amigos y amigas:
Going through a government survey of legal immigrants, a Vanderbilt professor found lighter-skinned immigrants made between eight-to-fifteen percent more money than their darker-skinned hermanos y hermanas. The Associated Press report also said one shade of lighter skin was about equal to an extra year of education.
My nephew Max shares a darker skin tone with me except that he sports a pair of arresting, olive-green ojos. He of the nutmeg skin and the olive eyes asked me one day why he and I contrasted with el resto de la familia. I smiled and said, “Max, that’s because you and I have sunglasses all over our bodies.”
Max smiled and ran off to play, the answer apparently good enough for him.
Hey, it is also good enough for me.
Speaking of respuestas, it took años for me to get up the nerve to speak my mind when someone (apparently in a disorienting fit of confusion, dizziness, and late-stage astigmatism) mistook me for something other than a Latino.
“You don’t look Latino.”
“That is not a compliment,” I now reply.
“Should I be relieved?”
“Whew, great. Gracias a Dios. Does that put me on the A-Team?”
Por favor, if we truly feel someone cannot be shoe-horned into our mental picture of what their ethnic group should look like, then by all means, think it but keep it inside. If you can’t resist, then stand there looking at them while mumbling the thought incoherently under your breath. That might prompt the “non-Latino” looking person to look at you and say, “That’s funny. You don’t sound like an earthling.”
Mario is the author of The Chalupa Rules: A Latino Guide to Gringolandia.
CHALUPA RULE no. 9
Latinos come in all flavors. Let’s retire the
“You don’t look Latino” comment forever.
Los Latinos vienen en todos sabores. Vamos a
retirar la frase, “No pareces Latino,” para siempre.