Dimelo: "I'm Tired of Hiding That I'm Latina"


Dear Pauline,

I am a white and Puerto Rican woman living in southern Texas. Depending on how I dress, or do my make up or hair, I can appear to be either heritage. The problem? I am afraid, almost ashamed, to show my Latina side. I used to be so proud, letting everyone know that I was both white and Latina. But now I'm scared to identify with my Puerto Rican side because of negative attention. All of a sudden I am 'spicy' and 'hot-tempered' and 'crazy'. Oh, and I hate the 'I bet you’re good in bed' crap. Men act like they can talk to me anyway they please. When I am 'white', I am respected. It hurts and it's not fair. I just want to be a beautiful woman and mommy no matter what culture people assume I come from.


Tired of hiding

Dear Tired,

Did you know that you can order a set of “Latina” chairs online for the hefty sum of $413? The chairs look nothing like I would expect a Latina chair to look, and are described as “sleek” and “modern.” The “Latina” chairs, which come in classy color swatches like Denver Anthracite and Matte Optic White and Walnut, I think, were maybe mislabeled with the “White Girl” chairs, which probably come in Loud and Spicy colors like Salsa Red and Merengue Yellow. I'm betting the White Girl chair is probably on clearance, to boot.

Do I sound ridiculous, amiga? I mean to, but only to prove a very obvious point: Being Latina has nothing to do with looking Latina (whatever that is).

Our culture is a rich one and made all the more incredible because of the many different traditions brought together under the inclusive umbrella term Latina. We are not one color or from one country, and we sure as hell don't come in cookie-cutter form (just ask another light-skinned Puerto Rican, Natalie Morales). So when you say you are ashamed to “look” Puerto Rican by way of dress and make up, I have to wonder how exactly you alter your appearance, what makes your look so different from your White Girl costume—and why you feel that you need to dress differently to "look" Latina (or connect with your culture).

You are always who—and what—you are, regardless of outer appearance. So you need to stop and consider that the difference in how you are perceived by others, men included, may have more to do with your self-perception than anything else. Proof? I happen to be spicy and hot-tempered and good in bed, but for me, those are descriptors to embrace, not be ashamed of. You say you fear embracing both sides of your culture because you are only respected when you are white; that you want people to see you as a beautiful person and mother first and foremost. I get that. But I also know you are looking in the wrong place for the validation you can only find within yourself. Drop the labels and stop seeing yourself as one, and always stand tall and proud of who you are. No one else is going to do that for you first.

—Celebrate all that you are, P