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Reminder: Mexicans Come in All Shapes and Colors

The author as a child with her grandparents.

[dropcap size=big]I[/dropcap]’ve never looked Mexican, whatever that means. I’ve just been Mexican. And I’ve accepted this fact as I’ve accepted that the Earth is round. 

I can’t be categorized or checked off in an ethnic box because I don’t neatly exist or belong to any of them. I have white skin with brown hair and green eyes—there is nothing brown or “Mexican looking’ about me on the outside. My skin tone screams “white girl” and I’m judged on the daily because of it. But my insides and bloodline tell a very different story. 

I’m here to kindly remind you that Mexicans come in all shapes and sizes. 

The author and her family.

I am a first-generation daughter with one parent who is Jewish and another who is Mexican. I have an American and Mexican passport and Spanish was my first language. However, I am the first to also recognize the privilege that comes along with my light skin. 

I grew up in Beverly Hills, not in Boyle Heights. I went to private catholic schools from preschool through high school on the Westside, not on the Eastside of Los Angeles. I rode the bus in junior high but it was only from Westwood to Beverly Hills. I had the incredible privilege of going to college in the northeast of the country without acquiring student loans. When my parents had money, it was a lot and when they didn’t, it was still always manageable. Except for the time my parents were convicted of felonies and spent time in federal prison committing white-collar crimes, but that is a different essay.

My mother was the only one in her family that immigrated to the United States from Mexico when she chose to marry my dad, a South African Jew. They met while working on a film set outside of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. He brought her to L.A. and they settled in West Hollywood on Alta Loma Street across from the Sunset Marquis in 1977. They were both undocumented in this country for 17 years. 

...these experiences forced me in my later teen years and twenties to clam inwards about who I really was. I developed a new persona that was literally from descent nowheresville.

The slightly annoying thing is that in the eyes of Judaism, I’m also not Jewish. According to Orthodox beliefs, one's Jewishness can only be passed down from the Matrilineal Descent, related to the metaphysical concept of the Jewish soul. I respect this, although mystically I’ve always related with my Jewish heritage as strongly as my Mexican one. Again, it is complicated. 

Growing Up As a Jewish-Mexican-American in Los Angeles 

Three months of every year of my formative life were spent being, breathing, eating, and living Tapatía in Guadalajara, Jalisco with my family there. It was beautiful and picturesque. It was also very confusing because as I started to get comfortable in my own skin, I would then return to L.A. and realize that all of a sudden that I’d forgotten how to speak English. I would get so worried because my dad spoke no Spanish. Without fail, every year of every summer was the same routine. All the new experiences that came with the beautiful freedom and cultural richness I’d acquire was stripped away every August, just a couple of days before school was back in session.

In elementary school, I defended myself against bullies who not only called me a beaner, but also a kike. As a result, I stopped celebrating and sharing my cultural differences and instead decided to stay numb about the subject in my life. I hid when my mom would send me to school with fresh tamales that were brought to us by visiting family members and I stayed silent in the mandatory Spanish classes I chose to tank instead of excelling in. I felt ashamed and shut down when it came to anything having to do with my heritage. 

At the end of the long day, this sense of dissociation still hurts me to my soul. Like all humans, I too want to be embraced and welcomed by my kind and belong to a group.

As an adult, I wish to my core that I hadn’t allowed them to shame me as they did. But little me took it very personally and these experiences forced me in my later teen years and twenties to clam inwards about who I really was. I developed a new persona that was literally from descent nowheresville. I shut out any claim to my Mexican or Jewish heritage and felt downright wrong and misplaced that I was anything but white. 

For Some, Finding Your Identity Is a Never-Ending Process 

I’ve since processed everything I’ve lived through and have done the work to reclaim my identity with both of my lineages. Today I am faced with a new sense of skepticism and I’m devastated to report it seems to be coming from my own raza and in my hometown of Los Angeles. Here, the question “Where are you from?” is almost a formal greeting, and every time I get asked that,  I’m faced with the neverending mission of proving who I am. 

I wish I could say otherwise, but for the most part, our skin tones often speak louder than our words and this is an issue when we live in a city that is famous for being so diverse than ever.

I’ve had to get used to it: That suspenseful reaction of shock and surprise when I tell people proudly that I am Mexican and start speaking proper Spanish. It’s a vibe and a mistrust I’m received with. Total confusion sets in. Like I’ve just sprouted two heads.  

Let’s celebrate who we are and be curious with love, not suspicion. The respect for all the different cultures and backgrounds is what makes up this beautiful city of mine. With the full intention of sounding corny as hell: Can’t we all just get along and be friends? Or, just stop being dicks.

At the end of the long day, this sense of dissociation still hurts me to my soul. Like all humans, I too want to be embraced and welcomed by my kind and belong to a group. I would like to know that come judgment day, I’m not alone. And on some days and occasions, it royally fucks with me that I can’t be categorized as one or the other, that I don’t, in fact, belong to anyone or group but only to myself. As humans, we all want to belong to something. It makes it a lot easier on the ego in this trip when we can define ourselves be it by our gender, race, culture, or poison. 

I’m grateful. I just moved back from Guadalajara a couple of months ago after spending the last three Trump years away and I miss it terribly. I miss the warmth of people greeting you walking on the street because in Mexico, they know that we come in all shapes and sizes. I miss my family. I miss my friends. I miss the love I felt and I miss being truly welcomed in a place that didn’t judge me for the color of my skin. 

Let’s celebrate who we are and be curious with love, not suspicion. The respect for all the different cultures and backgrounds is what makes up this beautiful city of mine. With the full intention of sounding corny as hell: Can’t we all just get along and be friends? Or, just stop being dicks.

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