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

VOLUNTEERS NEEDED on massive scale to help reunite immigrant children with their families

Victor Landa July 9, 2018

This is an opportunity for experts on Latin America to get involved and lend their expertise. Please also share widely: URGENT HELP NEEDED ASAP!! Center for Human Rights and Constitutional […]

Is THIS the Year Latino Voters Finally Turn Arizona Blue?

Victor Landa July 17, 2018

PHOENIX — “Democrats hope demographic changes will translate into a win in November,” wrote The Nation magazine a while back. “Arizona, the second fastest-growing state … brimming with Latinos and Independents [is] […]

Appalachia has a booming Hispanic business and population — and its growing food scene is making an impact

Victor Landa August 1, 2018

From strip malls to historic downtown landmarks, buildings across Appalachia today are telling stories of a changing region. Former nail salons, once-stately banks and empty storefronts are beginning fresh chapters […]

Border congressman among highest funded by group running immigrant detention centers

Victor Landa June 22, 2018

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, has received $32,400 in political contributions from a company that operates immigrant detention centers — the second most of any elected official in the country […]

5 Women Who Are Mobilizing The Latino Community For The Midterm Elections

Victor Landa May 24, 2018

The midterm elections this year are a pivotal time for activation, regardless of what side of the aisle you stand on. The Latino vote particularly is being mobilized by some […]

Will The Latino Vote Tip Elections THIS Year?

Victor Landa May 29, 2018

In more than 20 years of Hispanic marketing, I’ve heard this line over and over: The Latino vote could tip the elections this year. It’s true the Latino vote has […]

Dieciocho, Episode 14, Memorial Day 2018, Latino Vietnam Veterans, Tomas Summers Sandoval

Victor Landa May 28, 2018

This is a special edition of DIECIOCHO. On this Memorial Day I talk with Prof. Tomas Summers Sandoval about his work collecting the oral histories of Latino Vietnam veterans. We talk about […]

Westside Honors Gala Celebrates Civic Leaders, Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center

Victor Landa May 26, 2018

The Westside Development Corporation (WDC) spent Thursday night formally recognizing civic contributors. More than 500 people attended the City delegate organization’s ninth annual Westside Honors Gala at Rosedale Park. A Democratic political […]