I remember the first time that I experienced real confusion over "what" I was. I was in primary school, and I came home from my first day of standardized testing and asked my parents what I was supposed to mark on the demographic section. I knew (or at least I thought) that I was white, but I also felt that I should mark "Hispanic/Latino", and was uncertain whether I should mark both. But other than that incident, I didn't think much about my culture or heritage. Growing up, I didn't question the unique blend of both my parents' beliefs and experiences which shaped our family culture. There was no denying my Irish heritage, through not only our last name but our stereotypically large, boisterous, close-knit family whom I wouldn't trade for the world. And I knew that Grandma had spent much of her early school years in a French-speaking school, due to her Canadian heritage. Meanwhile, we received presents from los tres reyes magos on January 6th, a tradition my mother had grown up with, and I loved asking questions and hearing her stories about growing up in another country. All of these stories and experiences, from all sides of my family, were parts of me, and I didn't see them as in conflict or feel the need to choose one side over another. This began to change when I went to college.
At the University of Iowa, I received a scholarship awarded to students seen as bringing diversity to the student population. I attended various cultural events hosted by the Center for Diversity and Enrichment, who sponsored the scholarship, and everyone of Latino heritage that I met seemed "more Latino" than me. Many were first-generation Americans who had grown up speaking Spanish at home and in a household that had surrounded them by their parents' culture, be it Mexican, Dominican, or Peruvian. People sometimes seemed surprised to find out that I spoke very little Spanish, and I felt like a fraud. Rather than embracing my mixed heritage, I felt as though I didn't belong anywhere. While I felt "not Latino enough" to call myself Latina, I also found that I didn't look "white enough" to others, as I was often questioned about my heritage based on my appearance. This is something I don't remember experiencing nearly as often in Peoria as I did in Iowa City. This may be because I was younger and less aware of it, but I also did feel when I began attending the University of Iowa that I saw far less diversity than I had at home.
A particular pet-peeve of mine is the tendency for people to ask "Where are you from?" and expect me to respond with details of my heritage. Once, at a winery outside of Iowa City with Allison, the bartender asked us this. Knowing that people come from all over the area to do winery tours, I replied, "Iowa City." The bartender laughed condescendingly and said, "No, where are you from originally?" "Illinois" was still not the answer she was looking for, because she was asking the wrong question. So many times when people ask "Where are you from?", what they mean is, "You look somewhat exotic--why is that?" While I don't mind discussing my heritage with people I'm close to, when this question comes from strangers, I often have to bite my tongue to keep from replying, "Would you be asking me this if I looked 'white enough'?"
I've become even more aware of these questions since moving to Wales. I've had to explain to people what Latino means because it's primarily an American term, and that it is what I consider the appropriate term for my maternal heritage. I've been questioned as to whether I'm considered white, because of my Latino heritage. In applying for jobs and completing equality monitoring questionnaires, I've found that even with over a dozen options offered, the only box I'm comfortable ticking under "Ethnic Origin" is "Other (please specify)", because Latino is not an option and it feels false to claim only my "whiteness". My write-in answer is White Latina. I know some Latinos who would not call themselves white, and that's a personal choice, but to me, to choose one over the other is to deny the role that either of my parents played in raising me, and to deny the cultures that have influenced me.
If ever you look at me and wonder
where I’m from, and you will, look closely.
You will see that I wear my father’s dimples;
he taught me to laugh easily and often,
even at myself. I thank my mother
for a mouth that cannot keep silent,
and a heart that cannot keep grudges,
no matter how stubbornly I may try.
Abuela forged herself a suit of armor
through a lifetime de luchando, for her family, her country,
herself—and though I am not quite bold enough
to wear it into battle, I am growing into it.
And I have boxes full of coins that I
count to remind me of my worth. Each sheqel,
lira, and peso sent by Papi to his “little treasury”
whom he believed deserved the world.
Grandma and Grandpa built us a family tree
with roots so strong that even on my limb
far across the ocean, the wind still carries me
the love and strength of our connections.
So do not ever try to tell me that I am not enough,
because I am made of more inheritances
than I could ever count.