That’s the staple I’ve always been given. Depending on where I’m at, I’ve been seen either as an “authentic” Mexican or a “whitewashed” Mexican.
Being from the Bay Area in California, I have grown up in what I would call a pretty diverse area. My hometown however, is predominantly white.
Most of my family lives about 30 minutes north of me in a city that is comprised of mostly Latinos. When I’m hanging out with my cousins, it is not uncommon for me to hear phrases like “When are you going home to your white neighborhood?” or “Thena, you’re not even Mexican, you’re white.”
Because of the town I am from, I am constantly seen by my family as unauthentic.
Coming to Seattle Pacific University demonstrated a stark contrast.
Upon first arriving on campus, I received the question “Where are you really from?” one too many times. The “I don’t mean to be rude but…” and “Is it racist if I ask…” questions quickly became a norm.
Frustrating and surprising, I never knew that my race could conjure so much curiosity. Pretty soon, it almost became part of my introduction.
“Yes, hello my name is Athena. I like cheesy movies, pizza, musical theatre, and oh yeah, I’m Mexican if that matters to you.”
OK, that’s not exactly how it goes, but you get the gist.
Being the only person of color among my friends, it’s difficult at times not to feel like the “token ethnic person” of the group. At times, they have made comments regarding my race that have been very uncomfortable and quite honestly offensive.
Because they are my friends however, I find it difficult to get upset. I often try to validate the comments by telling myself that they were just joking and that we’re friends, so they don’t really mean to be disrespectful.
I was sitting in Gwinn when the person sitting across from me suddenly stated that he was so glad we were friends. When I asked him why, he simply said that being friends with me made him feel like he was being “cultured.”
How does being my friend make him automatically culturally aware?
I was once in line that went out the door and down the side of the building for Chick-Fil-A (note that this is when it first opened in Bellevue, the line was ridiculous). As I huddled next to my two friends, one of them remarks, “Are they not letting us in because Athena is with us? Go home!”
I awkwardly laughed it off, but a feeling of discontent clouded my thoughts for the rest of the evening.
On Twitter, I posted something that read “Well, here I am.” A couple hours later I saw that I had a notification.
An SPU student had responded to my tweet with “Back in Mexico, I hope.”
When I confronted the individual about this comment his response was “Well, we’re friends so it’s okay?”
No, it is not.
At home, I’m this glossed over Mexican living in a town filled by a white majority. Back home I’m “pretending” to be white. Back home I’m not a “real” Mexican. Whatever that means.
How then, am I swiftly transformed into a true Mexican that must know everything and anything there is to know about being Latina, merely by stepping on campus?
Stuck in this troublesome middle ground, I find myself confused and unsure of how to identify. Do I take on the role of the authentic Mexican or the whitewashed one? If I identify as one, will I be rejected by the other? What do either of these titles actually mean?
As SPU continues the conversation on racial reconciliation and diversity, I am fastened in a place of uncertainty.
I shall rebuild.