nopal en la frente
01.27.05 // 8:38 p.m.

I was reading Poorlittletumbleweed's section on who she is. In one part she mentioned how she hates the question, "What are you?"

Now, if you've ever been asked this question, you know that depending on who asks the questions, there are several different ways you respond.

In my own experience, people want to know my ethnicity, nationality, race... whatever (yes, I know these are not interchangeable). They want to see if I fit into their concept of what a ______ should be.

Sometimes, I don't know how to answer. And this is odd, i have a very strong sense of ethnic identity. I know I'm a Chicana. I know my parents were born in México as were three of my grandparents. I know my roots, but why is this difficult for me?

For starters, I've never had anyone question my racial/ethnic identity. I grew up in the suburbs. I knew I was Mexican; there was no doubt about it. I spoke Spanish and English at home. I spent parts of some summers and Christmas vacations in Zacatecas and Guanajuato. I went to the Mass in Spanish (most of the times). I danced in a foklórico group. I was always Mexican. I knew it, my peers knew it, and strangers who saw me in the street knew it.

This changed when I got to college. Suddenly, people didn't know it. In one instance, a girl in the dorm bathroom asked me, "Are you Mexican?" It was the first time someone didn't know I was Mexican (or even just Latina). The question struck me as extremely odd moreso because she couldn't tell just by looking at me that I was Mexican. I wanted to yell at her, "can't you tell?! Can't you see the nopal en mi frente?"

But she couldn't tell, and others had the same problem. They were confused because I called myself Cindylu. Did that make me east Asian? A Cuban man in an airport told me I looked more Filipina than Mexican. When people tell me I look Asian or that I don't look Mexican, I'm left feeling like Adrian does when people tell him he looks like Mario Lopez. He wonders, what is it about me?

Is it my eyes? My (relatively) light skin? The fact that I don't speak with an accent? It might be a combination of some of these things.

Back to the original question and my problem with it. I don't mind people wondering. I know that it makes me a lot more comfortable to know someone's ethnicity. I attach a lot of meaning to it - maybe too much. If I know you're white, I assume X, Y and Z. Then it's up to you to prove my assumptions wrong or right. But if I don't know what you are, I don't know where to place you.

So, what bugs me the most about this question is just the way it's asked. I can answer "what are you?" a hundred different ways. If you want to know my ethnicity, race, where I was born, where my parents are from, if I speak a certain language, etc, just ask.

I promise, I won't yell and point to the nopal on my forehead.

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Me siento: bored
Escuchando: smallville

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