I was raised in a pretty average Mexican-American family in East San Jose, California, which has a large Mexican-American population. Until college, I mostly went to schools whose students were mostly Mexican-American.
And yet, I never truly fit in.
I had friends and didn’t experience much bullying.
But making acquaintances was always tinged with awkwardness. Everyone thought I was white, and noticing others’ change in behavior towards me when they learned my real identity was uncomfortable.
It’s a feeling I’ve gotten used to in my wiser, more tolerant and more experienced adulthood. I’ve learned to laugh off the instantaneous cognitive dissonance people display when they discover that my physical identity doesn’t perfectly match up with the stereotype. And because most people I interact with are adults, they’re more likely to shake off the feeling and see me for me than younger people are.
I understand why people are often shocked to learn about my actual ethnicity.
Humans are highly visual creatures, so it only makes sense that we’re going to make snap decisions on something or someone based on their appearances. It can certainly lead to some incorrect assumptions, but keeping that in mind made it easier for me to let people’s bewildered reactions roll off my back. I’m definitely guilty of judging books by their covers, so why should I criticize others of my own social sins?
But just when it seemed like I had developed the poise to deal with the occasional startled response, identity politics leaps into action and takes a bite out of whatever self-assurance I had about my relationship to my ethnicity.
Mexicans occupy a weird spot on the intersectional hierarchy: because of our complicated history, some of us have a more dominant European ancestry while others have a more dominant indigenous ancestry, which results in a population whose skin colors cover a pretty wide spectrum, so our variety of physical appearances can lead to a just as wide a range of life experiences.