“But, you’re white.”
That’s the first time I was slapped across the face with racism – in elementary school. But hearing this over and over while growing up in Jacksonville, Florida, with pale skin, curly hair, tortillas in my plastic Lion King lunch box, even the inability to speak proper Spanish, were all things that would shape me.
I remember sitting at the school lunch table in second grade. I was eating peanut butter rolled up in tortillas for lunch, which was as normal to me as a typical peanut butter and jelly sandwich was to the next kid. A little boy with brown hair and a bowl hair cut shouted, “EW! What is that?! Look! She’s eating old smashed bread rolled up. She must be poor!” I was a pretty shy kid and I didn’t know what to make of the little boy’s comment about my lunch.
He asked abrasively again, “What is that?!”
I decided to speak up this time. “It’s a tortilla with peanut butter.”
Another kid then spoke up; this time a little girl with shiny blonde hair, in a green dress. She said: “Tortillas? But, you’re white…”
That was the moment I realized I do not fit the stereotype of what society thinks Mexican looks like.
Credit: Cassie Cordeiro
What does Mexican look like? Most would describe a dark-skinned individual with an accent. Not in my case. I am half my father. I have my his hazel eyes and pale skin. I have long dark curly hair and full lips like my mother. I am Mexican-American and White.
For so long I was afraid to say things in Spanish around anyone because I was teased all through elementary school for looking different than my family, like when my mom came to pick me up from school and they would ask who the dark lady in the car. They’d tell me I was adopted.
Credit: Cassie Cordeiro
Eventually, things changed. I became comfortable in my own skin with age. If someone asked what race I was, I told them and get the expected “Wow, you don’t look or sound Mexican.” Those words would make me feel small, and subpar. I used to get really frustrated explaining myself to people, but it gets old explaining the same thing over and over again.
As an adult, I now own the fact that I am biracial. While some people may learn that I am Mexican and instantly think of stereotypical things like, all Mexicans must be dark brown, illegal immigrants, eat tacos, or wear big goofy hats and have mustaches; other people are open minded enough to learn or understand that Mexicans come in all shades and some, like myself have pale skin and no Spanish accent.
I look back on that defining moment at the lunch table where the little boy gawked at my tortilla and my appearance; and I am so thankful. I love being Mexican and I love being white.