For as long as I can remember, my dad would tell me, “Make sure you always write or mark Hispanic when filling out paperwork; you’re not just white.”
He was adamant about this because, according to my dad, sometimes Hispanics receive benefits. “Alexa, look at this picture,” my dad said to me when I was just a kid. “These are your family members in New Orleans. Do they look white to you?” There were maybe 20 to 30 people in the photo. I might be exaggerating, but the memory I have of that photo is one with a lot of people in it. They had olive skin, dark hair and more on the curvaceous side.
Like my family members in the photo, my dad too has olive skin; he’s more muscular, standing at six-foot-three, with black hair and green eyes. He identifies as French and Spanish, and a little Cuban, too.
Because my dad always reminded me I was Hispanic, I always thought it was a good thing, even highly respected, to be more than just white. I mean, there are special scholarships and months dedicated to honoring the history of minorities. When I applied to colleges, it seemed they wanted students of color to diversify campus. There’s even a government website with special minority initiatives.
It wasn’t until middle school that I learned racism, especially against minorities, was and is a thing, which may explain why these special “benefits” exist. Perhaps a mea culpa for decades of discrimination?
I’ve never personally experienced racism. Maybe it’s because my mom is both Mexican and German and my skin color isn’t that tan. White people usually think I’m white, and people who aren’t white can tell I’m something else.
So, which side of my ethnicity do I relate with more?
For a long time, I didn’t know. My mom taught herself how to speak Spanish and used to dance flamenco with her brother and sister. I never did anything like that. I took Spanish classes for five years and all it did was give me a headache. And I didn’t really eat Latin American food.
It wasn’t until this fall, 2015, in which I get to be a part of the Noticiero Móvil team, that I’ve reconnected to my Hispanic / Latina identity.
For my first story, I interviewed Mexican-American comedian Paul Rodriguez when he performed in Reno, Nev. At one point during the interview he said something to me that I didn’t catch, so he repeated himself. Later, when I was going through the interview recording, I caught what he originally said. “De donde eres?” I knew what this meant, and I wish I’d heard him and answered in Spanish. As weird as it sounds, I felt so special that he had tried speaking to me in Spanish and also somehow knew I was Latina.
Another time, while I was setting up my recorder for an interview with a local Latino government leader, I expressed that sometimes I’m not sure if people can tell I’m Latina.
“Yeah, I can. You look like my niece,” he said.
That made me smile because I’ve always wanted to feel a sense of belonging to the Latina in me, but it was never that evident for other people.
In an interview I did more recently, the source even asked me if I wanted to contribute to a book she was creating with short stories written by Latinas.
I’m only a month in with Noticiero Móvil, and already I feel this sense of belonging to a culture, scratch that, to my culture that I never felt connected to before. I’m starting to pay more attention to how underrepresented Latinos are in the media, in news, TV shows and films. I’m starting to crave Hispanic food more and am paying more attention when people around me speak Spanish. I’m even recognizing traits amongst Latinos around me that I also possess.
I think my biggest fear going into Noticiero Móvil was that the Latino community wouldn’t accept me. My fears couldn’t have been more wrong, because so far, I’ve been embraced and drawn in to the Latino community and cultures.