Black or Latina? Why do I have to chose?

The conversation was one I didn’t know would happen but I’ve had before.

After Paula Deen was unceremoniously booted from the Food Network today, I get a tweet from a friend about the incident. Essentially part of the conversation went like this:

She: what did you expect from someone from the South.

Me: But I’m from the South. We’re not all like that.

She: But you’re Latina.

This wasn’t the first time I had heard this phrase being used to exempt me from a group. In my life I’ve had many exemptions from several different types of groups. It’s also a Latino exempting me, giving me a pass because my last name ends with a “z”.

The last time I had a similar conversation was when a friend spoke unkindly about Black people. She had called them cheap. She had sneered and was disgusted by them, their behavior in public places. They were all the same, every last one.

We were in a circle of friends, we were all Latinas. Everyone of us could roll our tongues and speak Spanish.

We were also all educated, graduates of the same university. We were professional women in our 20s. And yet…

“You know how they do,” she said.

Then I cocked my head to the side. “But you’re one of us. You’re Latina,” she said.

I said nothing. I should have said something but I said nothing because she was right. I am Latina, I’m not like them but yet, I am. Does being Latina exclude me from being black?

I didn’t think so until a couple of years after that incident. I was older, more mature and secure in my authenticity– black and Latina, red beans and rice and lechon.

Another circle of women. We were all black, professional, mature, educated. It was a night of girl talk over drinks and dinner. We talked about the stars we found the most attractive. They all said men like Taye Diggs and Idris Elba. I said Eduardo Yanez.

The quiet lasted a minute before the conversation continued but on another topic.

With this group I didn’t get a pass. I wasn’t black enough for them; they said that without saying it. While my color and the texture of my hair made them comfortable, my Latina-ness reminded them I was different and different people are not allowed to be Black.

While this is probably not how they thought, that’s how it felt by the person doing the tap dancing. The same goes for my Latina friends, the ones who give me a pass.

However, being Latina doesn’t exclude me from being everything else I am — Black, Southerner, writer, whatever. Why should I have to chose to be one thing. That’s whats so glorious about being a human being, the complexity of existence and the beauty of loving it all.

The fact is I love all of my selves and all the selves I have yet to discover. Choosing one would be denying pieces of myself, making me one dimensional and the writer in me knows how much of a bad deal that is.

It’s interesting this new way of passing. Where at one point passing was a color thing, for me it’s a culture thing. I have to be black enough for the black folks and Latino enough for the brown folks. There’s never a happy medium, adjustments are always made.

But the instance someone forgets I’m in the room, I’m given a pass. That’s just how it goes.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad