This Side of Lunadise: Wait, You’re Mexican?

Throughout random points in the year, but more so at the beginning of the school year when I meet new people, I am inevitably confronted with the dreadful, tactless question: “Wait you’re Mexican? I totally thought you were Indian.” I have to then convey that I am not offended—though I am. But not because of the reason one might think.

The problem here isn’t the mislabeling itself because it’s not a negative comparison. So I don’t get upset because I hold any ill feelings for the race people incorrectly assume I am. I get upset for the same reason other Latinos hate being defaulted to Mexican. I get upset for the same reason the Asian population is probably tired of people automatically assuming they’re Chinese. I get upset because they are taking away a part of me that is central to my identity.

I share and connect to the struggles, achievements and heritage of my culture. It is a part of me. It’s mine. And, although there have been and undoubtedly will be times when I can’t hold my head up high because of my race, I am proud to be part of the Latino culture. It’s a rich, community-oriented culture that has honestly taught me more about supporting my fellow peers than anything else has. I want people to recognize that.

While studies may show that people mistaking me for a different, more positively associated race might give me a leg up in this competitive (and not post-racism) world, I don’t care. I’d rather not have the advantage but be satisfied with knowing that people understand where I come from because even the negative aspects of it, the stereotypes and inherent misconceptions against my race, are important to who I am. It has shaped me just as much as the good parts have.

I want to make it clear that my race isn’t all of what I am. That’s not true of anybody, ever. But race is an important fraction of my sum and though people might not intend to hurt or offend me when they mislabel me, it still stings. It still feels like they’re trying (if unknowingly) to strip me of my identity. Or worse, like they’re assuming I’m something else because I don’t fit their idea of what being Latino is.

Unfortunately, like most things, this isn’t an easy problem to solve. I’m guilty of it too, I admit it. I do, however, try to be sensitive to it and really, that’s all I’m asking for. Reword the statement of shock. Change it to “Oh, I didn’t know you were Mexican.”