I have made several attempts to start this article, all of them have flopped. Why?
Because when I start thinking about this topic, I just get overwhelmingly sad.
I read an article the other day about Mock Spanish, in the Skippy Jon Jones books in particular. I had to stop halfway through because I couldn’t read past the thought: This is me.
I was born in So Cal, I grew up with dad’s side of the family, and Mexican neighbors and Mexican playmates. I went to school in Spanish for K-12. My brain was hardwired for Spanish, to the point that I would often get frustrated with my white mother when I couldn’t get her to understand I was looking for my zapatos, and so help me, I just couldn’t think of the damned word “shoes”.
Then we moved. We moved to Orlando, and suddenly no one spoke Spanish, because it wasn’t save to. The black kids picked on everyone not black enough, the white kids wouldn’t talk to anyone who didn’t have blue veins showing under their skin, and no one in the entire school was just brown but me. If anyone else in that school was Hispanic, I never found them.
I buckled to the social pressure, dropping my accent as best I could, never using spanish words or rolling my R’s or even eating at Taco Bell if I had the choice. I ate microwaved quick grits for breakfast every morning, and I cut off all my long dark hair into a boy’s cut.
Utah was worse. All white, all suburban, as far as the eyes could see. And we were living with my mother’s family then, and they fucking hated us. I’m sure they didn’t think it showed, but I have never felt more like a second class citizen in all my life. My grades dropped, and not because I couldn’t keep up, but because I stopped caring. Impressing this white assholes didn’t matter, because nothing I could do would be good enough anyways.
Eventually, we moved to Tennessee, and my youngest three siblings were born. My closest sister, who was born in Cali right before we moved, was happily G.R.I.T.s and just remembers nothing of the 6 years we bounced around the country after leaving Cali. My brother and younger two sisters would never have any idea of it at all.
Dora became the thing, and Diego, and the youngest ones loved it, of course. And Skippy Jon Jones.
I grew up reading Clifford, el grande perro rojo, right along side with Clifford the big red dog. The book was bilingual, like me. Flip it one way, English, flip it another, Español. I loved it. They were my absolute favorite growing up and I loved that I could sit in my mother’s lap and read it to her both ways, without struggling.
Flash forward to mom encouraging me to read SJJ to my younger siblings. My younger brother who once asked what a Mexican was, and was he Mexican, and had no idea what any of it meant. And how would he?
And I read it, in my “very best Spanish accent”. Only not, because I have a proper Spanish accent, and that was not what I used. I caricatured and cartoonized in all my stereotyping glory, because that was what my family was really asking me for. They weren’t asking for me to show them OUR culture, one that most of them have never actually been exposed to, but should be proud of damnit! They ask me to make tamales because they’re tasty, not because my father’s aunts and mothers did it every Christmas Eve. They ask for enchiladas on Cinco de Mayo like they dye their eggs green on St. Patrick’s Day.
It is cultural appropriation, of a culture that is theirs by birthright.
And I let it happen, because for all that things have gotten better, I can still pass for white, so I do. And I still took the scholarships because my last name ends in a Z, and still take every advantage I can get, because that’s how I was raised. But I am not Hispanic, and I have no right to claim to be.
And that just makes me so sad.
But I have no idea what can be done about it.