I Pass as White, Even Though I'm Not...Totally

As a young girl, I never gave much thought to my ethnicity or how it might be affecting me on a day to day basis. There was no real reason for me to think about that. However, the older I got the more I began to suffer from a legitimate identity crisis. A war was being raged between the color of my skin and my genes.

Fall of 2016, my AP Lang class is assigned to read some puff piece for the sake of working on our literary analysis. The text was nearly impossible for the rest of my class to grasp -- only because the author chose to use Spanglish throughout the duration of the essay. Such sharp language changes weren’t out of the norm for me and my family, so it was a relatively seamless read. Upon actually discussing the essay in class I was struck with a wave of shock. It was in that moment I realized how complex my ethnic identity was. Throughout the essay, the author explores her tribulations as a Chicana woman in Southern Texas. For those of you who don’t know, a Chicana individual is a Northern American woman/girl of Mexican heritage. To an extent, this theme resonated with me. However, there was a major issue with it. I pass as “white,” unlike half of my family. I had the fortune of escaping prejudice, but at the loss of my cultural identity. No one had written literature for me. It was all for people who are “too white” to be accepted by their ethnic communities but “too brown” to feel comfortable in America. I, on the other hand, am “too white” for the El Salvadorian community, but my pale skin keeps me safe in the states.

January 2017, my mom and I are sitting in her kitchen talking about our disappointment in the way the election season went; when she tells me I should get my passport before I’m unable to. I ask her what she means, she reminds me that to everyone else my name is foreign. Angelyn, French, divine messenger (angel). Alicia, the name I inherited from my regal El Salvadorian grandmother. Ramos, my only calling card that I’m not just “white”. For the first time in my life, my name had been weaponized. The name that I’m so incredibly proud of is now a threat to the ignorant, still only giving me a semblance of the bias that so many other people in this nation face.

April 2017, I’m going through a drive-through when the cashier asks me if I “married into my last name”? I fiercely respond “No, my dad is El Salvadorian and my mom is French. That’s my dad’s last name!” That small interaction left me spinning. Why did I have to be so white? I’m endlessly proud of my heritage, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Why though, does that have to constantly be questioned? Why does the color of my skin take precedence over the sacrifices my family made to get where they are today? It makes me angry because the rest of the world has decided that the amount of pigmentation in my skin was more important than my own genetics. It makes me angry because I watch as people of my same heritage suffer due to the racism perpetuated by ignorance, while simultaneously being told that I can’t possibly understand what they’re going through. They’re right, and my blood is boiling.

July 2017, I’m out at lunch with a friend of mine. We begin talking about our lives in relation to our heritage. He tells me that he thinks his family “raised him to be white because they knew it would make life easier for him.” I’m taken aback. His ethnicity shouldn’t make life more difficult for him. Nor should being Caucasian make life easier for anyone. I remind myself how naive that thought was. Meanwhile, I express to him how I have the opposite issue. I love the complexities of my own cultural melting pot, however, I hate that societal standards have stripped me of my identity. I recall how once when I was younger, I was shopping with my French grandmother when she reads the label on the back of the box. The label was in French, English, and Spanish. She proceeds to say .“Why would they translate this into Spanish? This is America.” I tell her to stop speaking French to me, because “this is America.” Tears well in my eyes because she can’t even accept me for me. She too stripped me of what is so important.

At the beginning of every new class, they ask for your name, year, major, and a fun fact about you. Everytime, with the utmost pride, I give the fun fact that I’m trilingual! I’m El Salvadorian and French! It is something I wouldn’t change for the world, it’s what makes me who I am. No matter how much everyone else tells me that I am something different. I am proud. Je suis fier. Estoy orgulloso.

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