“You don’t look Hispanic.” I think I’ve heard that sentence more than any other in my life except maybe for “Why are you here?” or “We’re through.”
It’s not hard to see why. People take one look at me and think I’m either Italian or Jewish. My name doesn’t exactly scream out Colombian or Puerto Rican which is what I am. I’m no twinkle toes on the dance floor. Since kindergarten I’ve heard it, “You don’t look Hispanic.” Which begs the question: What does it mean to be Hispanic in the USA?
If you go by the movies or television, Latinos come in two flavors. They’re either short, passive, brown-skinned illegals with mustaches (men and women) who barely respond to anything. Or option number two: they’re voluptuous and seductive figures who glide across the stage and are fantasy incarnate. I’m not gonna lie, it’s a good feeling when a girl at some bar or club wants to dance with me just for being Hispanic. Even if I’d never win a salsa competition, for some girls I’m an “exotic fantasy” even if I look just like a white guy. But in the harsh light of reality, a stereotype is a stereotype. And in the end, even the most positive one turns into a cage. Because whatever dance or kiss I can steal with the second, there are plenty of insults and insinuations from the first, questions of being “legal” or doubting the authenticity of my “Americanness” (apparently, that’s a real word).
I remember one time reading on a comic book message board an article about how some new characters were going to be Hispanic. But they were going to be presented a bit differently. They wouldn’t finish every other sentence with “ese” or “holmes.” They weren’t going to be poor or live in the ghetto. One anonymous comment always stuck with me. “Well, if they’re not gonna be like that, what’s the point of making them Hispanic?”
Being Hispanic in the US doesn’t mean being part of some homogenous block. I always laugh when I read polls: “73% of Latinos think…” Really? Let’s take the issue that supposedly has the most support in the Hispanic community: immigration reform. Obviously, all of us are in favor, right? Nope. Ask some of the older Puerto Ricans or Cubans what they think about it. Ask some Central Americans who came here only to work and dream about going back to their country with enough money to get a house far, far away from the red, white, and blue.
Our community isn’t some hive mind that thinks, acts, and speaks alike. Listen to the accents that fill up the sky. Dominicans don’t sound like Ecuadorians. You’re never going to confuse a Mexican with an Argentinian. That’s the most eye-opening part about us. There’s no other group in the world that’s as diverse as us. Whites, mestizos, brown-skin, indigenous, black, the “coffee with milk” or whatever other description you want to use. It’s not just physical appearance. We live in the suburbs, cities, farms, and towns…we come from every walk of life and that results in a million different points of view.
If someone doesn’t “look Hispanic” maybe it’s time for the image of Hispanic to change.