My Appearance is Not My Identity

Why Making Assumptions about One's Identity From Appearances Can Be Problematic

Blue eyes, pale skin, brown hair, freckles. Not your stereotypical looking Mexican. Even with the last name Garcia, clearly hispanic, I have trouble convincing people I’m of Mexican descent. It’s always a good one to put in two truths and a lie, because people who don’t know me rarely assume that I’m hispanic. Many times I’ve had to show people pictures of my grandpa, or great-grandpa, in order to convince them that I truly am hispanic, though I may not look the part.

I can remember my first day of second grade and it came time for the teacher to take attendance, and Emma Garcia was somewhere midway down the list. When she got to my name, I raised my hand, but she continued to look around. I raised my hand a little higher, thinking maybe she hadn’t seen me. She continued to look around until her eyes settled on me, and then she just looked more confused than before. She stared at me for a second, then marked down my name in her attendance book. At the time I hadn’t really thought anything of it, but reflecting back on it now, the reason that she didn’t see me at first was probably because she was looking for the typical hispanic female, and I most definitely did not fit into that category.

Fast forward a few years, to 6th grade Spanish class. I was in a class with one girl who appeared to have the look of your “classic hispanic” and the rest of the kids were white. We all walked in together, and sat down to wait for attendance to be called. Our teacher, who was originally from France teaching Spanish, don’t ask me why, began to call out students’ names. Surprisingly, I was the first one on the list. “Emma Garcia” she called out, looking directly at the hispanic girl, who I later became friends with and learned is from Guatemala. The girl shook her head and I raised my hand to claim my name. The teacher looked at me a bit doubtfully, but then continued calling out the rest of the names, Nash Grier, Michael Griggs, Kevin King…. Then she came to Grace Triplett, a seemingly non-hispanic name for a girl who looked to be our stereotypical hispanic, just because she was adopted into a non-hispanic family.

The point is, although I am Mexican, people don’t associate me with being hispanic. Just because I may not look hispanic, or because I don’t come from a family that is your stereotypical Mexican family, doesn’t mean I’m not hispanic. Often times, people will say derogatory things nonchalantly in front of me, not realizing that it could be potentially offensive, since they don’t associate me with being hispanic. When I was younger, my dad had hired some workmen who happened to be white. When they arrived at our house to do the construction, they all came piling out of the car. The man in charge commented to my mom, “I know we look like a bunch of Mexicans, all piling out of one car. You know how those Mexicans are.” My mother said, “Yes, I know how those Mexicans are. That’s why I married one.”

Because of my family’s socioeconomic status and my physical appearance, I haven’t had to deal with real prejudices based on hispanic stereotypes. Based on the experiences that I have gone through, I can only imagine what it would be like to deal with real prejudices based on hispanic/Mexican stereotypes.

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