Art By Clara Mello | WIS

By Mina Grenier | Maret '22

“Are you sure?” This is what one boy asked me after I told him that I was a “person of color.” I responded harshly, and ended up having to show him a picture of my mom to get him to believe me. This almost comically ignorant comment angered me at first, and also struck a nerve because truthfully, I have so much insecurity about my racial and cultural identity that I often ask myself: am I sure?

I am half white and half hispanic. My mom is half Mexican and half Columbian, and both of her parents were immigrants. My dad was deployed when I was a few years old and during that time I was raised by my mom and abuela in Rhode Island. I only spoke Spanish, ate Mexican food, listened to Mexican music, and always thought of myself as Mexican. This all changed when my dad came back from Iraq. We left Rhode Island and the second I started at my new school, I stopped speaking Spanish. People took one look at my complexion and last name and assumed I was white despite my multiple attempts to remind them I am actually Mexican.

My middle school was one that forced diversity onto their prospective students and parents, recycling the handful of brown kids into all of their pamphlets which, Fittingly, meant I was included as the only Latina person in my grade. Throughout my four years of school there, the only time I ever learned about my own culture was when the school asked my mom to talk about the Aztecs. I became very disconnected with my identity, and instead of asking why, I sunk deeper into the feeling of being lost.

Fast forward to 5th grade when I got to choose between French and Spanish as a foreign language. I chose French and in my head, I fantasized about being fluent, visiting the Eiffel Tower, working in a little cafe, and actually being French. There was no denying it, I wanted that short Parisian bob, I wanted light skin, and most of all, I wanted to fit into a concrete ethnicity. My mom was skeptical of this choice, but I lied and told her I already knew Spanish to assure her it was fine. I kept trying to convince myself that I made the right decision, but every day the feeling that I had given up on my language and essentially my culture, grew stronger.

Somehow I managed to completely eradicate the entirety of my first language, and I did this consciously. Trying to analyze my middle school motives yields only one thing; I wanted to have a consistent image. My last name is French for attic and implies that I have pale skin, brunette hair, and features that could possibly pass for French. I wasn’t planning on telling people I was French, but maybe if they assumed that, I wouldn’t have corrected them.

When people ask if I speak Spanish, I usually respond with a grimace and a much too long speech explaining how “I can understand most things, but I can’t really speak it, and I can only understand some accents.” This goes on until I can see that the person who asked me the question has lost interest. I am always left blushing and flustered, wondering if people even believe that I used to know Spanish. Even though most of my friends are aware that I am Mexican, I always feel like they don’t really know, especially not as much as if my skin were just a shade darker than it is.

Moreover, I continue to wonder how I should identify myself. I usually think of myself as Mexican, but that doesn’t account for my Columbian grandfather. Although I am equally Mexican and Columbian, I don’t feel at all attached to that side of myself; my grandfather and grandmother got divorced when my mom was a child, and she mostly lived with her Mexican mother, whom I primarily got to know much more than my grandfather. Because of this, I usually say I’m half white and half Mexican, but that in itself brings up many other issues. One such issue is the question of whether I can even claim to be Mexican if I am only a quarter. Or the fact that I am erasing a quarter of my heritage simply because it is too complicated to say “ I’m one-quarter Mexican and one-quarter Columbian.”

I still don’t want to say that either because I don’t feel Columbian. I have thought a lot about this, and although I can’t say I have a perfect answer, I have come to realize that identity is uniquely personal and about the way you feel even if it’s hard to explain; it’s something you shouldn’t have to justify to yourself or anyone else.