My friend and I were riding a New York City cab years ago when our driver, a kind-looking fellow wearing a turban, asked where we were from.
“Mexico!” we said, proudly and almost in unison. And as he took a harder look through the rearview mirror, he replied:
“No way. You don’t look Mexican. Mexicans look like Chinese!”
We cracked up, wondering what he meant by that odd statement, but that was not the first time I had been told (by a non-Mexican in the US) that I didn’t look Mexican. It’s happened several times before, in different circumstances, but always ending with a comical twist: me assuring a visibly confused person that I am, indeed, Mexican.
How can I forget the clerk taking my green card photo, who was distracted by my “looks,” and stared with distrust until I assured him I was an actual Mexican.
Him: From Mexico?
Him: The country of Mexico?”
Me: Yes. I swear.
WARNING: Before you keep reading and/or get ready to send this writer to go ride a horse or wear a sombrero so she can look the way she’s supposed to look, please remember this column was conceived to be handled with a serious dose of humor.
So What Are We Supposed to Look Like?
After almost two decades in the US, I’ve come to learn there is a certain “look” people expect when you tell them you’re from south of the border. Short, burly, dark-skinned, huge mustaches if you’re a dude, and definitely not white.
And it’s not only about the way we look. I also realized that for many folks out here, a Mexican or–more broadly–a person of Latin American origin is supposed to know how to dance properly, eat spicy food, and have very strong accents.
Okay, I over perform at all the above, but I digress.
The “You Don’t Look Mexican” thing is so common, there is even a meme category, and some of the jokes are quite hilarious. “I don’t look Mexican? Okay, lemme just go take a siesta under a cactus while I cover my face with a huge sombrero. I can also walk around shaking a pair of maracas while I’m at it.”
You get the idea.
And the same goes for other Latinos, whether they’re too tall to be Brazilian; too blonde to be Honduran, too dark to be Chilean, or too white to be Colombian.
I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but Latinos are not supposed to look like anything in particular. We come in all kinds of colors, shapes, and sizes. We can be tall, short, dark-skinned, light-skinned, afromestizos, blue-eyed, green-eyed, brown-eyed, etc. We don’t all shake our hips like Shakira, speak like Sofía Vergara, or sport deadly, dreamy hazel eyes like Andy García.
As one of my Twitter followers said, when people tell us we don’t look Latin American, they basically mean we don’t look brown and indigenous. Of course, many of us do, but think more like 500 Shades of Brown.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m far from being offended. In fact, I love cracking jokes around people’s expectations by telling them I don’t look Mexican because I left my sarape at home, or forgot to ride a horse to work (which would actually be amazing—and convenient— given the crazy New York City traffic).
Still, and regardless of my looks, I find it hard to comprehend why, in the eyes of “white America,” being a Mexican immigrant makes me a “person of color,” even though my color might not be exactly what they expect.
I mean, my father is a white, almond-eyed Spaniard from Galicia; my mom was the granddaughter of blonde, blue-eyed French immigrants to Jalisco, Mexico and I’m pretty sure there’s a ton of indigenous blood running through my veins when I look at the rest of my family. This, I guess, makes me more a “discolored” whitey who happens to be Mexican, confusing the hell out of people in the process.
I wish there was a better way to explain my looks to folks who fail to figure me out. In the meantime, and as I’ve done for quite some time now, every time someone tells me I don’t look Mexican I’ll just go ahead and reply: What am I supposed to look like? A taco?
Stay tuned for Laura Martinez’s next Hisplaining column, which will tackle other key biz terms and jargon and help leaders everywhere smoothly navigate the multicultural business world. In the meantime, send us tips and ideas for other terms and jargon that you’d like to see us feature.
And remember: Don’t panic . . . it’s just his-PANIC!