“Am I Latino enough?” Voices rang out from each part of the room in response, each one echoing this experience of becoming more Latino after leaving his or her home community to come to Yale. “Am I Latino enough?” My own voice stayed silent. I had walked in with so much confidence that I was Latino that the whole concept of the event made me giggle on the inside. Yet, I walked out those same doors slightly confused. It hadn’t occurred to me before then that, upon leaving home in the South Bay of San Diego, a predominantly Mexican community, to others I had become less Latino.
I’m not sure if I was the only one in the room to feel that way, but in the spirit of false uniqueness, I assumed that was the case. I decided not to speak up, choosing instead to imagine a conversation in my head where I boldly contested the ubiquity of the issue and sparked a more heated conversation about what it really meant to be Latino. Instead, I let the idea slowly cook in my head, and I think it’s time to pop it out of the oven right about now.
My experience upon arriving at Yale seemed to be one of becoming less Latino. I remember as vividly as human memory allows that exact moment my sophomore year, while working at the Intergroup Relations and Development Lab, that I (to my own surprise) surprised the graduate student I was working with by telling her of my Mexican-American background. “I didn’t know you were Latino! You don’t really look it.”
Maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised. It wasn’t the first time I had run into this kind of statement back home, but back home it was so much less bothersome. At a school where the majority of students were either Mexican-American or Filipino, I had gotten “Asian” a lot. But I always brushed it off. I wasn’t “Asian.” I am pretty damn Mexican, thank you. I like my tortillas, I won’t eat anything without hot sauce on it, and it goes lime, salt, tequila for me.
Granted, that’s talking about behaviors and preferences. Fine, let’s talk about appearances. Did I look Latino? Well, first of all, what does it mean to look Latino? And if you come down the rabbit hole I’m trying to take you down (please do), I want to ask you, do you know what it means to look Latino in San Diego? Because for me, it meant a variety of things. It meant going to the local hardcore shows with my straightened hair, where the majority of the scene kids were Mexican-American. It meant severeal hours of headbanging at local metal shows where the majority of the all-black-wearing metalheads I was with were Mexican-American. And it meant looking like a fool while I tried my damn hardest to ollie even one inch off the ground at a skate park where most of the sk8r bois were Mexican-American.
So after I came to Yale, I was pretty surprised to find out I hadn’t been an easily identified Latino. Just like back home, I assumed everyone just knew. And because you just knew, you could move on towards constructing other parts of your identity. So that’s why I assumed everyone would just understand why I said that the dining hall enchiladas didn’t enchilarme enough.
Yet, just short of having a full blown cultural-anxiety-induced identity crisis (I have enough anxiety issues for now), the event helped me to re-affirm my identity. “Am I Latino enough?” I’m sorry for bringing that up again, but it needs to be there so I can mention that I’ve realized that the voice in those quotes was never really my own. Though the event provoked a few considerations about what it meant to be Latino and how one would “become” Latino, I realized that I’ve been Latino all along. I think most of the other voices in that room would agree. Because no matter if you don’t look it, act it, eat it, speak it, or dance it, I’ve realized that those same things I’ve mentioned have, for some odd reason, become the implicit standard for what it means to be Latino. And despite the fact that I don’t look it, act it, or dance it, I am Latino.