Call Me Anything But Mexican

“You don’t look Mexican” is something I hear a lot. I hear it from whites, African-Americans, Asians, Mexican nationals, Latinos from Latin America, just about everyone. Of course, in polite company, what I usually respond is, “Oh, yeah, I get that a lot.”

In my head, however, I usually think, “What, exactly does is a Mexican ‘supposed’ to look like?” This is, in turn, followed by some expletives. I find it uncanny that, in 2011 with a country and a world that is increasingly multiracial, that educated people still assume that certain people are “supposed” to look one way or another. Boggles my mind.

So, since I don’t “look” Mexican, I get assigned a variety of other nationalities, ethnicities and races, depending on the particular situation and circumstance. I’ve had people on the phone ask me if I was French. People from Argentina want me to be from there. Some who have travelled through Latin American assume automatically that I’m Chilean or Colombian.

Because my surname has a similar equivalent in Italian, I often get assigned that ethnicity by people on the East Coast. Some people, remarkably considering my obvious border Spanish, even try to make me into a Cuban or a Puerto Rican. Whatever.

It’s not that I’m personally offended by being assigned all these other ethnicities or nationalities, that’s not it at all. I’m just perplexed that people feel the need to play “Let’s Guess The Race” with me so often. I don’t go around doing this with other people; quite frankly if I don’t know where people are from, in most day-to-day activities, it doesn’t really affect my interactions with them. If people want to share a little about their cultural background with me, I’m always eager to learn, but I don’t screen my conversations this way.

And, I guess what bothers me the most is that there’s a very apparent stereotyping (if not prejudice) playing in the background of these conversations. If Mexicans aren’t light-skinned with green eyes, then they’re….what? Dark brown with black hair, a burro and a saguaro cactus? What’s implied in that statement “You don’t look like a Mexican”? Whatever it is, I don’t like it.

I don’t think it’s hatred or racism necessarily that prompts people to engage in these conversations. It could be discomfort, curiosity, interest or a great many other things. But, the probability that it’s happened to me enough times that it prompts me to write this column is an indication that there’s a bigger theme there, too. Maybe people think they’re being sensitive by quizzing me until they “figure out” what my deal is? I don’t know, though, because I’ve never asked.

Follow Sara Inés Calderón on Twitter @SaraChicaD

Subscribe today!

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Must Read

Rosca de Reyes – A Slice of Gospel and Tradition #Recipe

Victor Landa January 4, 2018

Often used as evangelizing tools, celebrations in Mexico feature elements that are charged with symbolism. Take the piñata, for example, used as an allegory of sin (colorful and appealing on the […]

How ‘One Day at a Time’s Diverse Writers Room Creates Authentic Latino Narratives

Victor Landa January 26, 2018

Much like the loving Alvarez family they created, the writers of One Day at a Time work closely together, don’t always agree but love each other anyway. Their collective family experiences helped […]

Mexican-American medic who documented Nazi camp horror dies at 93

Victor Landa March 12, 2018

Riverside, California (CNN)Two dozen veterans held US flags and stood at attention as they and dozens of family and friends bid farewell to Anthony Acevedo, one of the nation’s great […]

Latinos outraged as national news outlet labels nopales as ‘hottest food trend of 2018’

Victor Landa January 8, 2018

Nopales are a tried and true treat for generations of Latino families, but it seems to the wider internet they may become the “new avocado toast.” And people aren’t happy. […]

A New TV Show Inspired by the Life of Selena Quintanilla Is Coming to ABC

Victor Landa January 19, 2018

Selena Quintanilla lives on. Just two months after the late legendary songstress received a posthumous star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, ABC has announced its plans to commemorate the Mexican-American star’s life […]

Dashed hopes, upended lives as Trump ends protection for Salvadorans

Victor Landa January 10, 2018

WASHINGTON – Hopes were dashed Monday for tens of thousands of people from El Salvador with Temporary Protected Status who have lived more than a decade in the U.S., but […]

Expansion of AP computer science courses draws more girls and minorities

Victor Landa

Ten years ago, girls were so scarce in high school computer science classes that the number of female students taking Advanced Placement tests in that subject could be counted on […]

2018: a year for the Latino Vote

Victor Landa January 8, 2018

We have said it before: being a minority does not mean being powerlessness, especially when a large part of the outcome of an election could be transformed thanks to the mass […]