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Touchy Subjects: Thinking about Race

I’m also on BlogHer and I’m posting on here one of my BlogHer posts. You can find the original post at http://www.blogher.com/touchy-subjects-thinking-about-race I added an additional paragraph here on the WordPress version.

I’m closing in on seven years of living in Victoria, BC in Canada. Prior to this I had pretty much lived my entire life in Southern California–most recently San Diego. Besides missing my family terribly, I really miss the racial and ethnic diversity. I need to add that I am Mexican-American and self-identify as Latina. My family has been in the US for three generations. My partner and I joke about how we are a NAFTA family, as he is Canadian. Our two girls have citizenship in both countries. Victoria is a predominantly homogenous community and we knew that when we relocated here. I grappled with this fact, when I think of how I grew up or the current diversity in San Diego.

During the last year I have noticed that some new acquaintances really want to talk about race with me, but it’s always done in really condescending way. At work in the university environment this is easily dealt with, since part of what I teach includes race and conversations are more giving and are usually contextualized around a reading or event.  However, I’m finding that in non-work space, I’ve been a bit perplexed with some well-meaning community members comments about race that attempt to tell me what I should be feeling as a Latina. Mind you, for some of these people I might be one of a few Latinas that they’ve met outside of a trip to Baja. My Latinidad is unique to them and perhaps something that they don’t quite understand.

What I have done—smiled, listened, and responded politely and changed the subject. I already know that the community I live in is not diverse—especially in the way that I’ve previously been accustomed to. I’m also keenly aware of the overt forms of racism in my community. When I first moved here, I had to get used to being asked if I was part Native or Meti. I’m not and would first ask why I was being queried. People usually responded with—I can’t place you. I would explain that I’m Latina and move to the next topic at hand.

Another issue that I’ve noticed is that some folks have their own idea of what it means for me to be Latina and somehow this holds lots of stereotypes. By not having a Spanish accent, I’ve heard that I apparently am not really Latina. Really? I’d like to know when this speaker became the all-knowing person who can designate who is Latina and who is not. If anything, these sorts of comments are offensive. Am I more authentic with a thick accent and a sombrero? No, I would just be meeting another person’s “learned” caricature of what a Latina should look like or sound like. Not all of us sound and act like Charo, Salma Hayek or Sofia Vergara.

I work for social justice at work and also have ample opportunity to discuss these important issues. What I don’t want is to have a well-meaning person feel sorry for me for being Latina and point out how oppressed I am. These moments come off as highly problematic and mark me as only a victim and strip away my agency as a person. I might be marked by race and gender, but I know that I have education and class privilege—please don’t attempt to put me in a box—as that is oppressive.

Twitter: @janniaragon

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