I was driving down 1st Street in Santa Ana today, on my way to my first OC Hispanic Bar Association Committee meeting, and a familiar panic came over me.
I was taken back to my freshman year in college, leaving my cozy (ahem, small) Santa Rosa dorm at UCSB, and walking to El Centro for my first La Escuelita meeting. I knew what I would find when I got there. It wasn’t anything new, and I was rather used to it, but it still made me nervous and slightly frustrated. As you can probably tell from my blog picture, I don’t necessarily scream “HISPANIC!” or “LATINA!!” so, people usually give me the head slightly tilted, what-is-this-gringa-doing-here look when I attend Hispanic events/meetings/functions. So on my walk to El Congreso I’m thinking, “are they gonna think I’m Hispanic enough to belong in this group?” Once I got there, I had to sit in my seat patiently until my opportunity came to use my Latin accent, which doesn’t usually happen when I introduce myself (Hanson and Armstrong as last names don’t help my cause!). So I waited until I could say “mucho gusto,”un placer,” “igualmente,” or something else that lets people know I’m one of them, and not some crazy outsider who doesn’t belong and they have to be cautious about.
I remember walking back to my apartment with my roommate Belveth sometime around my junior year in college, and talking about the difficulties that Latino’s face because of their skin color. The argument was that I have it easier because I look white. I don’t deny that. I agree that Latino’s, and other minorities for that matter, have it harder sometimes because of their skin color. My argument, however, was that I suffered the same discrimination, but by my own culture. It may not necessarily keep me from getting a job or getting into a prestigious school, but it still hurts. I remember being in high school and always having Hispanic friends, but I was never part of their clique. We were friends from a distance, and that was enough. It was fine with me too, until my cousin transferred to my high school for her senior year. The daughter of a Guatemalan mother and a Mexican father, she had the Hispanic name and the Hispanic look. Within the first few days, she was in with the Hispanic cliques, and I started wondering if maybe they accepted her so easily because of how she looked.
And so it’s been throughout the years, including the rest of my college years. Every time I attended a NAK or Sigma Chi party, or a La Escuelita event, I got the looks, and every time I had to say something to convince them that the white-looking girl actually belonged where she was. It doesn’t compare to what other minorities have to face, but it still hurts to be excluded from your own culture because of how you look, and having to continually prove yourself to them.
So here I was, turning on Flower, with the same butterflies I had my freshman year in college. Thankfully once I got there no one asked why I was there, or why I was interested in volunteering with their organization, but that may be because I jumped on the opportunity to use my Hispanic accent when throwing out a few Hispanic names…and I did get the nod from the people around me: “You speak good Spanish” they said. “Fue un placer.” “Igualmente.”