Saturday, May 7, 2011

Bendito Carajo

Recently, the Latina Institute for Reproductive Health published this wonderful toolkit for facilitating a discussion about reproductive health issues with young Latina women which you can find here.  The guide is full of tips and sample questions all geared at getting a group of girls to talk about their sexual health.  It even has a story-collecting section and specific follow up questions to ask after watching the movie Quinceañera and the show No Easy Decision.  I would give this guide an A+ and am already forwarding it to people within the Latina non-profit community here in Milwaukee. 

There's just one problem.  One of the discussion questions states, "While none of the women in No Easy Decision were Latina, what factors do you think affect a young Latina's decision and/or ability to obtain an abortion?"

(Insert scratching record noise here).

I am Latina.  My mother was born and raised in Colombia, a country that I have had the privilege of visiting numerous times and had citizenship of for most of my life.  I also like Juanes a lot, and I would eat empanadas every day if I could, 'nuff said.  Naturally, I was enojada as all hell.  I even posted a vulgar rant about it on my facebook wall, which I promptly deleted after calming down and realizing how unfair and unprofessional I was being (I have been known to possess a hot temper, a handicap that I am still learning to handle).  The thing is, I really wasn't mad at the Latina Institute.  The toolkit that they produced is terrific, they just goofed and didn't do their research.  They do not deserve my wrath.  The fact is I have always been very insecure about my ethnic identity.  My mom's family are an of old Spanish lineage.  The Vallejo clan even has a crest from Spain, how cool is that!?  In short, we look more European than indigenous.  My dad is an American of purely German descent, so the result is that I look pretty damn white.  Being raised somewhere between the suburbs and the urbs in the midwest and going to predominantly white schools has rendered me accent-less, although I can do a hilarious impression of my mom when she's mad. So I can understand why people assume that I am not a woman of color, but it still bothers me.
I actually received a phone call from Maria Elena of the Latina Institute.  She was incredibly gracious and offered me a sincere apology for the mix up.  I am honestly glad that the mistake happened because if it hadn't I wouldn't have gotten a chance to speak to so sincerely nice a woman, nor would I have even heard of the NLIRH and all of the terrific work they do for women across the country. 
The night after the phone conversation, I had a very vivid dream. I was attempting to buy watermelon ice cream, the kind where there are little black watermelon seeds rendered of sugar speckled throughout the pink and green swirls. I was in a mexican restaurant and everyone was speaking Spanish, and the only language that I could think or speak in was Spanish as well. I remember quite vividly saying “Dos tacos de lengua por favor, y será posible probar el helado de sabor sandía?” and the waiter responding with an icy stare. I was too white to eat there, much less insult them by ordering in Spanish. I feel this way a lot in waking life actually. There are times when speaking in Spanish is the more natural language in a situation but I'm afraid to open my mouth because I'm afraid people will think 'why is this white girl condescending to speak our language'. I don't want to be perceived as one of those dumb gringos that tries to order in Spanish at a Mexican restaurant in an attempt to show off or something. I am also afraid that I'll put my foot in my mouth, forget a common word or make a grammatical error. Small errors plague my Spanish here but seem to disappear when I'm actually in Colombia; when I'm there the words flow like water from a spring.
Well I have to go to work, as usual I am in too much of a rush to edit my rant or even give it a proper conclusion.  I guess I'll leave you with one thought: please don't make assumptions about ethnicity based on race/perceived race.  Someday very soon these boxes that we mistakenly put people in will have no meaning anymore because all races will be mixed and blurred beyond distinction.  I can't wait for that day.