Who has the right to tell you who you are?
The rushing river that is my identity ebbs and flows with every insult, every new revelation of myself, a relentless waterfall that gushes into me filling me with my newfound self. My entire life I’ve had my identity stripped from me, ripped from my hands. You aren’t Latina. You’re a gringa. You’re just a white girl. White. They’d flung that word at me like a baseball striking me out from the conversation. And I believed them.
Sunken, dejected, invalidated in my own pale skin.
Yes, my mother is white. And yes, she did raise me by herself, amongst the hippies and the young punk rock kids who shouldn’t have kids themselves at an age where I was get getting used to what it means to be a human. We didn’t have a discernible culture, her and I. No religion, no acknowledgement of race or skin tone, no rights to who I am. I simply didn’t see it. In the most pure and innocent phase of my life, I just didn’t see it. Sometimes I still don’t any see it.
I didn’t know what it meant to be queer until someone told me it was gay to like girls.
I never knew my own father, not really. Sure, I met the guy, but I didn’t know whohe was until I was much older. The things I learned about him are enough to break anyone’s spirit. I didn’t know about the blossoms of purple he left behind on my mother’s skin, the pockmarks of needles that wove his way through his skin like needles through fabric with me close by. A Puerto Rican orphan that never knew his own father, just his own hardened dark skin and white mother. My racist, homophobic, Mexican stepfather paved the way for my introduction to a vibrant culture I eagerly clung to as my own, my incessant need to be a part of something battled by his own need to “be American.”
Skin crawling at the undercurrents of discomfort in my own family, in my own home.
I stand behind enemy lines smelling the fresh lasagna composed of basil and meats and cheeses with homegrown tomatoes feeling absolutely sick to my stomach in my maternal grandmother’s sparkling kitchen, with its black marble countertops and stainless-steel appliances. Never a single drip nor drop left on those counters, counters paid for by the same millions that paid my cousin’s college tuitions. Too Latina for them to treat me white, too pale to treat me how they treat my brown friends. Too pale to treat me how they treat my siblings.
It’s worse at my nana’s house. I smell the spice of the chiles and hear them pop and sizzle while I watch her dark brown hands with leather skin peel the papas for breakfast. The kitchen smells like our Sunday morning breakfast: the smell of sweet onions mingling with the spices and the sting of the peppers on the stove. It makes my mouth water. She’ll stop what she’s doing and check on the chiles to make sure they aren’t burning on her stove, perfecting them for her salsa, all the while explaining things like how to cook the papas “the Mexican way” because I “wouldn’t understand because I’m white.”
My Tata leans over and says, “You’d get this better if you were Hispanic, mija.” He nudges me jesting me, lightly. He intends this as a little joke, a chuckle for the three of us. I wasn’t laughing.
Embrace your femininity, embrace your lost culture, embrace who you were born to be.
The truth is I still don’t know who I am. But I’m figuring it out. Slowly I discover more about myself, my self-history that started long before I was imagined. I am a bisexual white-passing Latina. I exist. I am here. And I am tired of your toxic colorism, your blatant racism within your own damn culture. I am tired of you telling me I can’t do something because I’m “a little white girl.” You better sit yourself down and listen up. I am valid. Why is it necessary to degrade your own? White, Mexican, Puerto Rican, we’re all people, aren’t we? Flesh and blood, skin and bones. Don’t even begin to try to tell me who I am. You don’t even know the half of it.
Roxxann Eckert is in her second year of college to obtain her BA in English at Humboldt State University. She plans to get her masters degree in library sciences to inspire the new generations to explore new worlds through reading and writing.