The intended purposes of self-declared identities are to provide clarity and community, for both self and society. I proudly claim all the parts of my identity, including as a Latina. The intricacies of my heritage can sometimes make me feel like I am less deserving of the identity than other Latinas. I am Mexican—my mother being 3rd generation Mexican-American—and African American.
I know it seems I don’t have many of the markers that communicate to other people that I am a Latina. My last name is Singleton, more reflective of the history of Black slaves taking on their owner’s last names. I didn’t grow up with the Spanish language, except words for the food and pet names that filled my childhood. None of these qualifications presented themselves as insecurities until I came to college. Everyone at home knows my mom; they know she’s Mexican. College was a new world where most people had very narrow views of the Latina identity, and of how I was allowed to claim such an identity. Latinas were bilingual native speakers, had long wavy hair, and had mestizo features. I have none of those traits, which perplexed many people who felt that they had some right to dictate my Latina-ness. Even in Miami, where the diversity of Latinx culture is readily available at every ventanita, people often question and challenge this part of my identity.
Just this week, when I told a coworker that my mother is Mexican, he said, “I don’t believe that. Show me your birth certificate, and maybe I will.” Outside of his disappointing lack of comprehension of birth certificates for an immigration attorney, I was annoyed and hurt. The next day, when word had spread around the office, that I am indeed Mexican, I was overwhelmed with a slew of weird, awkward, and blatantly disrespectful comments and “jokes” from interns and attorneys alike. A choice few:
“I bet we can make you more Mexican before you leave.”
“I’ve never seen someone Mexican look like you.”
“Are you really Mexican-American, or do you just say that because you want to be more exotic?”
“Oh, you don’t speak Spanish? So you’re a fake Mexican, I see.”
“I just think you’re a disappointment to your ancestors.”
I’m frustrated by their comments, but I’m more frustrated that I feel this internal need to prove myself to them. I want to be part of the Latinx community because it is my history as much as it is theirs, but what’s the point of being part of a community—an identity—that doesn’t really believe you belong to it? I’ve asked myself this question many times over the years, and am comforted by the answer I internally know. I am a Latina. Yes, there are some people who don’t fully understand that and sometimes attack it. But there are far more people who celebrate and embrace that part of me with the support and love I deserve. So, I will continue to be who I am, loving all the parts of myself and knowing that in the face of exclusion from a few, still I belong.