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FrigginSushi's picture

As a tour guide now, part of my general introduction is stating where I’m from. If the people on my tour have never been to California or have very little knowledge of the state, I tell them I was born in Pomona—which is true—to which they jump and say, “oh, Scripts College? Harvey Mudd?” and I say “sure”.

            Though most college towns are similar, the people on my tour never take into consideration that I could have been born and grew up in the part of Pomona that wasn’t the picture of middle class suburbia they think of. I grew up on the side of Pomona with the indoor swap meet, family own car washes, and graffiti tagged on the walls of grocery stores. I currently live in the neighboring city of Ontario where the population is predominately Mexican/Latino along with pockets of Vietnamese and Black families. You might even consider us working class or below that.

            My mother is Colombian (emigrated at age 16) and my father is Mexican (emigrated at age 15). They met in high school, fell in love, had me, fell out of love, and I’ve had a rocky relationship with my father ever since. Despite the fact that both my parents are Latino, speak fluent Spanish, and understand Mexican and Colombian culture from the “motherland”, I am pale, speak very mediocre Spanish, and understand little of my heritage.

In middle school and high school, even though I understood that most of the people at my school had the same ethnic background as me, I felt separated from them. I felt like a minority within a minority; the only white and non-Spanish speaking Latina at school. When people spoke Spanish in class or in the halls, I ignored them and tried to tell myself that it’s not my fault I don’t know Spanish. I blamed my mom for not teaching me.

The Moyenda reading speaks to a few of my issues with my own race and ethnic identity issues in school. I relate less to the explicit racial marginalization in her educational life and more to her inner dialogue regarding her increasing rejection of her own identity. The section reflecting on her experience with Ms. Brocklehurst about the possibility of Moyenda being “mixed” stands out to me most.

She is approached by her boss and questioned about her identity as to whether her light colored eyes are a result of possibly being mixed with white and Moyenda, at the time, takes this as a possible solution to her problems. She felt that she was “just” black and was excited by the idea that she could be “exotic” (24). Though there are several ways you could understand why she was disappointed to find out that she is not mixed with anything more exotic, I see it as a rejection of her own skin color, her own heritage.  

            I started rejecting my heritage in small ways. Considering that my school was over 80% Mexican (immigrants from Mexico or 2nd generation), I tried to set myself apart by emphasizing that I was Colombian, first and foremost. When people at school ever asked me what I was, I would say I’m half Colombian. They would guess my other half is white, but I’d reiterate, “I’m half Mexican and half Colombian”, making my Colombian identity stand out more by putting it at the end.

Soon, I started rebelling against my culture, whether unconscious or not, more explicitly. I took French as my foreign language instead of Spanish in high school. I became president of my high school’s Asian Culture Club and gravitated towards East Asian culture rather than my own inherited culture. I steered away from my Latina heritage by hanging out with people who didn’t speak Spanish or didn’t use Spanglish in everyday speak, which left me—not quite by chance—to hang out with the “AP” (Advanced Placement) students in my high school.

At times, I felt like I was cursed by having such a white complexion and green eyes. And yet, there was that constant reminder, “Zamora”, to point me back to my family’s roots. Being able to pass as white was the hardest thing for me to deal with. I felt like somehow I was “spared” from being darker-skinned and more explicitly marginalized against. Moyenda wishes to be more than just black and thus rejects her blackness, in that moment, in hopes to be some kind of exotic identity that she does not possess. In my case, I wanted so badly to be the exotic Latina that I was born to be; to be more than just pale skinned. And because it felt like there was no way I could be more than that, I rejected my own roots and gave up. My actions to separate myself were in order for me to feel like I didn’t need to fit in with other Latinos. I rejected my “Latinoness” because I could not be more Latina.

Another reason that I felt like I could not identify with that marginalization because I had never been—or at least to my knowledge—discriminated against because of my ethnicity. Through the college process, I had doubts about my own worth at the schools I’d been accepted to. Had they just picked me because my last name is Zamora? Were they just adding me to the tiny pool of Latinos on their campus? Did I disappoint them because I didn’t look Mexican? I felt if I couldn’t experience the plight of other Latin American people, then I was somehow cheating the destiny my parents handed down to me and I didn’t deserve to claim the identity anyway.

Even in Berlak’s piece, her earlier years express a kind unsettling realization that her whiteness was different than other classmates whiteness. Being Jewish instead of “blond and blue-eyed” had confused her as well as the economic difference between her and other white classmates. She explains, “[Her] desire to look, act, and be like my middle and upper-middle class white Protestant classmates was reinforced by my parents and teachers, who, with or without their awareness, valued me more the closely I approximated the white and upper- or upper-middle class ideal” (43). Berlak didn’t see herself as the ideal “white person” she had known through schooling and thus, felt out of place. I feel like I’ve never really embodied what it is to be Latina, so instead of joining them, I fought against them by fighting against myself.

I feel like in high school I had to deal with my racial/ethnic identity less than in college. The pressure to represent the small Latina community we had on campus was more apparent in this “diverse” campus I was coming into. Now, instead of intentionally separating myself from people of the same ethnicity as me, I was almost forced to be a part of them. I was no longer sure that actively rejecting my Latina heritage was beneficial any more. Now it felt like if I didn’t embrace my roots, that I would be written off as white but if I did embrace my roots I’d feel like I was pretending to be something that I’m not.

It took a lot of time for me to understand that I was in a very delicate position of privilege. I hadn’t even heard of white privilege until I came to Bryn Mawr, and now I feel like it has a lot to do with how I view the world as a light skinned Latina. Cole’s piece on the White Savior Complex opens with the fact that he is a Black man in the U.S., but then acknowledges that there are many privileges that he is a part of. This opening paragraph really encapsulates how I’m trying to understand myself as both Latina and marginalized against systematically, and full of privileges that other Latinas may not have. I’m not completely a minority but not completely a part of the majority. There are parts of me that will be looked down on in society, as well as unfortunate “advantages” that I have over other people in my minority group that I need to acknowledge and I can’t push away.

I think the most beneficial idea that I’ve latched onto over the past few years is the idea that not only am I privileged and not privileged, my identity as a Latina does not become void because I am light skinned and can’t speak Spanish. Multiculturalism isn’t about universality. It isn’t about sharing the same experiences and it isn’t consumed with the idea that we are separate from another culture.  Hall explains in “The Multiculturalism Question” that multiculturalism isn’t about culture straight from the motherland. It talks about communities “in translation” (7). I, personally, am influenced by many different factors. Though I was born in America, my identity isn’t souly American. And though my heritage is rooted in Latin and Central America, my identity is has been affected by other cultures.

We cannot speak for our own culture as a whole. We are all just speaking from where we are located. I cannot speak for the Latina population, or even the Latina population at Bryn Mawr.  I can only speak for how it is like for me, as a light skinned, green eyed, Colombian/Mexican born American person. And even then, I can only explain just what it’s like to be me; a very complex person who still has identity issues from time to time, but is trying to understand multiculturalism and how it is applied to me.


jccohen's picture

just noticed

that my response to your cultural autobiography is actually misplaced as a comment on your Praxis post - sorry, and here it is again:



Your cultural autobiography zeroes in on the complex interplay of others’ and our own assumptions and inferences regarding who we are, often via markers like name and eye and skin colors, as well as relational mediums such as language.  You work deeply with the paradoxical power of skin color in our racialized society, where both Moyenda and you – from opposite ends of the spectrum in some senses – contend as young people (and differently as you grow older) with this notion of ‘exotic’ otherness as both enticing and deeply problematic.   You probe the internal contradictions of self/other, body/identity in your lines, ‘I rejected my “Latinoness” because I could not be more Latina’ and later,  ‘I feel like I’ve never really embodied what it is to be Latina, so instead of joining them, I fought against them by fighting against myself.’  And I wonder:  What does it mean to take up the French language, the Asian culture club, the AP crew…how does all this become implicated in who you are/can be?  I think here of Kromidas’ claim for children growing up now and redefining what it means to ‘be’ who you are – what claims are legitimate through relationship, longing, blood and not-blood…


A turning point in your story is your growing understanding of being in a ‘delicate position of privilege’; interestingly, this seems to be fostering for you a different understanding of the dimensionality of identity.  You raise Cole’s piece, and I want to connect this to his key question about power and what we do with it.  Likewise, I appreciate the way you bring in Hall here, and would like to hear more about what his theorizing about communities in ‘translation’ suggests about what we do with who we are/becoming.  I am moved by your claiming of a location that’s very particular, from which you speak as a person not fully formed but in continual motion.  So:  what does all of this suggest about how/what/with whom we speak and what we do from our complicatedly cultural identities?  What responsibilities does all this carry for each of us?


Note:  Language plays a complicated role in your piece – and you’re not the only one who wrote about this; see, for example, pieces by salopez and stonewall.