My mom’s side of the family is of mixed European descent and my dad’s family is Dominican. I am half Dominican. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve felt more isolated from that part of myself. If you feel like you aren’t “_____ enough” pertaining to your ethnicity, just know what you look like, what you sound like, or how you present yourself doesn’t make you any less valid.
I have fair skin and I have a lot of freckles on my face. I know that appearances aren’t all that make a person who they are, but the thought continues to resonate in my mind. It’s usually fun to tell people that I’m Dominican because I know that it’ll induce a lot of “Wait, seriously?” and “Woah what?” kind of reactions. I’ve long since accustomed myself to the glances of surprise when people find out, and yet, I feel like it’s opening a door for silent judgement.
I remember walking into a Dominican salon with my cousin and grandmother when I was about thirteen, and needing to have my grandmother introduce who I was. My cousin couldn’t speak much Spanish either, but her introduction wasn’t as necessary; she was completely Latina and looked nothing like me. Needless to say, this part of my family looks significantly different than I do.
Starting in elementary school and even going into college, I’ve taken Spanish classes in hopes of retaining some information to use in conversation with my family. I needed some kind of tangible evidence to prove that we actually had something in common, something to prove that I was like them. Some of my relatives spoke minimal English, and the language barrier did nothing to help me feel more connected – especially when some of my cousins who were half my age were almost completely bilingual. I’ve always passed my Spanish classes with flying colors, but I still felt like I was falling short. It felt like my finish line was receding the closer I thought I was getting to it.
I constantly feel like I need to prove myself to other Latinos. I feel a need to overcompensate due to my appearance, and for not being fluent in Spanish. I’m discouraged from joining any ethnic groups or organizations at my school because I’m afraid people will assume that I’m just interested in exploring a heritage that’s not my own. I’m afraid that when they find out that I’m Latina, all they’ll see is how different I am from them.
I’m highly aware of the privilege that the color of my skin gives me, and I make sure to never take that for granted. I just feel a disconnect from a large portion of my family, from a community that I was born into. My relatives love me, and I know that it doesn’t matter how I look in comparison to them – at the end of the day, we’re a family.
To anyone else who has felt like they don’t belong, know that you aren’t alone in feeling this way. Knowing you belong is different than feeling like you belong. You just need to remind yourself that you don’t need to fulfill a stereotypical appearance to be considered a valid member of your family or community. Who you are is enough.