Cathartic for POC Audiences
June 23, 2017 6:31 AM   Subscribe

“You don’t look Mexican!” they cheerfully state. Their tone implies it’s meant to be construed as a compliment – as though I should be proud not to have the indigenous features that come with “looking Mexican.” I never tell them how offensive this is, perhaps because I’m afraid. Afraid of being told, “Oh come on, I didn’t mean that, I love Mexicans,”
posted by sammyo (36 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
I got the 'you don't look Latino' all the time living in the US.
Which is weird, cause I'm close to the posterboy average looking person in Chile.
Guess the people saying that sort of thing didn't have a lot of experience outside of their country, or state, or zip code.
posted by signal at 6:59 AM on June 23, 2017 [3 favorites]


I have an Hispanic surname and a father who, while not Afro-Puerto Rican, has very dark skin and distinctly boricua features. I didn't inherit his skin tone or features, mostly, except for a tendency to turn instantly brown as soon as the ground thaws in the spring.

The result is that I mostly pass for "white," especially living in an area with a whole lot of people of southern Italian descent who can be darker than me, even if other Latinos can tell at a glance. I have definitely had "you don't look Spanish! [sic]" more than once, and (even in this day and age) making an appointment with my last name can sometimes net what I suspect is less-than-preferential treatment.

I don't think that I've ever been assumed to be a "servant" as is described in this article, but I've seen it happen more than once to friends, and it's horrifying and humiliating, and I suspect that none of the offenders even registered it as being out-of-the-ordinary, judging from their reactions after realizing their mistake.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:36 AM on June 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


My father is a 5'6" retired farmer/rancher. His family is of the palest of European stock, but he has the look of a man who's done hard work, outside, his entire life. He also wears a western hat and cowboy boots at all times. My mother suspects that his stature, his tanned/perma-burned skin, his battered and calloused hands, and his hat and boots are the reason that some people treat him very poorly until he speaks.

They think he's an old Mexican dude.

Sales people willfully ignore him. Other customers crash into him cutting him off in line. And if he's with his brown grandchildren (Lakota, long story), security will definitely swing by a second time.

And then he opens his mouth -- and everything changes.

"Can I help you, sir?" "Oh, excuse me, sir." "You have a nice day, sir." "Anything else, sir?" The 'sirs' come fast and furious to compensate for the previous slights.

This has never happened in my presence -- probably because I have the complexion and size of a frost giant -- and my dad doesn't have the social skills to really notice anything short of explicit and loud rudeness. But my mom (5'2", dark straight hair) says she sees it happen with him all the time. She always does her best to give 'em what-for (she's old, pissed-off and dgaf), often leading with "I'd wondered what was going on -- do you treat everybody like that?" She says you can sometimes see the switch click in their eyes -- "Oh shit, I did that and she knows I did that" -- but too often they seem to be hopelessly lazy-thinking dullards.

"Yes," you sigh patiently, "and what's your point?"

Just that Mom's right: Racism is bad. Don't be racist.

posted by MrJM at 8:04 AM on June 23, 2017 [33 favorites]


Guess the people saying that sort of thing didn't have a lot of experience outside of their country, or state, or zip code.

I got told I don't look Mexican as an exchange student in Canada, from other exchange students from Germany, France, Japan, etc. Hopefully they learned the lesson while still young. Oh and they told my darker skinned mexican friend that he looked middle eastern. We're like "nope, we're both mexican".
posted by CrazyLemonade at 8:36 AM on June 23, 2017 [3 favorites]


Oh man, the "Really? You're Hispanic?" that I get from people in the US. (I'm Cuban) I really liked being in Lima because there were so many people who looked like me.

I wanted to ask people about their experiences with being Hispanic on the East vs. West coast. Miami hasn't has a non-Hispanic mayor since the 1970's, other than a brief stint in the 90's with Mayor Clark. It seemed like most of the businesses were owned by immigrants and there was less of a 'maid' vs. 'not maid' divide based on skin color.

I lived in California briefly and I was shocked by the ethnic divide when I first arrived. People lived in separate neighborhoods and shopped in separate stores. I saw almost no Hispanic people in high-tech companies, but the cleaners and service workers were almost 100% brown-skinned. It was stark compared to my previous lived experience and it was part of the reason that I decided that Silicon Valley was not for me.

I've even lived in cities like Pittsburgh and DC with few Hispanic people and it's never felt like people have assumptions about what what you do based on accent.

Has anyone else had this experience?
posted by Alison at 8:50 AM on June 23, 2017 [6 favorites]


My mother was Mexican, and aside from my ultra-curly hair, I actually look a lot like her. We traced her roots all the way over to Baja California peninsula of Mexico. However she was relatively pale-skinned, and she passed away over thirty years ago. Add in the fact that my father looks like your average man of English/Germanic descent, so all the freaking time, it's "but you don't look Mexican!"

A few times, I would mention my Mexican mother, and the response was still "but you don't look Mexican!" A few times, it was, "maybe Cuban. Or Puerto Rican. But you don't look Mexican." Well, gee wiz. Thank you so much for enlightening me on my heritage. I'll surely keep that in mind. Thank you so much for adding your two cents.

(On the other hand though, there was the Mexican lady at the market who looked so damn excited to see me, another person of her ethnicity!!! But then I deeply disappointed her by not knowing any Spanish. Sigh. Being biracial is hard.)
posted by PearlRose at 8:51 AM on June 23, 2017 [11 favorites]


The comments on the article are interesting and worth reading too, if anyone wants to go take a look.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 9:02 AM on June 23, 2017


But then I deeply disappointed her by not knowing any Spanish. Sigh. Being biracial is hard.

This so much.
posted by uncleozzy at 9:05 AM on June 23, 2017 [6 favorites]


This isn't meant as "I don't see color" but it mystifies me that anyone would comment or speculate on any facet of someone's appearance unless it's directly solicited ("do these earrings go with my face shape"). It's extremely rude in my book.
posted by AFABulous at 9:30 AM on June 23, 2017 [8 favorites]


"mystifies" is the wrong word - I know why people do it, because they're horrible. Therefore "horrifies" is the right word.
posted by AFABulous at 9:30 AM on June 23, 2017 [4 favorites]


yeah. a lot of people don't really seem to realize that Mexico is a really big country (it just looks small next to los estatos unidos) and has a very diverse population with a wide range of complexions, features etc. more people should go to Mexico!

(I'm a whitey, so I cannot add any personal experience here)
posted by supermedusa at 9:37 AM on June 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


I've gotten "you don't look American" quite a lot outside of the states which is always confusing, being that American can mean so many things. But I chalk it up to people's experiences and preconceptions of "what someone from country X looks like."
posted by iamck at 9:50 AM on June 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


They look at me inquisitively and prepare their follow-up: “Where are you really from?”

It sort of blows my mind the things that people (especially people with privilege, like white people) think are ok to say. I want to ask if they were raised with any manners at all.
posted by lunasol at 9:56 AM on June 23, 2017 [4 favorites]


supermedusa: "and has a very diverse population with a wide range of complexions, features etc."

indeed, most countries in the world are like this, even the small ones.
posted by chavenet at 10:32 AM on June 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


I think maybe people think my last name is Greek, not Mexican, so they feel comfortable saying things like "you should get a Mexican for that" when we're out working in the yard. I take after my mother's Scandinavian side of the family more, looks-wise, which I'm sure helps. And I don't particularly identify as Latino or Mexican-American, but still. It's weird.
posted by hades at 10:34 AM on June 23, 2017 [3 favorites]


When I came to the US I did not speak English beyond a 101 level. It took me a while to be brave enough to speak English. Often, I would be talking and my listener would suddenly start chuckling, or smiling, when the subject matter wasn't humorous, forcing me to stop and ask what was so funny. And it was always a mispronounced word. I worked very hard to minimize my accent because I wanted people to look beyond it to the words I was speaking. It worked somewhat, but it is never enough. It doesn't matter how hard I try to "integrate", I will always have an accent. And I will always be brown.
posted by cobain_angel at 10:57 AM on June 23, 2017 [3 favorites]


I know of a college-age guy who posted an angry essay about how stupid racists were always saying he didn't look latino. What made it embarrassing to read was knowing that the guy was adopted, and he was completely missing the clues. He did find out in the end.
posted by w0mbat at 11:12 AM on June 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


When I came to the US I did not speak English beyond a 101 level. It took me a while to be brave enough to speak English. Often, I would be talking and my listener would suddenly start chuckling, or smiling, when the subject matter wasn't humorous, forcing me to stop and ask what was so funny. And it was always a mispronounced word. I worked very hard to minimize my accent because I wanted people to look beyond it to the words I was speaking. It worked somewhat, but it is never enough. It doesn't matter how hard I try to "integrate", I will always have an accent. And I will always be brown.

I am a native English speaker and still have issues with mispronouncing words (due to reading a lot and a drive to use new words I have never heard spoken). So, as far as I an concerned, don't sweat it unless you want to. Just be the you you want to be.
posted by Samizdata at 11:39 AM on June 23, 2017 [1 favorite]




I want to ask if they were raised with any manners at all.
You totally should. One of my dear friends post-college was born in Hong Kong, of Cantonese descent, and raised in San Francisco and for some reason known only to her, she sounded like a total Valley Girl despite being born almost a decade after the movie came out. She also had a very Anglo first name because her parents really loved Barry Manilow.

I always adored her response to the "Where are you from?" question.

"Where are you from?"
"San Francisco."
"No, where are you really from?"
"Where people are taught not to be rude."

"What's your real Chinese name?"
"Mandy."
"No, seriously, what's your real name?"
"Foookyu."

I am continually appalled at how entitled people feel about other people's names, cultures, and origins. What the fuck do I need to know where you are from or what country your parents were born in to hang out and have a beer? If you want to talk about your family and where everyone's from, that's cool, I'll tell you a story about my redneck origins and we'll laugh. But for god's sake I'm not going to ask or assume anything because...
and this is for the white people...
IT'S NONE OF MY DAMN BUSINESS
posted by teleri025 at 12:06 PM on June 23, 2017 [18 favorites]


We had one Black kid and one Hispanic kid in our school, and they were the same kid. He was one of the more popular kids in school, and ran with the best cliques, but I always imagined he must have been code-switching like crazy. Especially given how badly the South and Central American migrant farm workers who came to town every summer were treated.

Anyway, the previews of the movie look really good.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:15 PM on June 23, 2017


I just watched that trailer and it is thrilling!
posted by spacewaitress at 12:38 PM on June 23, 2017


*sigh*

It me. And it's tiresome.
posted by Space Kitty at 1:24 PM on June 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


Behold my own personal multiple choice quiz of bigotry, ignorance, and racism:
a) “You don't sound like you're from India.”
b) “You speak so well.”
c) “You don't look Asian to me.”
d) “That's a weird name.”
e) “No, where are you really from?”
posted by Fizz at 2:33 PM on June 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


> I know of a college-age guy who posted an angry essay about how stupid racists were always saying he didn't look latino. What made it embarrassing to read was knowing that the guy was adopted, and he was completely missing the clues

Wait, did you know he was adopted and he didn't know? Because his point is valid.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:39 PM on June 23, 2017


Behold my own personal multiple choice quiz of bigotry, ignorance, and racism:

f) "I mean, you're basically white, though."
posted by Errant at 2:45 PM on June 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


My father is a 5'6" retired farmer/rancher. His family is of the palest of European stock, but he has the look of a man who's done hard work, outside, his entire life. He also wears a western hat and cowboy boots at all times. My mother suspects that his stature, his tanned/perma-burned skin, his battered and calloused hands, and his hat and boots are the reason that some people treat him very poorly until he speaks.

They think he's an old Mexican dude.


You ever see an old Portuguese guy get mad at being mistaken for an old Mexican guy?

(well he doesn't get mad, just mildly annoyed, but it's still kind of absurd to me)
posted by atoxyl at 2:50 PM on June 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


“Must be a Korean thing.”
posted by Fizz at 2:57 PM on June 23, 2017 [4 favorites]



You ever see an old Portuguese guy get mad at being mistaken for an old Mexican guy?


This kind of mistake doesn't seem all that surprising to me. Iberian peninsula genes run pretty strongly among Mexicans in general. It's weird in kind of an opposite way as the situation described in the article, where "looking Mexican" is looking European rather than Native American.

I've never felt all that offended when asked where I'm from. Generally because what they are usually asking is my ethnicity. A question which also doesn't offend me, because it's been an extremely rare occurrence for me that anyone asks out of malice.

It is interesting, though, how I've been treated all my life. I'm not a native Spanish speaker, growing up in Southern California. But I had a round face, and dark skin, and straight black hair, so when I was a kid, it was not unusual for people to ask me if I was Native American. Which I think they asked because I spoke without any kind of Spanish accent or even a Mexican American accent, like everyone in my extended family. Which is pretty different from a Spanish accent. I think I attribute to having watched too much TV, and being kind of a square peg anyhow. So, when people asked if I was Native American, I eventually just started answering along the lines of "why not?". I mean, it's not even really untrue. But I didn't "talk like a Mexican". I think people were more interested in find an exotic Native American that than just another Mexican kid. So I told them what they wanted to hear.

Most interesting was when I moved to Missouri as a young man, to a place that had seen very few Latinos of any kind. I kind of got a kick when people were really puzzled about my ethnicity. Most people had absolutely no clue, and were often genuinely curious. Again, I think the lack of accent is what threw people off and worked well in my favor.

And it still happens. Just today, I sat down at lunch with a couple older Mexican women, and, after some small talk, one asked the other if she thought I was from India. In Spanish. She replied in a bit of an animated, surprised way, that I was Mexican. And then it dawned on her that maybe I wasn't, and she asked me "Where are you from?" in English. An amusing turn of events that sparked more conversation.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:09 PM on June 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


What is wrong with The Question? Nothing at all -- when it is asked at the right time, when it results from a genuine interest in you as a person, and when the person asking the question actually accepts the answer.

Let's dissect the interrogation process. Imagine me at a party, sipping mineral water. A stranger walks up.

STRANGER: "Do you mind my asking where you are from?" [This is code for "what is your race?"]

ME: "Canada." [This is code for "Screw off."]

STRANGER: "Yes, but you know, where are you really from?" [This is code for "You know what I mean, so why are you trying to make me come out and say it?"]

ME: "I come from the foreign and distant metropolis of ewmarket. That's Newmarket, Ontario. My place of birth." [Code for "I'm not letting you off the hook, buster."]

STRANGER: "But your place of origin? Your parents? What are your parents?" [Code for "I want to know your race, but this is making me very uncomfortable because somehow I feel that I'm not supposed to ask that question."]

. . . . The offence-causing kernel at the centre of this line of interrogation is its implication: "You are not white, you don't look like me, so you're clearly not Canadian." It also suggests "Since you're clearly not Canadian, and I am, I am within my rights to ask you just exactly where you're from."

. . . Many of us . . . find The Question offensive [not just because] it makes assumptions, which are often false, about our identity, but because it attempts to hang our identity on one factor: our race. -Lawrence Hill, Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada
I made my first MeFi post from this text, but the link's long gone, so I typed it out for y'all. MeFi is a much more welcoming place for viewpoints like this now than it was then, thanks to the mods, and the users who give a shit about learning things and fighting for what's right. We've lost a bunch of good folks along the way but have gained a bunch too. Goddamn. I'm getting verklempt over here.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 5:59 PM on June 23, 2017 [10 favorites]


A question which also doesn't offend me, because it's been an extremely rare occurrence for me that anyone asks out of malice.

Not to deny that your experience happens the way you say...but it is also possible that you are not offended because your answer does not incite any further racism from the asker? I might pass for not looking Mexican as I've been told, but after being asserted that yes, I really am Mexican, I've been treated differently a few times.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 6:02 PM on June 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


This kind of mistake doesn't seem all that surprising to me. Iberian peninsula genes run pretty strongly among Mexicans in general.

Indeed, that's why I found it kind of amusing, because it's hardly a preposterous mixup, especially in CA.
posted by atoxyl at 6:20 PM on June 23, 2017


"You are not white, you don't look like me, so you're clearly not Canadian." It also suggests "Since you're clearly not Canadian, and I am, I am within my rights to ask you just exactly where you're from."

[Deeper belief most won't express even to themselves, much less aloud] And because obviously people like me are real people, and non-whites... aren't... well, they're not "people" like I'M people! So I can treat them any old sort of way, and if they balk, they're the rude ones! I'm just asking some questions!
posted by droplet at 7:04 PM on June 23, 2017 [5 favorites]


I was chatting with one of our local Dharug elders the other day (in Sydney, Australia), and he asked me if I was a"local girl ". I said no, from New Zealand. He said "oh, Maori!", which I found amusing because I am the whitest of whities. But then when I said I wasn't Maori, as far as I knew, he was all, "Oh, but I think you are." I told him I would like it if my background were part Maori, but really didn't think I was, and he said he knew better and I should go for a drink with him some time and he'd tell me about my ancestry.

Apart from that being one of the weirder pick up lines (I think?!) I've encountered, I just thought it was funny, but mainly because no one had ever tried to deny my own knowledge of my ethnicity before. If I was darker skinned and it happened more often, or even if it didn't happen often but nevertheless had all the baggage of the history of erasing people of colour, I could see it getting old very fast.
posted by lollusc at 11:51 PM on June 23, 2017 [4 favorites]


If you are female, you have been asked to bring the coffee, at some point.

What a great paint job, your arms look so realistic.
posted by Oyéah at 11:59 AM on June 24, 2017


Not to deny that your experience happens the way you say...but it is also possible that you are not offended because your answer does not incite any further racism from the asker?

Um... yes?

I might pass for not looking Mexican as I've been told, but after being asserted that yes, I really am Mexican, I've been treated differently a few times.

Ok.

I'm not here to affirm or deny anyone's experiences. I kind of hate the way these things are often framed on MF. As if we all have to nod our heads in agreement, or arrive at some kind of consensus as to how all our experiences are the same. Or should be the same. Because more often than not, I find that our experiences are not always so simple, even if they can be reduced to make for a nice group rant on.

My experience with such queries is that they are more complex than a simple "people are awful" or whatever might be the theme of the post.
posted by 2N2222 at 4:45 PM on June 24, 2017 [3 favorites]


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