identities

This Is Why I’m No Longer Accepting People Asking Me “What Are You?”

I was in the fourth grade when my family and I moved to a predominantly white neighborhood in Queens, New York. Before then, I had lived my life mainly surrounded by Latinos, including Mexicans, Ecuadorians, Colombians, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans, like myself.

Nine-year-old me had no idea how much this move would impact my identity, even into adulthood. I had no clue that from that point on I would constantly be approached with the same irritating question: “What are you?”

While I wasn’t the only non-white kid in my class, I was the only Latina, and that triggered a ton of curiosity from students who hadn’t otherwise been exposed to Latin culture before.

“What are you,” I remember a white boy in my class asking me. Confused, I responded with another question.

“What do you mean? I’m a girl,” I said.

“No, what are you? You’re not Indian, right,” he pressed.

“No, I’m Latina,” I responded. “I’m Dominican.”

(Image Credit: Johanna Ferreira)

Like a lot of students in the class, the boy had no idea that to be Dominican was even a thing.

“Is that the same as Mexican or Puerto Rican?” he asked.

These sorts of questions only continued into adulthood. Being a racially mixed “ethnically ambiguous-looking” Latina, I’ve been constantly confused for Brazilian, Moroccan, Egyptian, Saudi Arabian, Indian, Persian, Puerto Rican, bi-racial, multi-racial and I’ve even gotten specifically southern Italian – believe it or not.

But being confused for other ethnicities or a different race isn’t what offends me. I get it. In fact, I think there’s something beautiful about the fact that you can be from a totally different part of the world as someone else and still look somewhat alike. What offends me is the desperate need for people to know my heritage within minutes of meeting me. Why is this so important? It’s as if people need to know what specific kind of brown I am in order to relate or understand me.

But aside from that, what bothers me are the reactions I receive many times from people after learning that I’m Latina. If I don’t meet someone’s stereotypical idea of what a Latina should look like or behave, I’m often immediately met with statements like: “Oh, but you don’t talk like a Latina,” “You don’t have a Spanish accent” and “Yes, you have that ‘sexy’ Latina look.” Then there’s my personal favorite: “You’re not the typical Washington Heights Dominican” – whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean.

(Image Credit: Johanna Ferreira)

I also detest being called “exotic” because it’s actually a lot more harmful than it is flattering. Let’s start off by dissecting its actual meaning. The dictionary definition of exotic is “of foreign origin or character; not native.” I was born here, so this doesn’t suit me. Another definition is “exotic foods” and “exotic plants,” to which I am neither. Exotic is also defined as “striking unusual or strange in effect or appearance.” If you go to Latin America — or any Latino neighborhood in this country — you’ll find plenty of women who look just like me, so this doesn’t ring true for me, either. And, finally, exotic is also listed as something “relating to, or involving strip teasing.” I’m not a stripper, so this one is off, too.

People really don’t realize the discriminating, condescending and racist undertones that come up when you ask a woman of color “What are you” or refer to her as “exotic.” The message that person is conveying to me is that I’m not as “normal” or even as “human” as they are. Now, how in the world is that a compliment?

To be clear, my experience with being asked “What are you” has not been exclusive to men. I have been asked this question multiple times by both men and women but more often than not, by white men and women specifically — though it certainly adds a deeper layer when asked by white men. In fact, the question comes up often, particularly on my dates with white men though, of course, there are exceptions and it has happened with men of different backgrounds.

Still, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the majority of the white men I’ve gone on dates with tend to exoticize me because I’m Latina. This is problematic because Black and brown women’s bodies have been fetishized for centuries, dating back to the beginning of colonialism. Black and brown women have been objectified, raped and dehumanized by European colonizers.

(Image Credit: Johanna Ferreira)

I didn’t even understand the depth of this until I became older and started reading up on Latin American history. It might sound extreme, but every time a white man fetishizes me for being Latina, I can’t help but think about what the Spanish conquistadors in Latin America put my Taino Indian and African ancestors through. I can’t help but think about the #metoo movement that sits heavy in my heart and how the term “exotic” many times encourages rape culture.

Every time I’m asked “What are you” and I don’t initially respond the way that person expected me to respond, a series of questions immediately follows. They consist of everything from “Where are you from,” “What’s your ethnicity,” “Where are your parents from,” “Where does your ‘exotic’ look come from” and so on and so forth. Once they discover I’m Latina, then additional annoying questions and comments follow, such as:

“Are you fluent in Spanish? Can you tell me something in Spanish? Do you only speak to your parents in Spanish? Can you dance salsa? Do you know how to make Dominican food? Can you make me rice and beans one day,” along with numerous mentions of me not meeting certain Latina or Dominican stereotypes.

Asking someone “What are you” upon meeting them isn’t an icebreaker. It’s rude. Deliberately or not, it feels as if someone is pointing out my “otherness.” It alienates me and makes me feel like they’re implying that I don’t belong here. I don’t belong here because I don’t look like them. I don’t look obviously white or obviously black. It also highlights our differences in power, especially in the case of white men.

There’s a privilege that comes with being a white man in the U.S. – and most of them are fully aware of it. So when they emphasize my “otherness” and equate my heritage or “ambiguous appearance” with desirability, it separates us and points to who is in power. I have experienced men texting me that famous Al Pacino meme that reads: “What do Latinas do Better? Everything.”

(Credit: Pinterest)

I’ve even witnessed white men jokingly telling me I wouldn’t have to wait long for a table at an upscale restaurant because, after all, I was with “a white man.” This might sound harmless to some, but on a larger scale, this creates a social and gender divide that’s quite harmful for women of color.

We live in the U.S., a country that still maintains a very racialized social system, a society that still very much operates in a way that grants economic, political, social and psychological rewards to the white community. Race still very much matters here because of our history and because of our current political climate. When we live in a society – basically a world – that still operates this way and we ask POC what they are – we are reminding them of where they stand or rank in this racialized planet.

If you don’t believe it, a 2011 study conducted by Stanford University psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt proved it. The study addresses the concept of racial residue, which is basically the result of living in a racialized society. It found that race tends to alter our perceptions of not just people but also objects and spaces. It found evidence that proved race not only influences how we see people, but it leaves behind a residue on the physical stimuli that we’re confronted with on a daily basis.

Like a lot of women of color, my immediate way of handling these kinds of questions for years was always to remain calm and collected about it. I never wanted the person to feel as uncomfortable as they made me, so I focused on responding in a way that put that person at ease. This was out of fear that if I reacted aggressively I would be perceived as the stereotypical loud, hot-tempered, overly passionate and overly emotional Latina.

(Image Credit: Marissa Pina)

But the constant exoticizing I’ve had to endure over the years has made my patience run dry.

I recently had a conversation about this with a fellow Latina friend who asked, “Is it so bad for people to express curiosity about our background?” That’s not the issue at all. It’s all about context. Why is this the first question you would want to ask someone upon meeting them? Do you feel a need to immediately define or place them? And if that’s the case, I’m sorry to break it to you, but my heritage does not define me. It’s just part of who I am.

There are also organic ways to express curiosity about one’s background or heritage without making them feel alienated or less American because of the way they look.

Racial division has always existed in this country, but the current discourse – especially post-Trump – has made it a bigger part of the national and political conversation. It has forced these issues to come to the forefront and has triggered an awakening in many of us to see that our society hasn’t actually made as much progress as we once believed. This is precisely why asking me a question that further alienates me in my own country is no longer acceptable for me.

I will no longer tolerate this question — today, tomorrow or ever.

Read: These Photos Put The Curvy Latina Stereotype To Rest Once And For All

Let us know how you deal with the question, “What are you,” in the comments below!

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When This Man At Walmart Told A Latina To Leave The US, She Told Him “This Is My Country, Too”

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When This Man At Walmart Told A Latina To Leave The US, She Told Him “This Is My Country, Too”

Another day, another Latina’s shopping experience ending in Donald Trump-inspired xenophobia.

On Friday, while Dulce Nereyda, her daughter and mother were looking for baby shower gifts at an Arizona Walmart, they were interrupted by a bearded white man who didn’t like that she and her mom were speaking to each other in Spanish.

The Mexican-American woman, who didn’t get the entire encounter on camera, shared what she was able to record from the frightening verbal assault on Facebook.

“This ⬇️ man starts yelling, ‘I can’t wait until Trump does away with you all!’ I was like, ‘Excuse me.’ He yelled ‘Leave, just leave. YOU DON’T BELONG HERE!’ All because I was speaking Spanish to my mom,” she wrote of the unnamed man.

Dulce was stunned by the sudden display of racism and was unsure what to do. After seeing her daughter’s face, she felt like she couldn’t remain quiet, pulling out her phone to record the man harassing her and reminding him that she, too, belonged in the country.

So it really F*** happened ????????!!! As my Beautiful mommi, JORDAN, and I are shopping for Beto Ramos baby shower tomorrow at Walmart on Huntington. This ⬇️ man starts yelling " I can't wait until Trump does away with you all!" I was like excuse me. He yelled "Leave just leave YOU DON'T BELONG HERE!" All because I was speaking Spanish to my mom. I was so caught off guard that I didn't even know what to do. I always thought what would I ever do if that happened to me or my mom and it did. I felt scared at first and then I saw the look on my baby girls face ????????????. So if you know me I couldn't just leave it like that. I WANT TO EXPOSE THIS MAN FOR THE RACIST HE IS! And I assured my little Queen that this is her home and WE DO BELONG HERE????????????????!!!

Posted by Dulce Nereyda on Friday, March 15, 2019

“So do you want to tell me to get out again? Because this is my country, too,” she said as the camera faced the man.

While the man initially ignored her, it didn’t take long for him to continue with his bigoted, pro-Trump rant, saying, “I wish you guys would leave, and I can’t wait till we build the wall.”  

Making no indication that she had any intentions on leaving her country, Dulce once more asserted that she is American and that English is not the official language of the United States.

She says she posted the encounter on Facebook to both expose the man for the “racist he is” and also send an important message to her daughter.

“I assured my little queen that this is her home and we do belong,” she said.

Read: Study: While Whites Are Responsible For Most Air Pollution, Latinxs And Blacks Are The Most Negatively Impacted

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Michelle Rodriguez Insists Liam Neeson Isn’t Racist Against Black People Because He Kissed Viola Davis

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Michelle Rodriguez Insists Liam Neeson Isn’t Racist Against Black People Because He Kissed Viola Davis

Earlier this week, actor Liam Neeson gave a candid and surprising interview with the Independent. Neeson spoke to the reporter in support of his new movie titled “Cold Pursuit,” in which his character takes revenge against the drug cartel because he believes they killed his son. Neeson said that for him to portray a vengeful person, he channeled his anger that he struggled with 40 years ago. The award-winning actor revealed that it was 40 years ago that a female friend of his confided to him that she had been raped. He asked her what the perpetrator looked like, and when she expressed that her rapist was black, Neeson got angry and sought revenge.

“I went up and down areas with a cosh, hoping I’d be approached by somebody – I’m ashamed to say that – and I did it for maybe a week, hoping some [Neeson gestures air quotes with his fingers] ‘black bastard’ would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know? So that I could…kill him,” Neeson said in that interview.

Since the revelation of his “primal” instinct, Neeson has faced an enormous amount of backlash with many on social media calling him a racist. It is because of the negativity that he continues to receive that executives decided to cancel his red-carpet event for the premiere of his movie. However, at least one of his former co-stars has come to his defense, though with a rather odd point of view.

Actress Michelle Rodriguez said Neeson isn’t racist because he kissed actress Viola Davis in a movie.

Twitter/@LaFawndah

The “Fast and The Furious” star said on Wednesday during a red-carpet event that Neeson couldn’t possibly be racist because of his open-mouth kiss during a scene in their movie. The actors all stared in the film “Widows,” which was released last year.

“It’s all fuckin’ bullshit,” Rodriguez said, according to Vanity Fair. “Liam Neeson is not a racist. Dude, have you watched ‘Widows’? His tongue was so far down Viola Davis’s throat. You can’t call him a racist ever. Racists don’t make out with the race that they hate, especially in the way he does with his tongue—so deep down her throat. I don’t care how good of an actor you are. It’s all bullshit. Ignore it. He’s not a racist. He’s a loving man. It’s all lies.”

Rodriguez’s comment certainly got the attention of people on social media.

It’s incredibly bizarre for Rodriguez to believe one thing is related to the other.

Some pointed out the historical context between racist white men and black women.

Rodriguez seems to be a bit clueless about the facts of this country.

Others compared her dismissive comment to that of Gina Rodriguez’s “anti-black views.”

We will have to wait and see if Rodriguez responds to her backlash regarding Neeson, or if other actors come to his defense.

READ: Gina Rodriguez Continues To Act As If Black Women Are Part Of The Problem

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