The Look - An Introspective Analysis on the Latino Experience in White America
I want to thank the author of "The Divide I Represent" for sharing her experience which inspired me to express something I have been attempting to translate into words for a long time. As a result, I can start dealing with these feelings in a constructive manner.
The “look” described in the article is something that particularly hits close to home, and it’s also something I experience almost on a daily basis from both my fellow Latinos and persons of Caucasian descent. Being ethnically ambiguous can be frustrating at times due to the “ni de aquí, ni de allá” treatment I receive from my fellow Latinos in my community.
If I’m at a store that’s managed by Latinos and I speak to someone in Spanish as a means to tear down the language barrier, I usually get a response in English (sometimes in a really thick accent which forces me to repeat the question). This passive-aggressive behavior used to infuriate me. My immediate thoughts are “Jeez, I’m speaking in Spanish to make this easier on the both of us and you’re treating me as if you didn’t understand what I was saying.” This obviously made me feel uncomfortable, but I've developed the skills to deal with it as constructively as possible without reducing myself to being rude. I assertively repeat myself to make the person realize that I am Latino as well. When the person realizes the error in their ways they respond with “Yo pensaba que usted era Árabe” (I thought you were Arabic)That used to drive me crazy because I’m clearly speaking in Spanish!
On the other hand, you have persons of Caucasian descent with insular mentality who are transplants in this cultural melting pot we call New York City. This is not to say persons of other ethnicities can’t have an insular mentality, but I get this more from Caucasian people than anyone else. I really don’t know if that particular personality type is emboldened by the fact that we have an openly racist president, but I’ve noticed I have been receiving “the look” now more than ever. I associate the telltale sign with the reaction a person has when they recognize an object is out of place, which in turn objectifies the person on the receiving end of "the look". "The look” is deep-seated, it truly reveals a person’s prejudice and evokes a visceral feeling of inadequacy.
As a defense mechanism, I also begin scanning the room to see if I’m the token ethnic person (which I usually am). Then the reality sets in - the look I received was indeed meant to make me feel inferior or out-of-place because I don’t look like the people in the room. Sometimes I even ask myself “what the hell am I doing here?”, but I try to tell myself I’m being too analytical when I experience this in a social setting. I have tried to explain this to my girlfriend, and she has told me “Your feelings are valid, I want to understand, but I can’t relate because I will never know what it is to be a person of color, and the struggles associated with being a person of color so I can’t compare my experiences with yours as far as race is concerned. As a white woman, the only thing I can do is to try to put myself in your shoes but I will never know the full extent of your experience.”
If I don't belong here, where do you suppose I belong? The answer to this question is something I have been trying to figure out for the entirety of my adult life. It’s very difficult to translate into words what “the look” might be since I’m not entirely familiar with it. I believe it's mainly because New York City is a cultural melting pot. We learn to accept as well as tolerate all cultures which is what makes this city such an amazing place.
Like clockwork, when I’m mingling at a party or mixer, the first question someone usually asks me is my occupation. The follow-up question is where I went to school and it's because as a minority, I'm perceived to be less intelligent, or even uneducated in some instances. I would expect to be perceived as less intelligent by a stranger, but sadly this also happens when I'm speaking to business associates of mine. There have been occasions where my knowledge has been questioned and refuted by my Caucasian counterparts with less experience for no reason at all, which leads me to believe the colonialist mentality is a trait passed down by older generations.
My wish is to look back one day, and realize these feelings of inadequacy are associated with a dark and distant past. Unfortunately, this will never come to fruition if we don't hold ourselves accountable to teach our future generations love and tolerance to all mankind.
This post is in response and support of The Divide I Represent.